Many trainers talk about neuroplasticity, the concept that our brains constantly reorganize themselves, allowing us to make new connections. And this is important, because “what fires together wires together”. If we are not mindful, our thoughts can take on some pretty predictable patterns and responses. For those of us in high trauma environments, it is worthwhile to consider what we input into our gray cells, and what pathways we are creating and enforcing.
What kind of tangled goat paths do you have in your brain, and where are your superhighways? What ideas are so overgrown as to be impassable? What have you been telling yourself you cannot accomplish? What have you given up on? What are your repetitive thoughts and feelings that you fall into almost daily? What are the main storylines of your life that you tell yourself and others, out of the infinite possible stories you could tell based on the same facts?
Some interpreters I know swear they just “don’t think about” what we witness. But I believe that the less we metabolize the trauma we witness, the more our bodies and minds store and carry it. And if we are not aware of what we are carrying, we cannot put it down. That makes us more jumpy, more scared, more angry, more frustrated, and shorter-tempered, whether we notice it or not. And if we cannot handle noticing it, then we shut down and disconnect. And we become less present for our loved ones. This puts us at high risk for addiction, isolation, and depression. And of course it makes us quite unpleasant to be around, even when we are by ourselves.
What can we do? Well, we can always change our jobs, our homes, and our environment. Those who have done so notice something, though, that we need to be prepared for – we take our minds with us wherever we go. Sorry about that! Just as working in our gardens will not give us a clean house, working on our outer environment will not give us a spacious and healthy inner landscape. It is fine to work in our gardens, but we still need to do the inside work if we want a peaceful and habitable home for our thoughts.
in addition of changing what we do, we can change how we do it. We can change our attitudes and our stories. We can notice what is happening in our bodies both at work and when we leave. We can make self-care an absolute habit, instead of getting used to being tired all the time. We can remember that the work we do is a choice and a privilege. That we can leave at any time. We can move on to something else that doesn’t hurt us as much, if we are that burnt out. If we are through. And that is okay, too.
If we are not through – if we still have much to learn where we are, doing what we do, then let’s keep doing it. Let’s do it with love and respect. Let us honor the dignity of the people’s whose voice we have become. Let us not take on their suffering, but be a witness to their suffering, and give them voice while listening fully and respectfully. Because when we are fully and exquisitely present, when we are with them without encroaching, when we give them voice without tainting their message, then we have done what we can in our chosen work.
When we can change our internal dialogue from reflecting on how stressful our work is and how hopeless and tired we have become, then we can make new paths. And those paths can bring us a new inner dialogue: our open, heartfelt presence at work and at home serves us and serves our community. It is worth cultivating. This is not magical thinking, except in the best sense of that term. It is simply replacing old habits with some new, healthy ones. And this is worthwhile. Because unless and until we do this, we are destined to keep thinking what we keep thinking, even when it doesn’t serve us.