In high school, I took karate lessons; we used a punching bag to practice kicks and blocks.
After several years, our trusted punching bag would begin to exhibit signs of wear commensurate with its experience. Dents appeared on its smooth surface. The side seams began to fray. The trusty white stuffing popped from the seams and fell to the floor, like the bushy white beards worn by Santas in shopping malls.
Do you ever have days where you feel drained by everybody’s expectations and emotional projections?
We all have.
Luckily, we can realize when we are beginning to feel like an extra on Mortal Kombat and get the heck out of the ring.
1.) Are you the kind of person commonly described as ‘thoughtful,’ ‘helpful’ or the ‘glue’ that holds your family together?
If so, heaven help you.
I would wager that a disproportionate number of people who sometimes feel as if they have taken the world upon their shoulders are employed in professions which require good ‘people skills.’ Fields like teaching (hello, yoga teachers!), nursing/health care, customer service, and law enforcement all require a high amount of emotional intelligence, or the ability to perceive, understand and respond (in a professional manner) to the emotional needs of others.
In the ‘helping’ professions, one is in constant contact with a wide swath of humanity. Yes, we will encounter people who are positive, energetic beacons of light. We will encounter others who make Vlad the Impaler look like Mother Teresa. Let’s be fair. We all suffer grief, anger, sadness, fear or loss in our lives. This article isn’t about judging others’ experiences—it is about learning to protect ourselves from their darker onslaughts.
Why are the ‘helping professions’ so stressful? As professionals, we often have to bottle our emotions, over and over, during the workday. (If you can do a half-hour, calming alternate nostril breathing session after an angry screaming outburst from a client, you’re a better man/woman than me.)
What is the important thing to remember?
First and foremost, we must have compassion for ourselves.
2.) Hey, Mr. or Mrs. Fix-It! You can’t make the whole world happy.
You are only 100 percent fully, irrevocably responsible for yourself.
If you’re a helper type, the kind who rushes full-on to absorb others’ pain, question is why you feel compelled to do so.
What are your motivations?
Is ‘helping’ a quick and easy diversion from tackling your own personal issues—perhaps career or relationship-oriented? Are you afraid of conflict? Do you sometimes feel a lack of confidence? Do you use ‘helping’ as a source of ego-gratification? Is ‘helping’ something you put on your resume—like, do you think that it will look better to be on a community service committee than spend Tuesday evenings eating fried mozzarella sticks and catching up on reruns?
(I’m not saying not to be compassionate. I am saying know when to step back. And, seriously, if you ever experience physical or emotional abuse it is time to remove yourself completely from the situation.)
3.) Blame, manipulation and shame are powerful tactics. They can pack quite a punch on your physical and emotional health if you allow them to do so. Think migraines, insomnia, tiredness and digestive problems.
I am growing in my awareness of when people are trying to blame, shame, manipulate or otherwise tear me down. These are the dark sides of the ‘helping’ coin.
Your high school student is acting out in class? He may be having difficulties with his parents.
Your customer is angry? He can’t access his e-mail from the cell phone, despite the fact that you have very calmly explained the procedure seventeen times? He hates technology. You, in your white shirt and headset, represent the downfall of Western civilization.
Your patient needs to adopt a better diet for health reasons? She doesn’t want to. She loves fast food and feels that you are trying to control her, just like her mother and Grandma Louise used to.
4.) Our cultural expectations regarding ‘giving’ are totally screwy.
Have you ever watched one of those chick flicks where somebody has a large group of friends for support during every little life crisis, from broken high heels to broken relationships?
(I’ll bet they also live in a $10,000 a month apartment, write one newspaper column per week, and have 1,000 pairs of shoes…)
Americans often have a cultural expectation that those who consistently provide support to other people in times of need will receive it back during their own time of need. Like a great sort of cosmic boomerang it will return, showering love and light and rainbows and unicorns upon the giver. (Note: this is not ‘giving.’)
This ‘cosmic boomerang’ does not exist.
While many people will reciprocate during times of need, a great many others, simply, will not or can not or would rather not. Others may take advantage—personally or financially—of somebody who possesses a giver/helper personality.
5.) Be clear about your intention for giving. Do not ‘give’ with an expectation of receiving. ‘Give’ simply because you want to give, and do not expect anything in return.
Enough said. Also, this is much, much, much, much easier said than done.
6.) Be kind to yourself. Find ways to enrich and refuel.
Maybe this means yoga or meditation.
Maybe it means reading, writing, running or cooking. Hell, maybe you enjoy collecting ceramic goats or making a yurt in the front yard. Whatever floats your boat!
Does anybody have any creative strategies for when life throws you a right hook? I’d love to hear them!
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Ed: Sara Crolick