In Part 1, I discussed how at least 25% of all social workers, therapists and other helping professionals come from a past with at least some dysfunction. After discussing this percentage with colleagues who have, like me, been in the field for decades, we speculated that percentage might be higher than is actually reported. But nevertheless, taking on the trauma of others can be especially difficult if you carry a knapsack full of emotional boulders.
As I also discussed in Part 1, the purpose of the blog is not to discourage those who are called to help families and children to reach a place of safety and well-being. Quite the opposite, in fact. To paraphrase the Bible: the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. According to current research, there is a shortage of social workers in the field. The following reasons outline why fewer young adults are choosing the career: minimal compensation, workload, government regulations, and stress. I cannot change the fact that all of those are valid experiences that taint the social work profession. I can also tell you from experience that those who are called, do it anyway. Unfortunately, the stress (also known as secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, secondary post traumatic stress) can defeat the calling of even the strongest social workers, especially those who come to the profession from their own family dysfunction.
However, there are tools available for you to work through those issues such as: addressing the past, acknowledging your baggage and working towards your own self-healing. We are going to address those tools so that you can safely walk the path you have been called to walk: the path of helping others.
- Addressing the Past: Remember Karen. She came from dysfunction, but decided to face her past, which included an honest look back through the social work lens. By doing so, she was able to access one of the most important tools in self-healing: perspective. Throughout her teen and early adult years, she walked in anger, blame and anxiety. The black-hearted villains in the movie that was her life were played by her parents. Their fighting, their mutual blame and loathing affected her, leading to strong antipathy and resentment. In her mind, her family purposefully ignored and neglected her early emotional needs because they were too consumed by their own. In truth as she learned about trauma and social systems, she later realized, none of that was true. When she saw her mom and dad as humans, not parents, she opened herself up to talk to them and to listen. She found out about their own circumstances and the crumbling foundations from which they tried to overcome by teeth and toenails. She found the strengths in her mother that transformed blame into admiration. Whatever the methods, her mom’s desire to “protect” her children from the truth came from a place of the love, hindered by the lack of support systems to guide her through the dark path. It became much more apparent that, seen through the lens of trauma, blame was not the path towards growth or healing. The doorway to that road began with forgiveness and understanding.
Unfortunately not all families will be as open to talking about the past and past hurts. While making peace with the people in your past can be cathartic, at times it may not be possible. However, by gaining perspective (even on your own) of family systems and trauma cycles, you can make the decision to move past the hurt and concentrate on your own healing.
2. Much like addressing your past, acknowledging your hurt can be freeing. I know that sounds backwards, but go with me on this. How many times have we heard the phrase: Hurt people hurt people? Four little words with such profound meaning. When I am dealing with an abusive parent or an “out of control teen” I remember those words. Hurt people hurt people. the phrase helps me to get out of “black and white thinking” and look at the underlying being behind every client who is lashing out. But I also have found this to be true.
Hurt people who are able to heal, are able to help others find healing.
Wow! Isn’t that amazing? It is the one mantra that can help those social workers who come from dysfunction and hurt to keep going. By acknowledging their own past hurt, they are not admitting to being weak. No, an empathy for others springs up from deep within us as we are able to work through that hurt and help our clients to do the same.
3. The final tool: working towards your own self-healing will be different for everyone. By addressing and acknowledging that it is there, lurking under the surface, you will need to find the healing route for your. Not to sound like a broken record, but that is where the self-care comes in. Be good to yourself. Find your happy-place: Is it reading, singing, writing, walking in nature, laughing at funny movies? You know what lightens you up. Do it often, not for anyone else but yourself.
There is one universal tool for healing, however, and it is key.
You need to belong to a tribe. Join a tribe. Create a tribe. Whatever it takes to belong to a group of kindred spirits that accept you with all your bumps and bruises and who you accept for theirs. As part of a tribe (it doesn’t have to be a large one), you have the ability to talk out your stress, hurt, frustration and victories with someone who will listen non-judgmentally and not offer advice (or offer it if you want). Take it from me (and Karen) having someone believe in you, care about you and trust you enough to share their own hurts, dreams and victories, can help you move towards healing and peace.
As a calf, taking on other peoples baggage can be so difficult, straining your resolve and sometimes causing you to stumble. But as you mature in your profession and personal growth to become a camel, your strength to carry the baggage of others, is rivaled by few. You find that you know when to get refreshed, and know how to find the right oasis. I encourage you to not give up in the growth process, the outcome can be so rewarding.