Monday, September 22, 2014

Head Space vs Heart Space

When you are working alongside people, in the midst of their mess and muck, it is inevitable that you will start to be worn down. As a social worker, we call this "vicarious trauma," or what the rest of the world commonly calls "burn out." That feeling of: "I just can't take one more terrible story of someone's life being ruined." That sense that maybe the world is more bad than good, and that last glimmer of hope slowing slipping away. 

Processing these feelings is so important when working alongside people for any extended period of time. One simple turn of phrase a coworker and I developed was moving from "head space" to "heart space." In our head, we try to figure things out, search for a solution, ask "Why?" and despair when we can't find the answers. Head space engages our brain, and our brain and our brain doesn't have enough capacity for all the experiences we undergo when working alongside people. Very soon our head begins to fill with the despair that comes from unanswered questions, unhappy moments and unfinished journeys. Head space is not a place in which we can sustainably exist for very long. 

Heart space is very different. Heart space consists of things like forgiveness, gratitude, presence, acceptance, and love. Yes, in heart space there is also hurt, regret, shame, fear, and many other deeply painful feelings. But ultimately in heart space, there is hope. There is hope because that is what has brought us to work alongside of people in the first place. There is hope because we have seen it before, and hope naturally takes root deep inside, in the heart and not in the head. That is the elemental nature of hope - it comes from the heart and not from the head. 

So when the burnt out is on the not-so-distant horizon, when the trauma feels less secondary and more primary, when it feels like hope is lost, the challenge is to move from our head back to our heart. 

This is not a "touchy feely" or solely emotional task. It requires focused reflection, cognitive skills of reframing, catching thinking errors and reminding oneself of what is really true and what can really be known. But once that move is made - from the head to the heart - we will find more than enough space, more than enough love, and more than enough hope. Not only for those persons with whom we have already had the privilege of journeying alongside, and who we have lost. But also for those persons, those challenging journeys in the future whom we don't even yet know. 

1 comment:

Katie Bergman said...

Beautiful and insightful post, Jesse. Thank you!