There is always emotional labor involved in the work of caring for others but there can also be a filling of our own cup rather than a constant emptying that leads to compassion fatigue. I think of it as similar to the process of knitting–when you knit there is always the work of knitting, but along the way you can feel inspired by the thing taking shape in front of you. Upon completing the project, you hold something of beauty in your hands, a something that is yours and of your own making.
Resilience for nurses
The emotional work of being a human service provider is the knitting needles bobbing up and down and in and out and the warm loving blanket we see forming along the way, and can ultimately wrap ourselves up in, is our own resilience. One key element of forming this resilience for caregivers is self-compassion.
We can care for others and support them in returning back to themselves and at the same time care for ourselves and restore our own hearts. It can be both. If we are to continue doing the work of being a human service provider, it must be both. If you had told me this truth when I was 15 years into my nursing career, first as an ER nurse and then as a nurse anesthesiologist, I would not have believed you. I was deep in compassion fatigue and I was drained completely empty. The feelings of compassion, nurturing, and empathy felt like distant emotional memories now locked somewhere deep that I felt hopeless to find again.
Self-Compassion for Nurses
Successful knitting takes planning and intention. Practicing self-compassion to support living a resilient life takes planning and intention. There are instructions to follow for both. Both can be learned and the skill of both can be increased.
Self-compassion is the simple practice of being a good friend to yourself. As caregivers, we all have a framework for what this looks like and are professionals at it. We are supportive of our friends and have a great skill for anticipating and giving another person exactly what they need in their moment of difficulty and pain. You can do this same thing for yourself.
Ask yourself, "What do I need?"
Last week was a particularly tough one for me and I said to myself multiple times, “What do you need darling?” and I was able to answer the question. In the past, just pausing to ask myself this question would have led to feeling overwhelmed and emotionally flooded. And, I would have answered myself simply “I don’t know what I need.” In the past, I had knitting needles bobbing up and down in my hands for years and all that was coming of it was exhaustion, frustration, and an ever-growing sense of cynicism.
Now, with learned skills, I am creating my own story of resilience through the bob and flow and the up and down of daily life and you can too.
Wanna do a deep dive on self-compa
ssion? Read Kristin Neff's book, "Self Compassion." from the Mooxli Reading List