Burnout – it’s real.
Sometimes our stories drive us to achieve in ways that don’t serve us or others well. We create a lifestyle of performance and over achievement that gradually evolves into a prison cell where we live feeling trapped, exhausted, cynical, and resentful toward our work and the people in our lives. At its most extreme, we hit a wall and can no longer go on because of significant physical and emotional impairment.
I have a tender spot for those suffering in this way because I have had two episodes of burnout in my life. The first at age 19, when I landed in the hospital for five days, so my body could start to recuperate from a very serious case of mono and exhaustion. The second, later in life when I made a career change and pulled back from my full-time practice.
Burnout is a downward spiral.
You carry core beliefs that performance is the pathway to achievement and being lovable. You believe that hard work is good, so working harder must be even better.
You have an oversized sense of responsibility toward others and your job.
You never learned how to take time for self-care, and your ability to listen to your emotions as important sources of data about yourself is blunted. So, you miss a lot of red flags and warning signs communicated by your body.
You view your body as a means to an end. It is a tool to help you achieve. You have turned yourself and your body into a commodity.
Boundaries are almost nonexistent.
Also, you strongly desire to please people and avoid conflict, so your boundaries are either weak or inconsistent.
You are competent, so others are often asking and expecting a lot from you – but you struggle with ever saying no to a request. In your quest and focus on achieving goals, you rarely stop to ask if this was the life you wanted to live. The goal became all-powerful, and you learn to ignore or tolerate the cost of getting there.
Ironically, when this way of living starts to breakdown and we start slowly realizing it is not working so well – our solution is to blame ourselves for not working hard enough. That must be the culprit and the explanation for why this is not turning out as we expected!
So, instead of changing course, we double down and just work harder at what we have been doing. We assume that we are flawed, rather than considering that our method and assumptions about what will bring us success are flawed.
The harder we work and push ourselves, the deeper we sink until our bodies and minds are finally at a breaking point.
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
– Jack Kornfield
Burnout by another name is still burnout.
A related phenomenon is compassion fatigue. It is burnout experienced by those in the healthcare professions as well as those in helping professions like teaching and first responders.
However, there is an added layer of trauma at being on the front lines of caring for humanity when they are at their most vulnerable and sometimes at their worst. The pain that is seen daily can be absorbed, and this vicarious trauma takes a cumulative toll over time.
These individuals are strongly motivated to make the world a better place and feel it is their mission to alleviate suffering. Sometimes it is hard for them to see their pain and needs, because of all of the collective pain around them.
Compassionate people also have typically never developed consistent habits of self-care or plans for self-monitoring their feelings and needs.
The wonderful news is that there is recovery and healing!
It is very possible to make changes so that you are choosing your life, rather than slowly losing it over time.
The first message I share with my patients who are “Running on Empty” is that you did the best you could with what you had to work with at the time. You were not equipped to make better choices at the time. You had options that you could not see.
I did not end up in the hospital at age 19 because of failure or being stupid. I was coping in the only way I could see – based on what I had been taught and exposed to in my short life at the time.
Learn the difference between choices and decisions.
The next step is to work on forgiving yourself and then grieving what has been lost while you struggled in the prison of burnout. Then we begin to develop tools and resources so that going forward you make choices rather decisions.
Decisions are what you make when you feel boxed in, pressured, and with seemingly limited options. Choices are what you make when you have an abundance of time, space, and other resources.
Sometimes you will have to make time and space in your life to create freedom for choices.
Do you make regular visits to yourself?
Therapy will help you define your boundaries and figure out what truly nourishes and fills up your tank emotionally. We will take a realistic look at your life and figure out what you need to move off your plate.
We may challenge some of your core beliefs about your relationship to suffering in the world. We will explore how to shift from being a commodity that performs – to a human being that loves, creates, and lives with joy.
Don’t stay on the hamster wheel of never-ending work!
I think you are ready to take the next step toward healing and creating a life that is a healthy expression of who you are. Reach out and connect with me today by calling (316) 768-7411!