Some years ago, I saw a cartoon with two frames. Both showed an angry mob stringing up a Social Worker. The first frame was captioned, "Angry mob hangs Social Worker for removing the child." The second frame was captioned, "Angry mob hangs Social Worker for not removing the child." In psychology, this is called a Double Bind and it's crazy-making. It's easy for a new Social Worker to doubt him/her self. However, the Social Worker practicing good self-care and a little targeted social/emotional intelligence, can navigate these situations and be confident, knowing she is doing good work and making a difference.
We work in a profession where the expectations and responsibilities are high, and the resources and authority are low. The systems we work in are highly stressed. When everyone is trying to survive and living in a scarcity mindset, we believe we do not have the time or energy to take care of each other. Newly minted, front line Social Workers can sometimes bear the brunt of this scarcity. As a new Social Worker, I figured out that I needed to take good care of my people-pleasing heart because doing my job meant at least one person was angry at me at any given time.
Here are some steps to take when you feel like you are falling short:
Look at the Big Picture - Take Nothing Personally
Understand the system in which you are working and the pressures that are exerted on those around you, especially superiors. This is important so you can depersonalize as much of what you are experiencing as possible. If you look through the lens asking, "what is this person afraid of?" It will help you shift out of, "What am I doing wrong?"
Check Your People-Pleasing
Most people show up to work wanting, on some level, to do a good job and get some kind of positive feedback. Some people want this a little. Others want it a lot. This is a normal human need and organizations practicing good social/emotional intelligence regularly give positive feedback to their employees. However, in a profession fraught with double binds, someone will always be displeased. The more we can mindfully notice our desire for others to be pleased with us and then take compassionate care of that desire so it is not driving us at work, the more resilient we will be in the face of others' displeasure.
Get Clear About Your Role
I can't stress this enough, so I talk about it all the time. Get clear within yourself about what your role is. Ask yourself, what is the intersection between what I can actually do and what is needed? Then focus on doing that thing. We do often want to do so much that we make ourselves ineffective. However, when we can get clear about what we can do and what is needed, then we can really make a difference. Even if it is a seemingly small thing, it is still important to our clients. At the end of the day, you will know you did a good job, whether anyone else does or not.
Have Boundaries - And Protect Them
We are responsible for preventing our own burnout and having and protecting our boundaries is critical for this. Take your comp-time. Practice number 3 each day. Take lunch. Say no.
Practice a Creative Hobby
When we give so much of ourselves in a world where there is so much pain and loss, as we do in Social Work, we need to experience creation. When we can lose ourselves in the flow of creative process, we are filled up and enriched in a way that is unique to creative flow. It does not matter what we are creating, whether it is art, knitting, building birdhouses, gardening, or anything else where we are "making," we are giving ourselves the gift of creative flow. It's not about the outcome, but the healing process.
Get Outside Support
Sometimes we really need outside support. Of our organization is not able to support us meaningfully and compassionately, and we find ourselves shrinking under the pressure of it all, then connecting with Social Workers outside of our organization can be a lifesaver. Whether it is a peer support group, group or individual supervision, or a therapist of our own, having an outside voice can be a lifeline that helps us thrive and love what we do!
As Social Workers, we really can change the world, or someone's world, and make it better. We are brave warrior healers! As such, we must master the head and heart game. We need to take care of ourselves and each other.
You can do great work!
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...