Jul 24, 2012

A resource for accompaniers (and others) dealing with trauma exposure

I highly recommend the book
Trauma stewardship: an everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others
by Laura Van Dernoot with Connie Burk
(I was happy to find that the CPT team in Colombia had this on their shelf, though I don't know how often it gets read or practiced!)

They write about some of the
warning signs of trauma exposure response: 
(which many accompaniers may relate to)
  • feeling helpless and hopeless
  • a sense that one can never do enough
  • hypervigilance
  • diminished creativity
  • inability to embrace complexity
  • minimizing
  • chronic exhaustion
  • inability to listen/deliberate avoidance
  • disassociative moments
  • sense of persecution
  • guilt
  • fear
  • can’t empathize/numbing
  • anger and cynicism
  • addictions
  • grandiosity: one’s identity becomes solely about work

The book is full of tips for self care in this situation:
  • coming in to the present moment
  • trauma mastery (read for more on this)
  • where am I putting my focus? (+ -)
  • creating a microculture
  • practicing compassion for myself and others
  • finding balance
  • gratitude
  • daily centering
Of course they say much more about each of those. 

One of their arguments that really resonated with me was that people may come to think that only by suffering themselves can they express solidarity with those who are suffering, that feeling happy is somehow a betrayal. Somewhere between ignorining people in crisis and internalizing an ethic of martyrdom lies balance. It helps to understand our own personal response to trauma exposure, our patterns and how to respond. (page 61).

I also liked their argument that it can be easy to confuse being amped up, attending to crises, a sense of being needed with being awake, living life.  This can make it hard to slow down and we find ourselves keeping very busy even on vacation, or we get sick on vacation from adrenalin crash (page 123).  We can get stuck in fight or flight. Animals shake it off/out afterwards. It can help your parasympathetic nervous system kick in to move energy out like this.  Move. Walk. Breathe.

They recommend that when you start the workday you stop and ask yourself, why am I doing what I am doing? Breathe. Remind yourself making a choice to do this work. Regularly write down why you are doing it, what your intention is. Remind yourself what it is about for you, and what it is not.  This would be a great exercise for accompaniers, if not daily at least once in a while.  Maybe right now?

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