Last month I attended a joint, female military/civilian retreat in Saskatchewan where I met outstanding people who have given community service to their country and extremities when in need of assistance. I’ve been to several events over the course of 25 years I’ve been around uniforms, but this one had a significant, simultaneous impact on me as a participant yet also as a clinician.
Much to my surprise, the most meaningful experiences were post-retreat when the women involved joined together to talk about their struggles; we came together for supporting the others when in distress; it was moving and commanding. The bloodlust passion for being there for each other is something not found in communities these days in the culture of being focused within technology. Substantiating this claim, there truly is an invaluable influence from grassroots level communities when people can talk about their experiences so that others cannot feel alone. Resonating with others is powerful, but it also comes with a cautionary side to things. Being aware of secondary trauma, relational trauma or vicarious trauma is a very real, lived part of being around those who share similar pains if you are not healed yourself and/or are constantly exposed to listening to heavy dialogue.
Boundaries are important when working with and involving yourselves with those who are not well themselves, and if you are experiencing anything heavy for your own existence it’s best to check in with yourself to see where you are at. Mental wellness, mental hygiene, mindfulness or whatever you choose to call it is like brushing your teeth; you have to stay on top of it or else things can get a little smelly after a while and health can get worse. As a clinician, I’ve heard so much over the years that someone could sit there and tell me the worst story from overseas or within their own territory here in the Americas without any phase. David Kessler has taught in training that when in a position of helping, we consider compassion versus empathy and how we administer those doses.
It’s healthy to have empathy because it can be a responsive tool to help others in need, but compassion is the objective part of the brain that incites “what does this person need right now”. It can be tricky to master until you get the hang of it, but it can definitely help in the long run if dealing with crisis and/or long-term work with distressful situations. Also, debriefing after a hard situation is ideal and healthy so do not forget about those measures, as well.
This retreat was beneficial for all ladies involved because although there were distressing times talked about there was a benefit to learning by others, but also there was a level of emotional maturity within the group to shift the dynamic into something productive. Emotional intelligence is a key factor in learning about yourself in order to heal and understand body reactions to trauma (or respectively whatever you want to call it), life, incidents, or things that happen to you. Remember, you are your own kings and queens of your universes and the magic is all yours to brew.