Service and Self Care:
Healing Ideas for a Whole Life
by Teresa Wagner
your motivation to help animals. Be willing to work on
eliminating thoughts and beliefs which contribute to compassion
fatigue and add those which prevent and heal it. See
our Core Beliefs and Motivations to Help Animals
2. Remember to love
yourself as much as you love the animals! Whatever your unique
motivation to help animals, be sure it's balanced with loving
yourself. If you don't take care of you, there will be little of
quality left to give to the animals.
yourself as one of the heroes who does some of the hardest and most
important work done for animals in the world. Recognize and
remember that in the complex, big picture of animal welfare issues
you are part of the solution. You deserve and need to feel proud
about what you are contributing.
Identify and work on healing your own painful life issues. Many
of us are attracted to helping animals not only because we genuinely
love them but because we also have been neglected, abandoned, or
abused and it can be very fulfilling to help others who have been
hurt like us. This is a commendable thing--but not if we avoid
facing and healing our own pain. Sometimes we can even become
addicted to helping in an unconscious quest to really heal
ourselves. Don't be afraid to seek professional counseling,
participate in a support group or other modes of healing. Sometimes
we all need help processing overwhelming feelings or understanding
and healing the hurts from our past, or need support to live with
the horrors we sometimes see in this work. Seeking the help of a
counselor when your heart is in pain is just as important as seeking
the help of a doctor when your body is hurt.
to protect yourself from others' emotional pain. We each have
the capacity to feel and express deep compassion and empathy for
animals and each other without taking on others' pain. We are less
able to help when we take ownership of others' problems and pain
because to do so takes so much energy. Let others have their own
pain; use your energy to support and help them.
your limitations - you can't save them all. No one person alone
will change the overpopulation problem, find appropriate homes for
every animal, or rescue every wild animal in distress. Yet together
we can make a huge difference and change the world for the better,
one animal at a time. When you feel overwhelmed or unable to do
more, ask for help. Ask other people to help and, if it's in your
belief system, pray.
Maintain a healthy and strong support system. Seek out people
who share your values and nurture your growth. Cherish and enjoy
your relationship with your own companion animals. Feel good about
the love and home you provide for them.
Andrea Starn, owner of
Moondoggy Dog Walking Services, got married in the forest with her
dogs Buddy, Chinook, and Bear as attendants. How's that for a
Schedule time to simply relax and play! Cultivate interests,
activities, and hobbies beyond your work. Shelter work is
emotionally, physically, and spiritually taxing. Your deserve
rejuvenation time - regularly!
Deb Mag, manager of a
shelter in Monterey County, California, relaxes with Sidni and
Charlie after a long run.
that strong emotions can be tolerated and need not be avoided.
The work you do with and for animals is probably the most
emotionally complex and exhausting work of any of the helping
professions. Strong feelings of anger and rage, deep sorrow and
anguish, and guilt are likely to be regular, returning experiences.
Because of their strength and recurring nature, it's very, very
important to learn ways to not merely temporarily cope and escape
their intensity (though that's certainly healthy and necessary), but
to learn to process these feelings and to release them. It's
possible to live with these intense emotions without feeling
overwhelmed or scared, or without stuffing and denying them. Feeling
overwhelmed leads quickly to burnout, and denied feelings always
come back later to haunt us. Find safe, comfortable, and appropriate
ways to express your emotions:
your feelings with someone who will listen and not judge you. If
you are involved with euthanasia, consider joining the e-group
sponsored by the Humane Link for instant, on-line support:
feelings_in a journal, in unsent letters, in poetry, articles, or
in carefully thought out letters to the person or group with whom
feelings_with paper and pen, with paints, with colored markers,
you're really angry express your anger through a safe "temporary
stopgap" until it's released so you have the energy and calmness
to explore it further.
feeling overwhelmed by sadness or grief, know this is a normal
response to the work you do, and know you will not always feel it.
Temporarily contain your overwhelming feelings in your "safe
place" where you can take them out to process when you have the
energy and the support you need to do so.
for any of us experiencing overwhelming emotions to seek relief.
Some of us may stretch out in front of the TV, go shopping, sleep,
work out or take a walk. Sometimes, too, it's easy for people with
on-going, unchanging pressure to turn to alcohol or drugs for needed
relief. Be very, very careful about your consumption of addictive
substances, including prescription drugs. If you believe you are
currently addicted to any substance, reach out for help now. You
deserve a whole, full life in return for your work for the animals,
not one riddled with the pain of addiction.
and practice effective interpersonal skills to help you
communicate with people at every level of your organization, the
public, and with other agency personnel. Though it's true that most
people are in this field because they love animals, we still all
have varying personalities which can be cause for conflict, and our
values and philosophies about how numerous animal issues should be
handled will never be identical. Sharing love for the animals does
not in and of itself make people working for them get along or work
productively together. If we ex pect others to hear and care about
our ideas and concerns, we all have a responsibility to build skills
in empathic listening, influencing, negotiating, supervising,
handling conflicts and customer service.
source for workshops on these topics is from organization consultant
Jan Elster 3962 North Longfellow Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85718
yourself to sensory rejuvenation. Especially for those who
perform euthanasia day after day, the senses of smell, sight, touch,
and sound can be assaulted. By intentionally treating ourselves to
sensory delights such as fragrances, music, petting our animals, or
watching a sunset, we can help compensate our bodies and spirits for
the regular onslaught of unpleasant sensory experience in euthanasia
rooms. Find creative and meaningful ways to soothe your senses which
make you feel alive, relaxed, and well.
yourself to laughter! The heaviness of your work deserves
to be balanced with humor and lightness. Watch those funny
movies, laugh at your companion animals' antics, enjoy jokes
with your colleagues. Enjoy your sense of humor...
Embrace your spirituality. Take time out from the stress of this
work to connect with your spirit everyday. Clarify what it is that
makes you feel in touch with your true spirit and do these things
regularly. Whether it's prayer, meditation, being with your own
companion animal, viewing wildlife, hugging your significant other,
smelling roses, walking at the o cean, spiritual reading_you need
and deserve to feel centered and whole. Find comfort, strength, and
meaning in your own spiritual beliefs and practices.
approaches to stress management tend to be the ones that help us
cope. Though coping is a necessary competency for daily living, to
truly heal stress, to truly comes to terms with the deep pain of
compassion fatigue, we need to be at peace in our own souls. We need
to embrace our own spirituality and spiritual views, whatever they
Essence Productions is a great site to find high quality, high
integrity tapes and books on meditation and spirituality: http://www.orindaben.com/home/tapesinfo.htm