Why Self Care is Essential When Supporting Traumatized Children
Joanna has been a foster parent for nearly 20 years. She has cared deeply for all of the children who have lived with her and she has done her very best to help them heal and recover.
Lately though, she has been feeling bone-tired. There doesn’t seem to be much joy left, it feels like there is always too much to do and nothing that she is doing with the kids seems to make much of a difference. She is not sleeping well, eats too much comfort food and she is feeling and acting more irritable, and then berates herself for behaving poorly. The situations with the children in her care seem hopeless because the trauma they have experienced is so immense. Joanna is feeling increasingly torn—wondering if it is time to quit, yet she loves the children.
These kinds of feelings and thoughts are common signs of compassion fatigue (also known as vicarious traumatization or secondary trauma response).
When you experience compassion fatigue, it can sometimes be hard to recognize it. To you it may seem that the situation is impossible—and it can even feel insulting when someone suggests the key is in self-care. It can feel like as if the seriousness of the situation is being minimized. Instead, it may sound to you like they are saying the problem is your ability to cope. Here are some tips and insights into compassion fatigue:
Telling It Like It Is
So, let’s tell it like it is. Being a foster parent, adoptive parent, therapist or social worker to traumatized children can be heart-breaking, devastating and overwhelming. And not just once or twice, but often and for prolonged periods of time.
That is the nature of this work. This will not change.
Likely you were drawn to this work because you care deeply, and really want to help. Those characteristics are excellent, and what make you good at your job.
But here’s the rub. If you didn’t care so much, and didn’t really want to help, then the fact that the work is heart-breaking and overwhelming wouldn’t matter all that much. You wouldn’t feel compassion fatigue. You’d also, of course, not be very good at your job.
This is where self-care comes in. Not because you are lacking in some way, but because it is a necessary ingredient to remain compassionate and engaged, doing the impossible work that you do.
Self-Compassion and Perspective
Good self-care requires the elements of self-compassion and perspective. This is essential to understand and know.
Self compassion means being kind to yourself— to be gentle with yourself around the mistakes you make and the wounded parts of yourself that get triggered in doing this work.
No-one is perfect, and it is in our imperfection that we can learn, grow and contribute the most. Positive spirituality, meditation, journaling, and your own therapy can be very helpful self-care practices to boost self-compassion.
Perspective is about seeing the bigger picture. It includes understanding that everyone has their own life paths, and living with the sorrow that may come with that understanding. Spending time in nature or gardening to experience the cycles and time spans of all living things can be very helpful here.
There are many ways to boost your self-care. Below are links to resources on our website to help you fine tune your self care.
Resources requiring membership: