Human beings are created in the image of God and capable of empathy, but this heavenly capacity also opens the door to vulnerability. For those of us who work in soul care, listening to the hurts of others, we are gradually chipped-away by the pain of those we are helping. Even though we are image-bearers of God, we do not share in His ability to infinitely absorb the cursed daggers of human suffering. Care opens the caregiver up to vicarious pain. This is a guarantee. And if you're not careful, this vicarious pain can lead to burnout.
A helpful clinical definition of burnout is:
“feelings of hopelessness and difficulty in dealing with work, or difficulty in doing your job. These feelings usually have a gradual onset and reflect the idea that work efforts are not making any difference. They also are associated with high work load and non-supportive work environment.”
A few weeks ago, we posted a quiz to help you identify if you were close to or in the process of experiencing burnout. You can still check out that quiz here.
Whether you are burnt out or getting close to burn out, there is hope.
Being able to speak precisely what you are feeling may be the difference between stopping the gradual descent into burnout and detonating. Do you have an arsenal of descriptive emotional vocabulary to identify the difference between stress, fatigue, hopelessness and depression? Use the emotional word wheel below to hone your feelings identification.
Who is the person in your life who you can speak these words to regularly? Having friends and family who listen to you can provide vital support in your work with hurting people.
Are you feeling trapped in a work environment that is unsupportive? Experiencing consistent dread at being stuck in a non-supportive work environment will inevitably lead to burnout. If you add the weight of being a soul care professional to poor work environment you are headed for burnout. Helping hopeless people while being hopeless yourself can only lead to burnout. Take a look at your work environment and how it's contributing or preventing your burn out.
Putting a hammer to a nail can be extremely satisfying. Unfortunately, soul care is nothing like putting a hammer to a nail. There is no finish line when working with people. Do you have hobbies outside of work that can give you the satisfied feeling of a job completed from start to finish?
Seasons of high workload are part of any job, not just those involved with soul care. It is normal to experience times when it feels like everyone you are caring for is melting down and in need of special attention. What is not normal is an inability to say “no” to those who need help when it crosses a personal, professional or ethical boundary. Do you know what your boundaries are? If you do not know what your boundaries are, you will burnout.
The thrill of helping someone find healing and meaning in life is paralleled by the real threat of being destroyed by the work. Those who find particular skill in helping people are often more sensitive and empathetic than the majority of the population. The inherent thoughtfulness and capacity of soul care workers to feel for those who are in pain comes with this dreadful promise, “If you are not vigilant, you will be crushed.”
It is pure pride to think that you are any different than the army of wrecked caregivers that have gone before you. Who do you have who you can talk to when you are feeling hopeless? What are the things - outside of work - in your life that fill you with the satisfaction of a job complete? Would you be able to clearly state what your personal, professional and ethical boundaries are, if asked?
It is okay if you do not have the answers to any or all of these questions. It is okay if you feel you need help answering hem. We are here to help with exactly these things. Please reach out to us today so that we may stand with you - shoulder to shoulder - in the beautiful work of soul care.