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Self Care for Advocates

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Advocates for survivors of domestic violence must practice self-care so that we may continue to provide the best care and support possible. Especially because we have the tendency to experience burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Even when we try to keep our advocate work separate from our personal lives at home, it can sometimes creep in. This can include feeling guilty, angry, hopeless, and other similar symptoms, along with physical and emotional exhaustion.

If you feel you are reaching the point of experiencing advocate burnout or compassion fatigue, here are some ways that you can take care of and focus on yourself to continue being the best advocate possible:

Spend time with loved ones and friends

Make sure they are people who will listen to things you have learned and experienced through your work as an advocate. They can also help you bring your attention to other things going on in the world and in their own lives, whether they are good or bad things. Making new friends can help you find out about different perspectives on life and experience new things. Try joining a new club or activity at your local gym, community center, or park where you can meet new people.

Remember to take a break from screens.

We do much of our advocate work on the computer through emailing and messaging survivors, as well as through reading and researching about domestic violence in our communities through social media and the news. Take some time off from your screens to read a (real, paper) book or take a walk around the block. Play with your furry companions at home or do some of your other favorite hobbies – that piano in the corner is not going to play itself! Your eyes and brain will thank you for the much-needed break from your phone, computer, and tv screens and the endless amount of information they display.

Be kind and gentle with yourself.

Practice some of your favorite relaxing rituals- think bubble baths, lighting scented candles, cooking your favorite meal, exercising, taking a nap, or drinking a cup of warm herbal tea. An advocate and survivor of our own mentioned in a previous blog post interview that planning to do one fun thing per week can be an important part of your self-care regimen. Additionally, journaling about your work as an advocate can be especially helpful to make your feelings seem less nebulous and more tangible. Journaling can include writing, drawing, pasting in pictures of yourself or other things, or creating anything that helps you feel better.

You are NOT your intrusive thoughts.

Some thoughts that may bubble up as an advocate or provider may include things like, “I am not doing a good enough job at helping” or “How can I help if I have never had these traumatic experiences myself?” If you imagine what survivors of domestic violence would say to these intrusive thoughts, they would probably say they are so thankful for your help and that you are doing a good job. Remember the good things survivors say to you when you help – you can even include them in your journal.

See a therapist once every few months.

Even therapists and other providers and advocates need to talk to someone sometimes. Check with your insurance if therapy appointments are covered under your plan or get a recommendation from a friend for a trusted therapist. As survivors of domestic violence and other traumatic experiences can tell you, it can be extremely helpful to have an impartial, third party listen to you and perhaps give advice on how to start making things better.

Talk with other advocates and providers.

Experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue is very common for advocates and providers, so you are not alone in feeling this way. Talk to other people who do similar work as providers or advocates to determine what they do for self-care and how they avoid burnout. Consider starting a group discussion at your organization about advocate burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma to determine the specific needs of your volunteers and workers.

Taking the time to practice self-care will not only help yourself but will also help the countless survivors of domestic violence for whom you continue to advocate throughout your life. Remember, your feelings as an advocate are always valid and the fact that you are taking your time to help those in need is a beautiful thing.

For more resources on how to practice self-care as an advocate, check out the Joyful Heart Foundation and domesticshelters.org.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our support line advocates at 855-287-1777.

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