By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
Working with animals is extremely rewarding, but it also yields a dirty secret, people in our line of work burn out. We change bad behaviour into good behaviour, we improve the human-animal bond, we teach, we foster, or rescue dogs, and all his hard work comes with a steep price, we emotionally exhaust ourselves. Today's article touches on human emotional management.
I'm fortunate enough to have learned this very important skill while I was in college. Because of my learning disability, I had to manage my emotions in order to access my memory and train my brain to make a new association between words. I had to manage frustration, sadness, and euphoria all at once, which as you might have guessed, was not an easy task.
Human emotional management is the hardest thing to do because we're super sensitive to the animal's plight and we desperately want to help. Thus, while we address animal issues, we come to realize we are faced with human emotions; consequently, it becomes difficult to manage both humans (ourselves and others) and animal emotions. If professionals can't emotionally disassociate themselves from the situation, they are likely to burn out. To avoid stress which can lead to distress, and eventually burnouts, I want to give you a few ideas on how to manage your emotions. So, please keep an open mind as you read on.
1. You are not the animal you are helping.
2. You can only do your best, beyond that point, let someone else take over.
3. When faced with a difficult situation tell yourself "I'll deal with these emotions later".
4. Don't forget to address emotions as soon as possible; don't sweep your emotions under the proverbial carpet.
5. Your view of a problematic situation is very different than the animal's perception of reality.
6. If you are too emotional, don't get involved and don't train.
7. If you need to address an emergency, use your rational brain, talk yourself through the steps.
8. Voice your emotions when appropriate. Ideally, after an emotionally charged event has occurred.
9. There will always be animals in need, you can't change this fact; you can only change your perception of it.
10. Talk with other professionals, ask them how they cope with their emotions.
There's a fine line between stress, distress, and eustress, and if you don't respect your limits, you will burn out. Working with animals means we accept the challenge of creating a new reality for the human-animal team, beyond that point, you must let go. You're not responsible for other peoples' emotions; you're only responsible for your own inner well-being. I'll end this article with the following quote "The environment is everything that isn't me." - Albert Einstein