Compassionate People Need Boundaries Now More Than Ever

Boundaries are essential for those people who have big hearts and a desire to help others. As we approach the one year mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began, continuing political unrest, and an awakening of multiple injustices, our society needs all hands on deck.

When I write about the word boundary, I am describing a professional or personal limit. Some examples of professional boundaries are mindfully self-disclosing, leaving work at work and taking your vacation time. Personal limits are your self-care and self-compassion practices. Whether your boundaries are personal or professional, they all represent self-care and self-compassion.

Warning Signs

Stress symptoms indicate a need to increase your boundaries. Stress manifests itself physically (headaches, muscle tension, digestive disorders), emotionally (irritability, restlessness, concentration problems), in relationship with others (communication difficulties or avoiding others), and through behaviors (overeating, increased use of alcohol or drugs). These resulting experiences can set off more stress, leading you into a vicious cycle.

Little or no boundaries can contribute to burnout, illness, and even addiction. Stress is not a sign of failure but rather a warning or indication self-care needs to be increased. Stress reminds us, we are human and we have limits. You can learn how to manage it and feel better.

When You Care Too Much

Too much empathy is not a good thing for compassionate people. Too much sympathy, or working with empathy without proper boundaries drains helpers of energy. This makes you vulnerable to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout.

Compassion fatigue develops when you care too much and lack boundaries. Empaths often suffer from this type of fatigue when they cannot separate their energy from others. This over connection, leads to exhaustion. It can prevent you from empathizing or having compassion, towards others and even yourself. To remedy compassion fatigue, any personal energy management technique will work well. A starting point you may consider is the book I created, I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers. You could also benefit from assertiveness training, boundary setting and cognitive therapy.

Vicarious trauma– During and after a trauma or period of intense stress, such as living through a pandemic, it is normal to feel shell-shocked and reactive. We have been and are still going through a lot. For some compassionate people, it is traumatizing to hear about others trauma or too much trauma all day long. You may experience the symptoms of posttraumatic stress, even though you have not directly witnessed the trauma. For example, you may experience nightmares, flashbacks or memories of the trauma you heard about. There are several treatments to help you process and integrate trauma. Some are talk therapy, expressive arts therapy or EMDR. (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Trauma will not go away on its own.

Burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion compassionate people experience when they have low job satisfaction, feel powerless and overwhelmed at work. This can result from too much work or not enough support from higher ups in the organization you work for. Some people change jobs or their line of work and find burnout goes away. This is different from compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma, which would not lessen with a job change. Some other causes of burnout and compassion fatigue can result from perfectionism or being overly involved with other people’s issues. Cognitive therapy works well with this type of thinking.

In order to prevent or decrease cases of burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious traumatization among compassionate people, it is important to receive education on the signs and symptoms of each. This increases your awareness and allows you to recognize any early warning signs. The next step is reaching out to a professional psychotherapist to help you learn the skills to protect, restore and rejuvenate your personal energy.

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach. She works for caring professionals, who want to prevent or treat compassion fatigue. Her specialty is teaching stress management, assertiveness and boundary setting. Lisa is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; Why Compassionate People Run Out of Energy and What You Can Do About It at http://www.lisahutchison.net

Check out my YouTube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC

We are Living in a Time of Trauma

Trauma can have a deep and lasting impact not only on the person who directly experiences it, but also for those around them. As a psychotherapist, I have worked with numerous clients processing and releasing trauma, for over seventeen years. The silver lining is, you can heal from trauma but you have to seek treatment for it.

We are Living in Times of Trauma (2)

We are living in traumatic times. No, I did not mean dramatic but traumatic. You may see some people acting out dramatically after experiencing unresolved trauma. In these instances, the body is saying “pay attention to me, something is not in balance.” An important distinction to remember is, drama is not always trauma.

Our current lives have the potential to expose you to trauma on a daily basis. You can witness a trauma simply by being on social media or scrolling through the news on your phone. How many times have you encountered a disturbing image which was difficult to let go of? It is challenging being a sensitive person in today’s world. This is why self-care, boundaries and support are essential.

Trauma symptoms- how many do you currently have?

Physically and Emotionally Reactive (Arousal symptoms)

  • On guard for danger (hyper vigilance)
  • Self-destructive or reckless behaviors
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Concentration problems
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Exaggerated startle response

Intrusive memories (intrusive symptoms)

  • Flashbacks- you see pictures of the traumatic event replay in your mind throughout the day, long after the trauma experience occurred.
  • Nightmares

Avoidance

  • Make efforts to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoid the places, activities or people that remind you of the event

Changes in your thoughts and mood

  • Feel distrustful of yourself, other people or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future, or feel you will not live long (a foreshortened future)
  • Not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty enjoying life or connecting with positive emotions
  • Feeling disconnected from others/life and numb

You may say, I have a lot of these symptoms but have never had a trauma event directly happen to me. Next, I will discuss three types of trauma. Out of these three types, two trauma reactions arise when you an outside of the direct trauma.

1.) Directly involved in a Trauma-  You are exposed to a catastrophic event. Some types of trauma involve being in combat, childhood physical, sexual or emotional abuse, sexual violence as an adult, physical assault, an accident, natural disasters, fires, sex trafficking, robbery, terrorist attacks, a shooting or an illness. 

2.)Vicarious Trauma also known as Compassion Fatigue- This type of trauma is the result of hearing other’s trauma stories and witnessing the pain, fear, and terror of the survivor. This can happen to counselors but also coaches who work with trauma. Self- care, awareness and professional support are critical tools for this line of work.

3.) Witness to Trauma- You saw or were in close proximity to a traumatic event happening to someone else. My husband and I witnessed a dating/domestic violence incident, while on vacation, to which we called 911. After the altercation, the woman followed the man as he walked away. This left me feeling unsettled. As we drove down a couple of streets, we saw a female officer talking to the woman involved. I don’t know if she pressed charges, if the couple will change or what will happen.

This uncertainty stayed with me for days until I processed it and decided to let it go. As a sensitive person, I felt many emotions attached to this event. I felt the danger in my own body, to which the man and woman were numbed to. I also felt their helplessness and stuck feelings. I acknowledged these feelings as not my own and released them. I know we did something in response and that is enough. The rest is now up to them.

When should you seek professional help from a licensed counselor? 

If you feel these symptoms are interfering with your daily life, seek help immediately, why wait? If your symptoms last beyond a month, acute stress disorder can become post traumatic stress disorder. Do not hesitate to reach out today, if you have thoughts of  suicide or of harming someone else. Treatment is available in every community.

You may also find this blog helpful: How Trauma Gets in the Way of Relationship Success

Pick up Lisa’s FREE gift 8 Simple Things That Release Chaos from Your Life Now!  at http://www.lisahutchison.net

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist, writing coach and the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals.  She helps sensitive souls not just survive but shine. 

 

 

 

 

What helpers like you need to know about burnout

What helpers like you need to know about burnout (3)

 

Helpers and first responders often believe that they can push through irritation and emotional pain. You soldier on despite multiple systems in your body screaming out for you to stop. Some of these warning signs are unending fatigue, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, concentration problems, anxiety, depression, increased illnesses and anger.

As an empathic helper, you are going to experience work or help related stress due to caring so much. When that stress is combined with a lack of self- care and a lack of support more serious stress reactions can occur such as burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious traumatization.

Compassion fatigue and burnout arises from too much work, or as many people say burning the candle at both ends. Empathic helpers often absorb other’s pain and take it with them into their home life. Too much sympathy or working with empathy without proper boundaries drains helpers of energy and leads to burnout. In a study of 216 hospice care nurses from 22 hospices across the state of Florida it was found that, “Trauma, anxiety, life demands, and excessive empathy (leading to blurred professional boundaries) were key determinants of compassion fatigue risk in the multiple regression model that accounted for 91 % (P< .001) of the variance in compassion fatigue risk.” (Abendroth & Flannery 2006).

Vicarious traumatization can happen when you absorb the psychological material of your client who has experienced trauma. You feel the trauma in your own energetic system as PTSD symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, irritability and startle responses. This is why it is important to hold the energetic boundaries and seek supervision or your own counseling. If you are experiencing increased anxiety, startle responses or irritation, after your work with a client ask yourself; is this my trauma or yours?

What can a compassionate helper do?

  • You need to limit your use of empathy. Yes, there can be too much of a good thing.  Empathy is one tool a helper uses in combination with other techniques to ensure client growth. At times you may need to use more directive or instructional types of methods rather than an all-out holding of the space for another.
  •  Be aware and recognize that trauma and stress are running the show. When you notice a change in your mood and thoughts, review your day and think about who you were with and what was discussed.
  • Self- Care. All empathic helpers need a self-care regime that refills and recharges your energy. Relaxation and energy increasing activities will balance out the fatigue you are experiencing. Grounding through the use of mindfulness can keep your focus in the present moment.
  • Seek psychotherapy with an empathic therapist who can help you with burnout and trauma. Going to a therapist who knows trauma, work stress and energy work can make a world of difference for yourself and your clients.
  •  Get this workbook for yourself and your clients. I have found this to be a valuable resource that I use with my clients: The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms Workbook Edition by Mary Beth Williams (Author), Soili Poijula (Author) Some of the chapters include: Before Doing the Work: Safety, Security and Intention and Helping Yourself When You Re-experience a Trauma. (As an amazon affiliate I receive a small portion of the sale when you buy after clicking the above link, without any addition cost to you. Thank you for choosing this method of purchasing.) 

References:

Abendroth, M., & Flannery, J. (2006). Predicting the risk of compassion fatigue: A study of hospice nurses. Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, 8(6), 346-356.

Lisa Hutchison LMHC works for empathic healers who feel drained after their helping efforts, refill and recharge their energy with intuitive counseling and angel card readings. For more information visit her website at www.lisahutchison.net, while you are there take advantage of the free gift 8 Simple Things that Release Chaos from Your Life Now!