Self Care is Mandatory while working with High Conflict Families…Why?
Working with high conflict families going through child custody battles is not an easy task. Professionals in this field easily burnout and need to take care of themselves first so they are physically and mentally prepared to work with this population.
I was working on a challenging high conflict custody case a few years back and noticed I was tired more than usual, not as motivated, didn’t enjoy work or other activities, cranky and overall felt blah! This is not my usual self, nor do I normally have these days consecutively. I kept pushing forward until one day I remembered what a professor once instructed in class about life lessons. He asked our class if you ever begin to notice the following it is time to re-evaluate your life path:
- Have you lost your compassion for more than seven days?
- Do you find yourself just going through the motions?
- Do you feel overwhelmed and walk away from your tasks?
- Are you enjoying what you are doing?
- Is what you are doing working for you?
- Do you feel motivated and ready for each day?
Do you have energy or are you tired most of the time?
Overall, are you happy where you are in life or do you need to make some changes?Our Professor approached this subject about life lessons and burnout. He indicated he went through a period of time in his life where he was numb and lost his passions. He educated our class about the importance of self evaluation and when we begin to look at life as half full, it is time for a change. At that time, I didn’t believe this was possible. I was full of life, energy and passionate about my career.As I remembered this educational piece from a professor and watched myself go through the motions every day with little passion, I decided it was time to self evaluate my life, career and goals. I had lost my compassion, I was going through the motions, I ignored tasks that needed to get done, I did not enjoy what I was doing, I was unmotivated and had little energy. Overall, I was not happy where my life was going. As I have always said to myself and others “words are words, it is our actions that reflect our hard work and passions in life.” Obviously I was not following my own advice so why should I expect others to?
My pivotal moment happened one day when I went for my routine jog, however I chose to run on a trail surrounded by nature rather than the normal road routine. The sunshine was out, the warmth felt welcomed and although the run felt hard, I felt positive and inspired to stay in the present. The beginning of this run, I noticed myself saying negative things (aka. negative self talk) such as “this is terrible, I can’t wait for this to be over, etc.” until I realized this moment was absolutely beautiful; the sunshine was out, the trees were beautiful, the birds chirping and overall how lucky I am to be running in a beautiful area near home.
When the jog came to an end I felt something heavy released from my body where my mind was focused, my body felt light and compelled with passion for this journey. I went home, hugged my family and began writing about the pivotal moment during my run in the woods. This day marked an important moment in my life. During this journey I realized I had not been living in the moment nor enjoying the little things life has to offer. I realized my compassion went dormant for awhile when I lost sight of the importance for living in the moment rather than focus on the negativity life may bring if you let it in. My mood slowly shifted and my body began to have energy again. Slowly, my old self returned with a new appreciation for the little things. I no longer became impatient or bored when a line was too long, traffic was heavy, or whatever nuance life had to bring. I no longer dreaded going to work, in fact, I looked forward helping others find their path.
Although this journey took some time to go through, I am forever grateful of the process and life experiences. Having professional colleagues to talk to was a very important part of my healing process as I walked this path. Compassion fatigue is real and when you or someone you know is going through this, please reach out to them and offer guidance and help. Professionals in the mental health arena do not have to walk this journey alone. Mental Health Professionals are “helpers” and want to ‘save the world.’ That is a big job for one person and it is OKAY to ask for help. When we lose sight of our goals in life, have little energy, become cynical, have little compassion and no longer enjoy our professional and/or personal life, it is time for a mental health tune up. Clients come to us for help and we owe it to them and ourselves to be mentally and physically healthy. When Mental Health Professionals battle through compassion fatigue, the best thing they can do is take time to refocus on their goals, talk to a professional and be kind to oneself. Working with high conflict families may take a toll on you eventually; finding balance is vital in this profession.
Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC