Adoption Activism, Self-Care, & Burn-Out

Do you know what happens when you give, give, give and never take the time to "fill up your tank" so to speak?  You burn out.  Self-care and boundaries are a vital part of life, not just in high-stress professions, but in everyday life and personal advocacy goals as well.  Adoption activism is no exception.  There's a great post at Lost Daughters today about taking breaks from all-things-adoption, or some-things-adoption, from time to time.  Lost Daughters wants to know, do you ever take breaks from reading adoption-related materials, visiting adoption forums, or browsing adoption blogs?  I wrote that I do take breaks, and I want to expand upon that in this post.

In my professional world, we call it "burn out" or "compassion fatigue."  Working in jobs where you are in high stress environments, exposed to a dramatic range of emotions, constantly in the position of having to pull people out of their worst moment, and hearing traumatic stories and experiences, like so many Social Workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, paramedics, (the list goes on) do, you give a lot of yourself.  It can be tiring work, and it can wear you out.

Activism can have a very similar effect.  In activism, you often times do a lot of work for very little results, or no results at all.  Sometimes if you have a project that fails, like an unpassed bill, you have to start from scratch and try again.  Activism is often done behind-the-scenes where you receive little support or appreciation.  Or, if you are in the public eye with your work, ruthless criticism, and even abusive remarks, may come your way.

Signs of Burn-Out Include:

  • Not feeling you're making a difference or what you do is worthwhile.
  • Stereotyping the populations you serve or interact with.  The "those people" statements.
  • Anticipating you could have a bad interaction with any client/person/customer because of bad interactions you've had with other clients/people/customers in the past.
  • Treating new people you work with based on how people you've already worked with have treated you in the past, rather than allowing a fresh start to new relationships.
  • Viewing your work through an overwhelmingly negative lens.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Feeling uninspired by your daily accomplishments.
Let's be clear.  There is a difference between acknowledging an empirically-based trend (while also acknowledging that every person and issue is absolutely unique regardless of trends) and seeing all issues as one in the same and funneling them through a burned-out lens--stereotyping.

Burn-out is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It is the belief that you are not making a difference which in turn causes you to act in ways that are contrary to the difference that you are seeking to make.  Effective activists don't want this, of course, and so many of us do take breaks from things we find especially stressful.  This is a good coping strategy.

It's not just adoption activism that can be stressful, it is being involved in the community as well.  Of course, there's nothing like the catharsis, universality, and camaraderie of being with those you identify with.  But adoption narratives are often highly emotional and even tragic.  It can be overwhelming to be constantly entrenched in high emotions, especially on an issue that is so close to home.

I do take days off but have not taken a break from blogging since 2009.  I do not find blogging all that stressful.  I take breaks from reading popular articles that mention adoption.  Popular media articles can be stressful to read--the comments on them even more so.  I cannot be involved in every adoption discussion on the planet so I don't even try.  I take breaks from reading blogs sometimes.  Not that I don't love the blogs that I read but because it's better for me to be more involved in the adoption topic more heavily at some times more than others.  I also take breaks from visiting adoption pages and forums; again, because high emotions can abound and it's good to take a break.

Why?  To continue on the path of the effective advocate.

Ultimately, what we want to achieve is not only our goals in adoption for the people we advocate for but we want to achieve wisdom for ourselves.  Wisdom is the product of the ability to see the interconnectedness of life and accept its paradoxes.  It is to give meaning to the good and bad things in life.  Not a stamp of approval for anything that was wrong or painful, however.  But an understanding of how you grew as a person when you used your personal strength and your intrapsychic resources to overcome the challenges, the battles, and any injustice you faced.  "Wisdom" is usually associated with the Eriksonian stage at end of life.  I truly believe that wisdom can be obtained at any age.  Some people have old souls who have carried their wisdom with them.  Many people have tough narratives at young ages that they need to integrate, work through, and give meaning in order to more forward.  The product of this?  Wisdom.  A testimony of who you are as a person--a gift you can give to others that never runs out.

Burn-out prevents us from achieving that full wisdom we can glean from our experiences.  It causes us to look on our experiences, areas where we really fought to help others, and not see the goodness that we brought into the world.  Do not let burn-out rob you of your happiness, your achievements, and the opportunity for wisdom.  Breaks are OK.  Self-care in activism and advocacy are of utmost importance.  Never let your own needs go to the wayside.

NaBloPoMo/NAAM Day #6