Have you ever stopped to wonder who is there to minister to the clergy when they need ministry? I mean, we all need emotional and spiritual support at some time or another, but if they are constantly giving out and never getting anything back, that cannot be a good thing. The same thing goes for advocates. Who is there to prop up the advocate when they are tired and weary from being the one everybody else leans on?
What are some general tendencies of someone who advocates for awareness of and/or combating against domestic/intimate partner violence, sexual assault or child molestation? They give everything they have to make a difference, to make the world a better place, and hopefully, to save lives. Most advocates are former victims, now survivors taking it one step further. Many become involved by doing scads of volunteer work for agencies and organizations. Some work in shelters. They do intake, they sit and listen, they hold a victim while she cries or perhaps they change diapers of the victim’s baby because well, the victim is just too traumatized to do it herself. Some are even active in work with the military and the incidences of domestic/intimate partner violence and PTSD there. Those who work endlessly to draw awareness to domestic violence and sexual assault give everything they have to give. Why? Because most of them have been a victim themselves, and realize all too well the need for the work to get done.
Sometimes this causes an advocate to grow to be a bit radical in their passion for working against domestic/intimate partner violence and sexual assault, and on occasion, that can have a negative impact or two.
An advocate may become preoccupied with the situation of the person they are advocating for, and begin to take the issues personally, feeling driven to be responsible for all the answers and solutions. On occasion, when the advocate is a former victim, they grow pushy and aggressive, teetering on the edge of actually becoming what they hate most—a bully. They want to single-handedly take to task the media, law enforcement, “the system” or the attacker, with words if not actions. The pushier they become, the less those in positions of authority are likely to listen. The less they are heard, the louder they speak and the harder they push. It becomes a Catch-22.
An advocate may experience alienation by their friends or family. Perhaps their children or spouses will feel left out, overlooked or unloved. But if they do not do the work at hand, who will? Thus, the advocate may take on a bit of false guilt or false responsibility. Sometimes we just have to leave portions of the work to the experts, and recognize there may be others who are more advanced in some areas than we are. It is not always easy, but there are times we need to step off, withdraw a bit and let someone better equipped take the reins, or at the very least, consider a collaborative approach.
We must take caution. There are victims who are looking for advocates willing to give of himself/herself without giving proper consideration for his/her own wellbeing. It’s easy for the work to suck the life out of us, if we do not use due vigilance. Upon reaching a place of near or total exhaustion, our determination may become counter-productive, bringing us to a place of spinning our wheels, making little if any progress, despite our good intentions.
One common message we passionate advocates deliver on a regular basis is the importance of taking time for self-care. We preach it, but do we practice it? Now we have come full circle. Who is there to minister to clergy when they need ministry? Sometimes it is other ministers, continuing to give and give of themselves, keeping the relentless cycle going. Thankfully, quite often the one who reaches out in such a helpful manner is one rescued by the very cleric in need of encouragement—someone they led to a place of healing and restoration of hope. Who is there for the advocate? Who is wise enough and bold enough to take the advocate’s hand and say, “Enough is enough.” There must be someone to say, “Before you do more harm than good, not only to the cause, but especially to yourself, stop! Take some time to reflect, rest and release.” Hopefully, other advocates are there to step in when they see the need to help protect one of our own. But, maybe, just maybe, there are healed and whole survivors, maybe even just taking baby steps into advocacy work themselves, who find it within themselves to touch a burned out advocate who once helped them, and be the one to say, “Hey, whoa, hold on. We need you, but we need you healthy, refreshed and unstressed. Take this hug, take some respite, and let go of the guilt that may try to come at you for taking some time off. You deserve it, and we deserve a whole ‘you.’”
I learned a most valuable lesson recently, the hard way. I have a tendency to give and give to others all the good parts of me, and take and take from others all the bad parts of them, allowing stress to continually build. Well, it finally exceeded acceptable limits, and I found myself lying in the critical care unit of our local hospital. Final diagnosis? TIA, or a mini-stroke. Doctor’s admonition? Avoid stress or the next one could be a full-blown dyed-in-the-wool real deal stroke. That fact was the ultimate motivation for me to choose to make some life-altering changes. I will find ways to diplomatically say, “I don’t think I can do that right now,” or “Please don’t push. I don’t want your stress inducers.” It will be something new and different for me, but learn I must, and learn I will. Then, putting it into action is the part that truly counts. We can gain all the knowledge in the world, but until we apply it, it is still useless.
To all the advocates out there, I encourage you to stop, look and listen.
Stop and evaluate where your life is. Are you giving out more than you should? Are you taking time to rest?
Look . . . look around you. When was the last time you paused to smell the roses, taste the coffee or walk in the sunshine for no apparent reason than to just REST. And then, listen.
Listen to your gut, and listen to others. Are you overdoing? Is it time to spend some time on you?
Remember—if we are not whole, healed, healthy and refreshed, we are shortchanging those we seek to help most, and especially our own selves.
- Tshirt project aims to bring awareness to violence against women (thegazette.com)
- Men’s Responsibility in Ending Violence Against Women: Part One (rcasa.wordpress.com)
- Domestic Violence: An Introduction (volunteermanual.wordpress.com)