Challenging Victim-blaming

In July, we learned about “public stigma” – the stigma that people express towards others. Click here to read that article. In this post, we will examine one type of public stigma that can have a devastating psychological impact on people who are recovering from abuse.

Victim-blaming is the tendency to view victims as responsible for the violent acts perpetuated against them. Victim-blaming implies the fault for events such as domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and other acts of violence lies with the victim rather than the perpetrator. Common negative social reactions include anger, disbelief or skepticism, implicit or explicit blame, and even the refusal of assistance for victims seeking help. Victim blaming also takes many forms and can be quite subtle; for example when a woman who is pickpocketed is chided for her decision to carry a purse.  Any time someone questions what a victim could have done differently, he or she is participating in the culture of victim-blaming.

Simply talking about an abuse experience requires significant vulnerability and bravery! Victim-blaming severely hampers our ability to best support people who have entrusted us to their story. At its core, victim blaming reinforces what abusers have been saying, thus increasing the sense of shame and self-stigma that invariably comes from internalizing some of the emotional and mental injury perpetuated. Being blamed for traumatic experiences can lead to increases in mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The cultural tendency for victim blaming also decreases the likelihood that people will seek help and support due to fear of being further shamed or judged. It even prevents people from reporting crimes; This is true not only in cases of sexual assault but also in cases of domestic abuse or hate crimes.

The challenge to changing and dismantling victim-blaming attitudes lies in the fact that such responses are pervasive, often automatic, and emanate from people’s desire to feel safe themselves. Blaming victims allows us to feel that the world is just, that we have control over what happens to us, and that we can avoid traumatic experiences ourselves. While these attitudes grant us some sense of control over our lives, they also compromise our ability to empathize with others and perpetuate public stigma.

Survivors benefit from being around supportive people who understand the pitfalls of victim-blaming. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies we might use to offer unequivocal support and compassion to survivors who share their stories with us:

·      Acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is to share stories of trauma and abuse. Believe people who choose to share their stories with you. Realize that they are trusting you to treat them and their personal life experiences with respect;

·      The first step is awareness. Be aware of the mental trap of believing that the world is just. It is difficult to accept that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Recognize the tendency to rationalize suffering, trauma, and misfortune in this way;

·      Survivors sharing their story with us may interpret “why” questions as a guised form of blame. Avoid accusatory questions. Pointing out how the victim could have acted or responded differently is not useful and can be invalidating. Offer compassion by listening to what they have to say without offering interpretations of the event;

·      Since many people attribute part of the blame to themselves, reassure survivors that “it is not your fault;”

·      Language surrounding acts of violence often focus on the victim rather than the perpetrator, which can have the effect of erasing the behavior of the perpetrator. When discussing acts of violence, use active voice to focus attention on the perpetrator (“X hit Mary”). Reframe questions to focus on the perpetrator’s actions (“What did X do next?”).

While these strategies allow us to communicate and offer support to individual survivors, these are also a number of ways we can attempt to challenge the culture of victim-blaming on a more systemic level:

·      Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear them. People may not realize their attitude is one that makes it seem as if a victim is a fault. Kindly counter their statements and increase awareness in others by challenging statements that condone victim blaming;

·      Remember that the only one at fault for a crime is the perpetrator. When perpetrators or their enablers make excuses, hold them accountable and do not let them rationalize their actions by blaming the victim or minimizing their crime;

·      Jokes normalize victim-blaming by making light of trauma. Challenge jokes about traumatic events by calling it out immediately and explaining why it makes you uncomfortable;

·      Educate your community by collaborating with organizations (e.g., local women’s organizations, domestic violence organizations, rape crisis centers, and victim’s rights organizations) that can teach people the importance of supporting survivors.

For those reading this who may be in need of additional support for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or hate crimes, please click here, here, or here to connect to resources.

The TLC4 Model

In December, we discussed several stigma change processes, including protest, education, and contact. Of these, contact with those with lived mental health experience is the most effective. Hearing about the mental health challenges and the recovery efforts of others is the best way to decrease stigma and offer realistic hope to those facing similar challenges. To read more about this, click here. Changing minds isn’t easy and certain approaches are more impactful than others in reversing harmful and hurtful beliefs. WISE uses the TLC4 model to aid us in reaching various populations and producing tangible change. TLC4 stands for the following:

  • Targeted – Where do people experience stigma in your community? Public stigma is often experienced in multiple settings. Stigma change efforts should be targeted to particular groups of people or settings where people have encountered stigma. Stigma change strategies can then be tailored to the particular group or setting being targeted. (e.g. health providers, school staff, faith groups, civic groups, etc.)
  • Local – Stigma reduction works best if designed to meet the unique characteristics of a local area. What works in Madison may not work best in Rhinelander. Tailoring discussions and providing specific tools to meet local needs serves these areas most effectively.
  • Credible – Contact with a peer, or someone who is similar to us in some way, establishes rapport and allows us to see each other’s perspectives more clearly. If we view each other as more alike than different, we can listen and converse while feeling understood and open to the ideas of others. (e.g. parent to parent, nurse to nurse, teen to teen)
  • Continuous – While one conversation with someone who is facing or has faced mental health challenges may make a difference to an individual, it’s not usually enough to make a lasting difference. Reversing stigma is a cultural shift and will take dedication over time by those who are committed to it. It’s also important to note that variety is needed in order to establish a wide and progressive base for change.
  • Change-focused – Determine what you want the targeted group to do differently as a result of your efforts. How will you know that you have made an impact?
  • Contact – If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. Contact with those with lived mental health experience is the single best way to reverse self and public stigma and increases inclusion and supportive behavior by and for all.

With that said, if you’re feeling inspired and want to do your part to reverse stigma, here is a list of what you can do right now to make a difference:

  • Seek out those with lived mental health experience. Listen to their story, and support their recovery and resilience. Not sure how to do that? The Seven Promises that go with the Safe Person Decal give a good outline of how to be an effective listener and to offer support. If you feel comfortable, vow to be a safe person for others by displaying the Safe Person Decal. Download or order the Safe Person Decal here.
  • Wear lime green, the color of mental health awareness. Be prepared to speak up about what it means and why you’re wearing it. In an effort to create curiosity and start conversations with others, WISE offers free, lime green bandanas, which can be ordered here.
  • If applicable, consider sharing the story of your own mental health challenges and recovery. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re ready to disclose your personal experiences, tap into WISE’s resources and go through the HOP training or download the HOP workbook here. HOP, which stands for Honest, Open, Proud, is a program to assist in making strategic disclosure decisions. More information on HOP will be posted on WISE Words soon, so check back again, or, if you can’t wait to get started, read more about HOP here.
  • If you have permission, share the stories of others. Click here to watch short video stories created by one of WISE’s partners, Rogers InHealth. These are excellent resources to watch and share with others.
  • Bring the conversation to your various communities – work, civic, faith, and schools. WISE has several offerings, including the WISE Basics presentation and discussion, HOP training, and consulting with organizations as they design, implement, and evaluate TLC4, that can assist these communities in reducing stigma. To request a training or find out more, please email WISE@wisewisconsin.org.

Employing the tips provided and following the TLC4 Model will give you a better idea of how to end stigma effectively. In our next few posts, we’ll be discussing HOP in more detail. In the meantime, feel free to sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at https://wisewisconsin.org/.

Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 Making News & Breaking Records

Becase of their unique, stylistic elements, rappers pride themselves on their narratives, which often address current issues and/or popular trends. However, topics related to mental health have been noticeably absent from the rap genre.

That is… until last April when the rapper, singer, and songwriter known as Logic released 1-800-273-8255, a song named after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) which “thoughtfully and creatively…inspires listeners to seek help and find hope” according to a press release issued by the NSPL. Their website, which you can visit here, “…provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week..” 1-800 was released with the full cooperation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In a recent press release, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline shared that, on the date of 1-800-273-8255’s release, they received 4,573 calls — the second highest daily call volume in the NSPL’s history. Since, baseline Google searches for the NSPL have increased by 100% and have remained 25% higher than before 1-800 was released. That more people are calling the NSPL attests to the powerful impact that music and entertainers can have on promoting mental health.

On his personal Twitter account, Logic himself even declared that 1-800 is “the most important song I ever wrote.” Big words from a man with three albums, all of which are RIAA certified Gold, and two Grammy nominations, both for 1-800-273-8255, to his name. Logic not only credits his fans for this success, but also for convincing him to tackle such difficult subject matter. After fans commented on the power of his voice, Logic challenged himself to write songs with even more meaning and purpose by asking, “…what could I do if I actually tried to save somebody’s life?” And so 1-800 was born, a product of Logic’s own experiences, past and present, with mental health challenges.

According to CBS, Logic, whose birth name is Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, was raised in a biracial household by an African-American father and a Caucasian mother. The first was incarcerated, and both faced various mental health and substance abuse challenges. Amidst this difficult upbringing, Logic left home at 17 and dropped out of high school in order to “devote himself to music full-time…”

Today, Logic faces his own mental health challenges in a “form of anxiety called derealization disorder.” According to Logic, derealization disorder is “an intense form of anxiety where you feel like you’re…separated and there’s a filter between you and reality…because you’re hyper-analyzing the situations around you…” By Logic’s own admission, his derealization disorder was caused by his refusal to take breaks from his routine to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. Once he decided to say “no” to certain opportunities and prioritize his own well-being, Logic’s condition greatly improved.

Logic continues to speak openly about his difficulties, both past and present. He realizes that his experiences are not uncommon and uses his talents to connect with others. He realizes that this is not only the best way to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness, but also a way to encourage those with mental health challenges to seek help, if necessary. Of his motivation to write 1-800-273-8255, he says, “I just wanted them to know that they really weren’t alone. That’s why I write songs like that… I want people to be themselves no matter who they are…” To see Logic’s powerful performance, in which he urges others to join in his movement for mental health advocacy, click here.

In December, Khalid, who collaborated with Logic on 1-800 performed at The Rave/Eagle’s Club in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This event was hosted by KISS FM and sponsored by two of WISE’s partners, Rogers Behavioral Health, or RBH, and Mental Health for American, or MHA. RBH and MHA had a presence at the event and gave approximately 3,500 attendees glow-in-the-dark wristbands, which listed the Safe Person URL on them to promote the Safe Person Decal with the Seven Promises. To read more about the Safe Person Decal, click here. The Safe Person initiative is part of WISE’s work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and educate people on how to be supportive of those who may be struggling. To download or order Safe Person decals, click here.

Stigma Change Processes

Back in July, we discussed what stigma is and where it comes from. Click here to read that article again. While this information is useful, the most important thing to know about stigma is that, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t exist. In this post, we’re going to discuss how we can reverse and eliminate stigma. This information is what WISE uses to frame its goals and accomplish its mission to build resilience, inclusion, and hope in Wisconsin’s communities.

Research by CA Ross and EM Goldner indicates that, in any given situation, we can be stigmatizers, stigmatized, or de-stigmatizers. This means we’re either contributing to, receiving, or reversing stigmatizing behaviors. Obviously, we at WISE strive for the latter and encourage others to do the same! Below are common ways that others have attempted, or you can attempt, to reduce or eliminate stigma:

Protest – Protests usually garner a lot of attention thanks to media coverage, which can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the protest. The issue here is to be aware of the unintended consequences of well-intended actions. For instance, protests have the potential to have a rebound effect and actually increase negative stereotypes. For example, when the cast on Duck Dynasty made strong declarations against same-sex marriage, people protested the show, suggesting others no longer watch or purchase items related to the show. Rather than have the intended effect, highlighting the issue without any accompanying support for a change in attitude, actually emboldened those in agreement with the stigma. The result was that ratings and sales increased.

Education – Education is often tried as a way to reverse stereotypes. For instance, we can dispel the myth that people with mental illness are dangerous by teaching people that people with untreated mental illness are only slightly more dangerous, especially when using drugs or alcohol. In fact, compared to people without a mental illness, people with a mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence. The real question is: does having that additional knowledge actually decrease personal or public stigma? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. More often than not, our opinions stay the same or change in the short term but revert to our previously held stereotype in the long term. Knowledge is not enough to reverse stereotypes that elicit strong emotions such as of fear.

Contact – The preferred way to effectively end stigma is to have meaningful contact with those who are living in recovery with mental health challenges. This is what WISE is all about. Hearing that others have faced mental health challenges, found a path of recovery, and have a satisfying life even if dealing with ongoing challenges, is the best way to decrease stigma and offer realistic hope to aid our own recovery. Resilience is the capacity to succeed and thrive, despite experiencing trauma, mental illness, and/or addiction. Recovery is a process of change through which people work to improve their health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential. The difference between this approach and education is that exposure to people’s stories and lived experiences are much more emotional and the brain makes deeper connections when emotions are involved along with factual information, which is why talking to those with lived mental health experience is so effective.

In general, stigma change processes can be measured in terms of their effectiveness by the chart below.

Process

Media-Based In-Person
Protest X X
Education XX XX
Contact XXXX XXXXX

This information shows that if you’re really looking to end stigma, put yourself in a position to interact with those who live with mental health challenges and encourage others to do the same. To start right now you, can watch a video or two of people sharing their stories of recovery made by Rogers InHealth, a WISE partner, click here. To be a part of WISE’s ongoing efforts, you can also sign up for the WISE newsletter below for more information or attend a WISE meeting to get more involved.

 

You and Your Self-Care

 

In October’s post, we talked about what compassionate boundaries are and listed six tips for setting compassionate boundaries with others. Incorporating these into your routine will help you build compassion resilience, or CR, and will allow you to do your best work and establish healthy relationships. If you need a reminder, review them here.

If you’re still having a tough time mastering CR, don’t worry. As we said before, CR is a process that requires constant maintenance and happens over time. Keep working at it by incorporating some of the tips we’ve mentioned so far and those on self-care that we’ll discuss below.

Self-care, or the providing of care by you and for you, is an essential part of achieving great CR. Why, you ask? Self-care helps you maintain your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self. Self-care also offers you the rare chance to check-in and prioritize your own well-being by acknowledging the fundamental responsibility that you have to care for yourself. This is critical, especially to those who are also responsible for providing care to others.

One common criticism of self-care is that it’s selfish. While you can guess that WISE disagrees, hear us out. According to PsychCentral, self-care is not only about considering our own needs, but also about knowing what we need to take care of ourselves and, consequently, others. This is where compassion resilience ties in. Self-care means investing in yourself now so that you can invest in others later. Think of it this way…If you’re feeling satisfied, you’re more likely to help others feel the same.

If you’re not sold on self-care yet, you’re likely thinking about the logistics. You don’t have the time or are too busy for self-care. According to Reachout.com, there are several strategies we can use to make self-care an essential part of our everyday life. Continue reading for WISE’s abbreviated version, or find the full article here. https://au.reachout.com/articles/6-strategies-for-self-care

  • Make time for it. Purposefully set aside at least 10 minutes or more each day to practice self-care. Remember that self-care is flexible and that there are multiple ways to do so successfully. It doesn’t need to be a certain activity or at a certain time. (But, it is true that consistency of time can help with consistency of practice!)
  • Make your self-care a priority by monitoring your schedule and staying organized. Don’t double book, and don’t necessarily change your self-care plans if other plans pop up.
  • Be prepared. Create a list of self-care activities that you would like to do or want to try. If you’re struggling, look at the list below for potential options. Keep it handy, so that you can use it when you have the time.
  • Tune-in. Take moments before, during, and after self-care to tune in to how you’re feeling. Become aware of self-care’s many rewards. Notice how other parts of your life shift when you provide care by yourself and for yourself.
  • Learn to switch off. If possible, try to be present while practicing self-care by turning your cell-phone off. We know it’s hard to do, but this time should be devoted to you and your own well-being as much as possible.
  • Learn some quick fixes. Find self-care practices that you can do without excessive setup or supplies. These could include deep breathing or stretching exercises. You’ll be able to do activities like these anywhere, which will increase your chances of doing them at all.

According to PsychCentral, self-care isn’t something that you should force yourself to do. It’s something that refuels us, instead of taking away from us. In order to achieve total health, a balance needs to be developed between 6 separate but related parts of your being, which include emotional, spiritual, social, physical, intellectual, and creative care. Look below for some ideas on how to practice self-care in each of these 6 categories.

  • Emotional – Create a goal board, cuddle with your partner or pet, go to a support group meeting, listen to or sing a mood-boosting song, plan your next vacation, revisit a childhood hobby or interest, write in a journal
  • Spiritual – Attend a service, commune with nature, forgive someone who has wronged you, meditate, plant a tree and watch it grow, pray, unplug for a few hours, volunteer
  • Social – Call or text a family member or friend that you care about to catch up, host a get-together, get to know your co-workers or neighbors, join a local team, unfriend negative influences on Facebook
  • Physical – Cook yourself a healthy meal, drink water, exercise, go in for check-ups and receive regular care, stretch, take an afternoon nap, try acupuncture or get a massage
  • Intellectual – Complete a puzzle, find a new hobby, make a to-do list, read a book about a topic you’ve been interested in but have never taken the time to learn about, sign up for a class
  • Creative – Decorate or rearrange your room, color, tackle a DIY project, take and develop photos, write a poem or short story

The importance of self-care has recently seen a resurgence in healthcare and is now considered a primary means of preventative care.  That said, self-care is not the end all, be all and doesn’t mean that environmental issues should be ignored in favor of individualistic pursuits. It does, however, play an important role in maintaining your overall well-being, so do yourself a favor, and indulge in some much-needed self-care. For more information on CR, feel free to sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at https://wisewisconsin.org/.

Facebook’s New Self-Harm/ Suicide Algorithm

 

Social media is immensely popular, particularly the powerhouse Facebook, which boasts 1.2 billion daily users and is now worth over 500 billion dollars according to Zephoria.com. No, you didn’t read that wrong— that’s billion with a b. Due to Facebook’s immense following, as well as the subsequent rise of similar platforms such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat, much research has been done examining social media’s many effects, particularly among adolescents who’ve grown up utilizing this powerful technology. Much of this research has focused on Facebook’s potentially harmful effects, such as cyberbullying, which many researchers have linked to rising suicide rates in recent years according to USA Today.

Cyberbullying is, and will remain, a huge concern for families as access to and means of communication continue to expand. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, over 50% of adolescents have experienced some form cyberbullying and between 10% and 20% experience it regularly. Bear in mind that, as with many sensitive subjects, these occurrences are often underreported.

Cyberbullying can take many forms from posting hurtful and/or threatening messages to sharing personal or private information meant to put down or shame. Unsurprisingly, cyberbullying can lead some victims to have “low self-esteem and to consider suicide.” According to StopBullying.gov, this is possible given several concerns specific to digital communication that make cyberbullying even more harmful and hard to prevent than face-to-face occurrences of bullying. These include the following:

  • Persistence – The ability to instantly and continuously communicate means that it can be difficult to find relief from cyberbullying.
  • Permanence – The permanent and public nature of digital information means that an online reputation can develop and impact other areas of life for an extended period of time.
  • Hard to notice – The often imperceptible and unseen nature of cyberbullying means that it’s harder for adults to recognize and address.

Facebook, as the most popular social media platform, has been a hotbed for cyberbullying occurrences and is regularly criticized for its relatively lax and unregulated policies that seem to embrace, rather than address, the aforementioned concerns. However, a lesser-known fact is that Facebook is responding to this need and expanding its services by introducing a new tool designed to identify members who may be at risk of self-harm and/or suicide. According to BBC News, Facebook has developed “pattern-recognition algorithms” that identify need based on content posted, such as certain words or phrases used by both the individual and their family members or friends. Read their full article here. According to Scientific American, if Facebook recognizes an at-risk individual, it presents them with a number of options including contacting a helpline, getting tips on what to do in moments of crisis, or talking with a family member or friend.

There is some debate as to whether this will be an effective means of preventing self-harm and/or suicide. Because this trend is relatively new and ever-evolving, Scientific American says that science is still trying to make sense of what works best on these particular platforms. Read their full article here. While this feature may never make self-harm and/or suicide completely predictable,  everyone can agree that it’s definitely step in the right direction.

In the meantime, WISE encourages all adults to be aware of and present in their child’s online activities and to encourage healthy and safe online practices in order to prevent cyberbullying and other potential dangers. Look below for select tips and tricks from TeenSafe.com and Parents.com to see how you can encourage and ensure online safety.

  • Talk to your children openly and honestly about possible online issues. Let them know they can come to you for help if needed.
  • Encourage your child to friend only those people they know personally and are “real” friends with. Conversely, tell them not to associate or give information to anyone they don’t know.
  • Help your child set their privacy settings.
  • Friend your child online but interact sparingly. Avoid posting embarrassing photos and comments regarding your child. Instead, observe at a distance.
  • Keep electronics in common areas so that you can monitor your child’s online activity and usage.
  • If your child is being cyberbullied, have them wait to open Facebook until you can sit and read the messages or posts together. Be supportive and understanding. Find out the details, and ensure that you’ll work together to find a solution.
  • Talk to your school’s administrators, guidance counselors, or social workers so they can keep an eye out for bullying during the school day and intervene if necessary.
  • If there are threats of physical violence or the bullying continues to escalate, don’t hesitate to get law enforcement involved. Be sure to take screenshots and print off examples of the cyberbullying to act as proof.

For those reading this that may already be experiencing cyberbullying or having suicidal thoughts, please click here for a variety of valuable resources provided by StopBullying.gov that may help identify what you can do in a certain situation.

6 Tips for Setting Compassionate Boundaries

In September’s post, we discussed compassion resilience, or CR, and how to move from compassion fatigue toward wellness. We also discussed the 7 C’s of CR that we can apply in our work with others to ourselves. Review them here.

So far, we’ve talked a lot about what CR is and why it’s so important in maintaining your personal well-being and job satisfaction.  In this post, we will discuss 6 tips that will help you set compassionate boundaries. This may seem awkward or difficult to do, but establishing these boundaries will allow you to do your best work in the future and establish healthy relationships with the people you serve, co-workers, family, and friends.

What do we mean by setting compassionate boundaries? Typically people think of setting boundaries as being all about what to say “no” to in order to protect ourselves. We focus on words such as declining and refusing. We are trying to avoid feeling frustration, anger, hurt, resentment, or disrespected. While this is part of the concept, we believe that a more positive and proactive approach is actually more effective and compassionate. We start with the question, when you think of the person you want to be on the job, in your friendships, etc., what are the behaviors you want to demonstrate? Once you know that list of behaviors, you can identify the boundaries that you want to set in your relationships that will support you being the person you want to be. Here’s an example: On the job you want to be a person that your co-workers can turn to for assistance when needed. You also want to maintain a pleasant attitude. In order to be both pleasant and available to your co-workers (and get your tasks done!), you would appreciate some notice ahead of time to when your help might be needed. That is a boundary conversation that you can have with your co-workers. Later we will look at what you might say.  While it may be difficult in the short term to set boundaries at home or at work, not doing so may lead to many more problems in the long term.

What may indicate that we are not setting compassionate boundaries? Remember Gentry’s “zealot” stage of compassion fatigue, where people say “yes” to each and every opportunity but quickly can move to the “irritability” stage When we do not identify, set, and maintain compassionate boundaries, we may say yes when we really mean no. We may make other people’s problems our priorities, perhaps to the exclusion of our own needs. Not setting boundaries may also be evident when we accept abuse or unfair treatment. We may also become overly apologetic and not speak what we are truly feeling. In short, a lack of boundaries may be a catalyst for compassion fatigue.

In contrast, setting healthy boundaries is a way to stand up for our values and maintain both our self-respect and our respect for others. It is a way to prevent and limit our annoyance, frustration, and anger AND increase the likelihood of behaving in the ways that we desire. As Brené Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, setting very clear boundaries about what we are willing to do, unwilling to do, willing to take on, and unwilling to take on, is an integral part of being compassionate. In the process of developing CR, we must, therefore, learn how and when to apply compassionate boundaries, as well as when to relax or let go of our boundaries.

Six Tips

  1. Know what you want to say “yes” to according to your own priorities and values. Take the time to judge whether a particular action or interaction may lead to us feeling caring and competent or hurt, overwhelmed, stressed, or angry. It may help to tune into your body and notice physical sensations. If you feel a boundary has been crossed, what physical sensations do you experience? Only once you are aware of your own feelings and needs can you take conscious action about how to communicate with the other person.
  2. If you can’t or don’t want to participate, remember that saying “no” is perfectly okay. Many people, especially women, have developed beliefs that we must be pleasing, agreeable, helpful and nice to earn love and appreciation. Taken to the extreme, this belief can make us “give to get” and feel uncomfortable saying no to requests for help. Click here for some additional tips on how to say “no” with compassion.
  3. If you feel that your boundaries are being crossed, respectfully tell that to whoever is crossing them. Tell them how you wish to be treated or state what you are or are not willing to do in words that describe what you value and desire for yourself and your relationships. Reinforce your point by pointing out past violations or near-violations. This will give them specific context and decrease the chances of it happening again. If you think someone will violate your request/wishes, also state the consequence, or what will happen if they do not respect your boundary. Follow through on the consequence if they violate your boundary again.  Be clear and firm, especially with people who don’t have very good boundaries themselves.
  4. Schedule proactive “meetings” to discuss your boundaries. Be firm but polite, and strive to have a natural discussion that involves natural give and take on both sides. This is a way that leads to compassion! This structure offers safety to both parties and allows everyone to leave feeling understood and respected.
  5. Give explanations that are specific and relevant to the other person. This will not only decrease confusion but also increase the likelihood of success. Try not to place blame on either side and focus on moving forward together to find shared solutions. Perhaps find a compromise you can both agree to.
  6. When setting a boundary, you must be willing to accept that you may not get what you want/need. Be willing to let go of the outcome. In sharing a boundary, you have shared what is true for you and honored your values and priorities. It is then up to the other person whether or not to abide by it.

So, let’s go back to how you might talk with co-workers about your desire to be helpful and the boundaries that requires. Using the tips from above, you might say:

“I would like to be someone you can count on to help you out when needed. I know that between my job tasks and time limitations, I will not always be able to say yes to your request. I ask that you consider giving me a “heads-up” a few days ahead of time when you can see that you might need some backup.  Because things often happen that you cannot plan for, please still feel free to ask even if you did not give me a “heads-up” and understand if I need to say no.”

This proactive boundary setting can support your ability to identify when the boundary is crossed and avoid you and others having an expectation that will always be able to step-up to help a co-worker.

Although establishing boundaries can be a challenging process, it is also empowering. If you’re still having a tough time mastering CR, don’t worry. CR is a process that requires constant maintenance and happens over time. Keep at it. Incorporating the above tips into your routine will help prevent and lessen compassion fatigue. We’ll be discussing self-care in November’s post as we continue our series on building CR. Be sure to check in then for more information. In the meantime, sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at https://wisewisconsin.org/.

Compassion Resilience: A Path to Wellness

In August’s post, we “pounced” on the subject of compassion fatigue and its harmful path by illustrating Eric Gentry’s research with the help of some cats. Need a reminder? Review it here.

Compassion fatigue can result in feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and irritation. Knowing what compassion fatigue looks like is key in understanding yourself and others and maintaining positive morale and productivity in the workplace. But,compassion fatigue is a normal response to the abnormal situations we might find in the workplace and hear about from those we serve. Rather than think of compassion fatigue as something to be avoided or fixed, it may be more helpful to figure out how to feed and grow our compassion resilience, or CR. CR is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. If you commit to growing your CR, there are various strategies you can use.  

  • Expose yourself to recovery and resilience. It is difficult to maintain a positive perspective on the hopefulness of our work if we are exposed to the complex challenges of the people we serve without also being exposed to the stories of eventual recovery and resilience of people who were in the same places at some point in their lives. To listen to brief stories of recovery and resilience, click here.
  • Establish compassionate boundaries. It’s hard to achieve a healthy balance if over-involved or under-involved in your personal and professional capacities.  A first step in setting compassionate boundaries is to identify the “Zone of Helpfulness”- the behaviors that you and your team agree are helpful to producing the environment in which to do your best work. From there, the boundaries that need to be set to support those helpful behaviors are more easily identified  An example is the helpful behavior of welcoming all visitors to your building. A boundary might be to avoid “shop talk” in the reception area when others are present so you can focus on being welcoming.
  • Connect with colleagues and others in the community. The most we can expect of ourselves is 100%. Times when we feel a need to go beyond our capacities are often due to not being connected to the people and resources to which we can then connect those we serve. WISE encourages organizational leaders to set aside time for staff to get to know key people and organizations that are “partners in compassionate care.”
  • Practice frequent self-care. Self-care will be discussed in detail in October’s post. Check in next month for more.

Our overall goal then is to establish an inclusive, supportive environment for yourself and your clients, patients, students, etc. We can do this by following  the 7 C’s of resilience, that we apply in our work with others to ourselves. These support the move from anger, apathy, and avoidance to resilience. Each description of what you offer others is followed by questions to help you apply the concept to yourself and your compassion resilience. As we learn in mindfulness practice, remember to notice but let go of negative emotions like anger or shame that come with this personal exploration.

  • Get to know people with non-judgmental curiosity. How does being curious about yourself in interactions with others impact your CR? What practices might enhance your self-awareness?
  • Form positive connections with the people you serve. What are two relationships that increase or support your CR? What is it about them that supports your CR?
  • Build trust through consistency. What do you already do to support your compassionate approach to others? What is most likely to get in the way of consistency in what is working ? How can you anticipate that? How do you get back on track?
  • Build competence to meet diverse expectations. As you become consistent with your current strengths, what are potential steps for you to take to further grow your compassion resilience/avoid compassion fatigue?
  • Support sense of control in others. What do you have control of that would further support your CR? Where do you want to expand your influence, and what stressors can’t you control that you would be best helped if you could  let go?
  • Engage in co-planning to arrive at self-directed decisions. Who can be your CR buddy this year to debrief and touch base with?
  • Show them the worth of their contribution, that “the world” is a better place with them in it. What are the strengths you bring to increasing CR in yourself, your workplace, and your family?

After this, slowly begin to integrate what you’ve learned or realized into your work. Be conscious of your efforts, and adjust as needed, remembering that this is a process. And don’t worry if you’re still feeling overwhelmed or uneasyWISE has more tips on setting compassionate boundaries, connecting with colleagues, and practicing self-care in the months ahead. In the meantime, sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at https://wisewisconsin.org/. And be sure to check back next month to learn more about how to grow your compassion resilience.

Vulnerability: The Key to Authentic Connections

If you’re a social worker, you’ve likely heard of Dr. Brené Brown, a self-described “researcher and storyteller” who studies topics such as shame and vulnerability. Dr. Brown’s personal background is in social work, so these topics are obviously relevant to those in that field, but they’re also valuable and potentially life-changing to those who aren’t.

Firstly, if you want to hear from Brené Brown herself, her TED talk, titled The Power of Vulnerability, is definitely worth a look. Find it here. If you have more time or interest, Dr. Brown also has multiple bestselling books, including Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness, which offer more details and examples of how to engage with others and wholeheartedly give and receive love. This post will briefly summarize the concepts she has shared.

As Dr. Brown does, we’ll start with the importance of connection. If you think of what you value most, it’s likely some sort of personal relationship, like mother to daughter, coach to athlete, manager to employee, brother to sister, neighbor to neighbor, pet owner to pet, etc. Dr. Brown goes so far to say that connection is nothing short of “what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” Not only that, but it’s also a biological necessity. Matthew Lieberman, a neurologist and psychologist, says that the brain is “the center of our social selves” and that “its primary purpose is social thinking.”

Through extensive qualitative research, Dr. Brown’s goal was to discover the primary cause of disconnection, which she deduced is shame, or the belief that “I’m not enough.” Shame is universal; feelings like failure and guilt are something we’re all familiar with and often all too self-conscious about. Moreover, Dr. Brown says that none of us are comfortable discussing our feelings of shame, because it may mean being seen as unable or weak by others and treated or used accordingly. In short, our unwillingness or inability to be authentically vulnerable is a root cause of our disconnection!

If we open up to others, we may feel there’s a chance of being attacked or harmed, physically or emotionally, and we’re hesitant to take the risk if our well-being isn’t guaranteed. Often, we even work to appear the opposite — competent and overconfident — to make up for our perceived flaws in front of others to lessen the  chance we’ll be judged. When we do feel vulnerable, Dr. Brown says we may cope in the following ways:

  • Numbing. We close ourselves off to negative emotions like anguish, discomfort, and regret. The issue, according to Dr. Brown, is that numbing can’t be done selectively. This means that if we choose not to feel negative emotions, we’re choosing not to feel positive emotions too. This is because emotions are understood relative to other emotions.
  • Making the uncertain certain. If forced to internalize, we seek a definite and tangible cause, such as an event or individual, that we can blame for causing our pain. We make the uncertain certain by giving it a name that we can understand, even if it’s unfair or untrue.
  • Perfecting. We try to organize or rationalize our emotions. We look for easy and foolproof solutions, even though our emotions are complex and many-sided.
  • Pretending. We don’t take responsibility for the role we might’ve played in causing our own pain. We diminish our own faults in order to deflect accountability for our actions, which may have affected others.

While these coping strategies are understandable responses to difficult situations, and likely familiar to us, coping in these ways doesn’t lead to increased connectivity. Instead, these strategies promote quick fixes that divide, not a long-term solutions that strengthen and unite. In fact, Dr. Brown discovered that the opposite is true—individuals that are authentic, compassionate, and courageous, all of which result from being vulnerable, are those with the strongest sense of connection. In short, vulnerability must occur for meaningful connection to happen.

The power of vulnerability is perfectly highlighted in WISE’s recent work with Pastor Greg Washington and his wife, Tiffany. As a child, Pastor Greg suffered trauma that led to severe depression and anxiety. As a faith leader, this was worsened by the pressure put on leaders to be certain and infallible examples for their followers. Before his marriage to Tiffany, Pastor Greg had been able to cover up or minimize his personal challenges. It wasn’t until after he was vulnerable that both he and Tiffany noticed how disabling and serious his mental illness was. After an incident which forced Pastor Greg to acknowledge and accept his own limitations, he sought professional help. Because of his experiences, he’s even closer to Tiffany, who he knows loves him fully, and continues to preach at the Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee. For an in-depth account as told by Pastor Greg and Tiffany themselves, check back in with Rogers InHealth soon. It’s so new that we’re still working on it! In the meantime, find similar videos here.

The story above is just one example of how vulnerability can be beneficial. How can we cultivate vulnerability in ourselves and others? How do we, both individually and culturally, get to a place where we can open to vulnerability? Dr. Brown advises the following:

  • Let yourself be seen. Allowing others to see your whole self, while initially scary, can lead to closer, more meaningful relationships and the joy of self-acceptance.
  • Love with your whole heart. Though there’s no guarantee that you won’t suffer if unforeseen developments occur, giving any amount of love to others is a good thing if done with good intent.
  • Practice gratitude and joy. Make a conscious effort to recognize and pursue what makes you feel fulfilled.
  • Know that you are enough. It’s important to remember that you, just as you are, are worthy of connection. If you’re authentic and receptive, others will respect you just as you will respect them for being just who they are.

Opiates/Opioids and Heroin in the U.S. and Wisconsin

We all know about the usage of certain substances like tobacco and alcohol. Knowing the risks, you’ve probably even used them yourself, as both are legal and/or socially acceptable. However, illicit drug use is a different issue and often flies under the public’s radar. This is especially true with a substance that’s gaining popularity in the US, particularly in the Midwest, and has left authorities unprepared and overwhelmed – painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. If you pay attention to current events or public health issues, you’ve likely heard about this, but what might be new to you is how addiction to painkillers is linked to heroin use. Heroin is actually a type of opiate and is cheaper, easier to obtain, and produces effects similar to painkillers, or opioids.

Since WISE is Wisconsin-based, we’re going to emphasize local data and facts, but it should be noted that opiate/opioid and heroin overdose (OD) deaths are increasing throughout the US. In fact, according to the CDC, there has been a three-fold increase in opiate/opioid OD deaths and a five-fold increase in heroin OD deaths since 2000. Also worth noting is that neither opiates/opioids nor heroin discriminates based on age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. In other words, there has been an increase of use in almost every demographic according to WISN 1130.

Surprisingly, the Midwest currently leads the U.S. in OD deaths with an eleven-fold increase between 2000 and 2013. According to The Economist, this is because other regions, namely the Northeast and West, previously handled similar issues in the 1960’s and the 1980’s and are, therefore, better prepared now. The Midwest largely avoided an earlier epidemic due to its location far from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which acted as easy and relatively unregulated import and export hubs; but adapting modes of transport and trafficking techniques have recently made smaller markets like Kansas City, St. Louis, and Omaha more accessible. While the Midwest may be overwhelmed by and unprepared for this opiate/opioid and heroin epidemic, law enforcement is working hard to employ safe and successful methods to curb this issue and treat those with substance abuse challenges.

Still, OD’s from heroin account for less than half of all deaths due to opiate/opioid use. According to the WISN 1130, there were approximately 44,000 total OD deaths in 2016, and 52% of them were from prescription painkillers. This includes those prescribed by medical professionals, those given by or stolen from family and friends, or those purchased from dealers.

Though it’s easy to place blame, medical professionals aren’t always at fault. It’s important to remember that, even when over-prescribing of opiates/opioids takes place, it’s most often out of compassion, not ill will. This is due to changing practices and techniques in medicine. Namely, that professionals have only recently begun using their patient’s pain as a guide to treatment. Though it’s surprising that pain wasn’t considered before, it also makes sense that the main vital signs – body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure – were addressed first.

It is true, however, that opiates/opioids are being prescribed more freely and, while beneficial in many instances and helpful if used correctly, have the potential to harm more than heal by causing dependency. “Just a few prescribed OxyContin can lead to dependence, which can lead to addiction…” says WISN 1130. Some people start out addicted to painkillers, then try heroin, which is more accessible and “five or ten times cheaper.”

So the question becomes – how do we respond? What can be done? Firstly, it’s important that we don’t let this growing issue continue unchecked. This is hard to do since it’s easy to ignore until it affects us directly. Even more so since there isn’t an easy solution due to the nature of addiction and the dependence that drives a person to seek out their drug of choice, much like a starving man or woman will seek sustenance. This means that arresting and jailing youth and adults who are addicted doesn’t necessarily lead to rehabilitation and can even exacerbate the issue. Additionally, eliminating the supply all together is nearly impossible. Without these options, what’s left to do?

Listed below are five approaches that, when combined, can lead to shifts in how we think about and approach prevention and intervention.

  • Provide prevention education that is specific, personal, and skill-based for professional (e.g. nurses, teachers, police officers), parents, and youth. Stopping before starting is often the best measure in limiting or eliminating future use.
  • Increase treatment options through public policy changes, which include expanding access to evidence-based treatments such as Medication-Assisted Treatment, which combines medication and counseling/behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. In order to do this, public opinion about substance abuse must change. We can balance the anxiety and fear that often immobilizes us with increased understanding of addiction and hope for recovery. To check out stories about recovery from substance use disorders, click here.
  • Reduce the stigma on individuals and families who have loved ones facing addiction so that they can reach out and get effective support. We can reduce stigma by talking about this topic in all settings of our life with compassion and curiosity.
  • Learn from places that have been effective in preventing and intervening in this epidemic.
  • If you or a loved one is battling addiction to opiates/opioids, heroin, or any other substance, offer them any resources and, most importantly, support in seeking sobriety. Assure them that no matter the situation, there’s always hope for improvement and recovery.