Healthy Hearts: Staying Healthy While Supporting Survivors

This post was written by tash shatz, our LGBTQ Program Coordinator.

As interpersonal violence (IPV) advocates* many of us are taught to use survivor-centered practices. It’s one of my favorite things about being an advocate: we work hard to put survivors at the center of our work. We believe survivors are capable. We strive to be non-judgmental, to practice patience, to focus on the strengths of each individual, and to be spacious in the options we offer.

But we don’t always bring that same presence to ourselves and our coworkers or fellow volunteers. It can be challenging and isolating to work in an under-resourced system. It can be hard to constantly extend our best selves to people in their worst moments. It can be heartbreaking and mentally overwhelming to reckon with the epidemic of violence that our communities face. It makes sense that many of us struggle to be kind to our coworkers, to our friends and families, and to ourselves.

My own journey of staying healthy while supporting survivors is in progress, and one thing I’ve learned is that staying healthy is not just physical, but also mental and emotional. Here are some things I’ve been thinking about and trying to practice:

  • Treating coworkers and volunteers with reverence. Just as we try to extend our best selves to survivors, we can do this with one another. Especially remembering that many of us come to the work as survivors or with loved ones who are survivors, we can treat each other with respect and humility while nurturing each other’s growth. We can take a trauma-informed approach with one another as well as with participants/clients.
  • Creating a work environment that feels healthy. While providing vegetables and pedometers in our workplaces can be fantastic, a healthy work environment also means *feeling* like we have the space to do what’s healthy for us. Are we giving each other time to take breaks? Are we bragging about how late we stayed at the office? Are we judging our coworker’s de-stress routine of eating chili fries and marathon watching soap operas? When we practice challenging the belief that “healthy” means only one thing and involves only specific activities, we can avoid judgement and shame, and instead cultivate variety and possibility.
  • Building opportunities to nurture our passion and strengths. How are we bringing joy and creativity to our work as advocates? Are we nurturing new ideas and innovations? Many of us have talents beyond our job descriptions – are we creating ways for one another to do the things we’re best at? Just as we strive to support the strengths of survivors, we can bring our strengths and those of our coworkers into our everyday.

These are just a few of the reflections I have, and I have much more to learn What are you doing to cultivate your health while supporting survivors? Join the conversation in the comments below.

*For the purposes of this post, I use IPV to refer to interpersonal violence which includes intimate partner violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, family violence, and all other types of interpersonal violence.