Are you taking care of yourself?

Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support or a self-care plan. Parents can seem like tireless caregivers who sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others. They can be highly efficient people with incredible levels of compassion and mercy for others. This mercy can have limits!

They often continue their work to the point of exhaustion, leaving them emotionally bankrupt. You can give away what you don’t have. Like the airlines instruct us before a flight: “in the event of an emergency, a life mask will drop. Be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to put it on your child.” The point is that you can’t save someone one else if you are passed out and parents of traumatized children can’t help them if they are burnt out. 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” Our soul refers to our entire being: body, mind, and spirit. Each area requires specific attention. You can’t focus on one and ignore the others. If we are empty in one area, it affects our entire soul. 

The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mindset that places hope at the heart of our care of traumatized children and looks at our beliefs about what we are doing more than the activity itself. If you have two people doing the same activity and one has a hope-filled, positive attitude about it and the other is weighed down with bitterness and negativity about it, who will be more exhausted by the task at the end? Of course, the one holding bitterness and negativity. 

When I was a young man I used to work for the father’s landscaping company. At the end of the day I was physically exhausted but mentally I was pleased by what I accomplished that day. I enjoyed seeing the results of my labors in the beautiful landscapes we would create. After going into “trauma work” there have been many days that I come home mentally exhausted and this showed in my physical body as well. My wife would often comment about the dark circles under my eyes and I would have to go to bed early to get enough rest to do it all over again the next day. 

This is how it feels for the parent or caregiver of the traumatized child. You are mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, and physically worn out and tomorrow you know you have to do all again. How will this be possible? 

Renewing our minds. 

Renewing our minds is the answer. In Romans 12:2, the bible says that were are to renew our minds. This means that we have to think the thoughts that Jesus thinks about ourselves and our situations. We have to let go of the negative, condemning thoughts (Romans 12:1) and start agreeing with heavens way of thinking. 

Parents might ignore this instruction believing they have “good reasons” for their poor attitudes. 

  1. There aren’t enough skilled people who can take over for me or provide consistent respite.
  2. My children are too difficult for other providers to manage. 
  3. They don’t have the time or money.
  4. God will sustain me.  
  5. It’s easier if I just do it myself then try and get someone else to do or if I don’t do it, no one else will.

The list could go on and on, right? While they all have a bit of truth to them and they are “good reasons” they are “bad excuses” for not living a life of rest. God will sustain parents but they must use the wisdom He gives them by setting boundaries and take proper care of themselves as well. 

Caregivers can adopt an orphan mentality or victim mindset that patterns the thought process of their individuals they are taking care of…In psychological terms, we call this parallel process. In trauma-informed care, we call this secondary trauma. 

Overcoming your orphan mentality and REST.

I have said elsewhere that we are double agents. We take care of people who have been traumatized and we have experienced trauma in our lives as well. This might have been our motivations for becoming a therapist, social worker, foster parent, adoptive parent, etc. It isn’t a wrong motivation but you will be triggered and you may have limiting beliefs that prevent you from finding rest IN work. It may exhaust you more! 

You have to be a “son or daughter” before you can be a fully functioning father or mother.  You can physically seek spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children. You may not have natural-born families that are near or healthy enough to rely on mentally and spiritually. You can review scriptures that explore being adopted by God and how you are a brother to Christ and sons/daughter’s to God (John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, John 3:16, Mark 10:13-16, Romans 8:16, 1 John 3:1-10, Romans 8:4-17)

Renewing your mind and life for REST. 

Ask yourself, what am I believing about my situation that is causing me to be drained and overwhelmed. 

Am I starting this work off with an attitude of resentment or with hope-filled promises?

Do I believe that nothing I do will matter or no one will appreciate me for the things I do or will I focus on doing this for God and seek only his approval? 

Are we inviting God into our circumstances to partner with us and bring us divine appointments and be able to find moments of grace and joy in our day.

Do we love ourselves before we attempt to love others? That is a hole in a bucket that will leave you empty sooner than later for sure!  

Are all the burdens you are carrying really yours to carry or are there a few bags of troubles that belong to other people?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28  

REST in the little things.

When we think about rest we think spa days, two-week vacations in Hawaii, snuggling up in a cabin with a nice book and plenty of warm tea for a weekend. These are excellent ways to find rest but they require a lot of time, money and effort to pull off. If you can’t do these things then look for ways to find rest in the little things. 

Little activities are available at all times, are on-demand, and brief in duration. They don’t cost much or anything at all. They can fit into your busiest days and don’t require a lot of planning or sit up. 

Examples of little ways to rest include, but are not limited to: having morning devotions, watching a movie, pausing for a cup of tea or coffee, buying yourself a treat, taking the dog for a walk, playing a puzzle game on your phone or paper, taking 10 deep breaths several times a day, going to a yoga class or gym, cleaning up a closet or drawer, getting a massage, burning a scented candle, reading or telling a joke, taking a bubble bath, working on a hobby, listen to music, eat a healthy meal, drinking more water, talking to a friend, crying when needed, holding hands, going to church. You get the idea…

List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:

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It’s about justice…and mercy!

justiceandmercy

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

How can we be full of mercy and open ourselves up to the hurt that is in the world when there seems to be so little justice to balance it? My faith calls me to help the broken-hearted but I will be honest, there are days when it just too much. Bearing witness to the trauma and pain in the world can be traumatizing to me. Is that true for you?

The problem comes when people have hearts of mercy but end up empty and burnt out from over giving. Sometimes this comes from our own brokenness and at times it is from simply not staying full of mercy so that we always have enough supply.  Mercy givers are good at giving but not so much at receiving.

As a man of faith, it is easy to think about God acting through me instead of God working in me. There is a big difference between being called and being driven. Our acts of mercy can become performance-driven instead of heart reactive. We have to live our lives honoring our own emotional and physical needs. It is vital that we practice what we preach and have good diets, exercise regularly, make healthy connections, and take time alone with God.

The real secret is to operate from a place of “overflow”. It is far easier to give to others when are continuously full and overflowing. Operating from a place of excess is a healthier balance than continual lack.

Individuals with hearts of mercy are called to “guard their hearts”. Two practices that help us stay full of mercy to cope with the injustices of the world is gathering up little moments of mercy and to find time for silence and solitude every day. It is easy to believe that the refueling process it about filling up on knowledge, reading more scripture or memorizing more bible versus. These are beneficial but they won’t fill that deep inner space.

Discerning the glories of the world is crucial. What are the lovely, pure, beautiful, noble and sweet moments of our life that pop up around us? As the poet says, did you stop and smell the roses? You might find that divine moment of mercy seeing a sunset or catch a babies smile. Maybe you need to stop and listen to all the words of your favorite song on the radio when it comes on. You could even dance a little. Cherishing the little moments will add up to huge rewards in our hearts.

Guarding our hearts also refers to saying “No” to what drains you. It is such a little work but it takes so much effort for people with hearts of mercy to say it. The truth is that you will have to say no to some things if you want to say yes to others. There are only so many hours in a day and you are not superhuman. Make a choice.

Dallas Willard, the famous theologian, describes our first freedom as humans is the freedom to choose where we want to direct our thoughts each day. You have the power to choose well.

In my Christian faith, silence and stillness are hallmarks of the heavenly relationship. I am sure other faith traditions have similar invitations to inner transformation. Most faith goers hate silence and stillness. Be honest, you know you do!

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book “The Invitation to Solitude and Silence” comments: “Because we do not rest we lose our way…Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest out lives are in danger.”

Ruth goes on to claim that our refusal to rest in spirit and body is an attitude of arrogance, that we don’t need what God has modeled as a need to take Sabbath rests in our busy weeks.

I have found that hurt people don’t want to stop and rest because they don’t want to hear what God might have to say to them. There could be areas of their lives they are neglecting and they don’t want God reminding them of the need to take care of areas of dysfunction. It’s easier to focus on others needs and not our own, right? People with hearts of mercy can be broken too. Wounded healers can answer the needs of the world without allowing God to heal them first.

I remember the time my own counselor/spiritual mentor told me that I can’t be a “father until I learned how to be a son.” Those words hit home hard. I wanted to improve my effectiveness as a leader, be a more involved dad, and have more influence in my business. Instead, I was continually burnt out and frustrated. I had to turn my focus to concentrate on my own relationship with God. As a result, I spend the next year not allowing myself to taking new leadership roles and adopting new projects. My focus was on being healed and taking personal retreats so that I could restore my identity as a “son”. This is what sustains my ability to be a good “father”. This time away increased my heart capacity and is the source of my merci-fullness.

My challenge to readers who have “hearts of mercy” is to list 5 things that you will do for your own Sabbath rests. How will you rediscover what it means to be sons and daughters? Set a time for silence and solitude. Be OK saying no. Others need to see that light in your life to balance the dark injustices of the world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7

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