How working with abuse can affect us – Willie Manson
Most professionals who work with children or adults in the field of welfare and protection are resilient. Yet we are all human. Working with people affected by sexual abuse, whether survivors or those who sexually harm others, can be difficult and demanding. Because we are human, there are times when these demands can also have an impact on our health and well-being. This is particularly relevant at the moment through the impact of the global pandemic.
There may be times when you experience some changes in how you think and act. These can include:
- Feeling overprotective in relation to children in your life
- Increased difficulty making decisions
- Intrusive visual imagery about sexual violence or abuse
- Ruminating over offence details if you work directly with those who have offended or who have disclosed abuse
- Doubts about personal competence
- Increased cynicism and suspicion of others in your work or personal life
- Decreased sensitivity and dulling of emotion
- Feelings of anger, frustration, disillusionment, depression, inadequacy and guilt
- Heightened anxiety and fear
- Increased feelings of helplessness
- Sleep disturbance, increased alcohol/drug use, increased absenteeism
- Decreased sense of humour
- Avoidance of physical contact with children
- Increased general irritability
- Depersonalising clients
- Reduced interest in sex
It’s important to remember that most people don’t feel bad all of the time. All of us experience some sort of negative impact at some point in our professional career but most recover.
Look after yourself in the workplace
Your employers should offer training and support in order to help you manage the challenges of the work, especially if you are working from home. If you find that your work continues to have a negative impact on you and your relationships then you should find out what additional support your organisation can provide. This may involve further training, counselling or sometimes changes to your workload or the content of your work.
Support can come from within and outside of your work. Your manager and colleagues can be useful sounding boards for advice and sharing the frustrations and emotions of the work. However sometimes they might not be available or you might find that you take some of the emotions home with you. It is important to identify who is available outside of the work to support you, and what information you can share (remembering the importance of confidentiality).
Dealing with stress
It can be very easy to feel a level of responsibility when an individual re-offends. You question yourself and your ability to make sound decisions e.g. did I put enough support in place, and did I consider all the risk factors? What you must always remain clear about is that if they re-offend, it is their choice and decision.
We can all have a tendency when coping with a situation or problem to revert to avoidance e.g. keeping ourselves busy. We can also display an emotional response to a problem e.g. banging doors, shouting.
These are normal short-term responses to problems, but for longer-term resolution consider the following:
Good communication involving honest and open dialogue about the impact of the work is the key. The biggest strength to have is the ability to admit when you are struggling or are having problems. Internalising these issues and not discussing them with the relevant individuals can be harmful.
Look at the big picture:
Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
Adjust your standards:
Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with ‘good enough’.
Focus on the positive:
When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts.
- Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule.
- Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
- Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that make you happy.
- Keep your sense of humour. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
- Just about any form of physical activity can help relieve stress and burn away anger, tension and frustration. Exercise releases endorphins which boost your mood and make you feel good and it can also serve as a valuable distraction to your daily worries. Even very small activities can add up over the course of a day. Once you’re in the habit of being physically active, try to incorporate regular exercise into your daily schedule. Pick an activity you enjoy, so you’re more likely to stick with it. The first step is to get yourself up and moving.
- Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
- Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary ‘highs’ caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary.
- Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head-on and with a clear mind.
- Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
Further information can be found at https://www.theupstreamproject.org.uk/professionals/content-for-professionals
and support at https://www.mind.org.uk/
Willie Manson, Project Manager
Stop It Now! Scotland