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Must be compassion fatigue

Here are 10 ways to boost your own ability to handle the barrage of bad news, and 10 ways to help your kids cope too

Thursday morning, I wake up to hear about a 13-year-old girl murdered while sleeping in her bed. Saturday night, after Havdalah I hear about a father murdered in a drive by shooting while his wife is seriously injured and two of his 10 children have been injured. I read there is a call to declare our country in a state of emergency. I didn’t know we weren’t in a state of emergency.

I feel tired. It must be “compassion fatigue.” I am a therapist who works in trauma. When I started working 31 years ago, anyone who worked with trauma survivors was considered at risk of experiencing “secondary trauma”. This was changed to “vicarious trauma” and the last I heard it is now being referred to as “compassion fatigue.”

Bottom line: we are all in this together. We must be aware that whatever label we give this experience, the impact is the same.

“Resilience” is another word that is referred to a lot in trauma work. Being “able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed” is a nationalistic trait. How do you describe the guy that the day after a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv leaving four dead and three seriously injured went into the Max Brenner store and bought hundreds of chocolates, handing them out in pairs to the crowd, asking them to enjoy one and to share the other with a stranger? “Resilient” is one word.

The very first blogpost I ever wrote appeared on Times Of Israel on June 22, 2014 titled, Your kid knows about the kidnappings. In it, I outlined 10 ways to help your children say what’s on their mind. Today, I will repeat the list for your children and add a list for you on how to cope through these most difficult times. I am placing your list first because, as they say on the plane, “put your oxygen mask on first.”

For yourself:

  1. Identify an adult support system: family friends, professionals.
  2. We experience things in our bodies as well as our minds. It’s important that we find at least one form of physical outlet and one form of creative outlet for the intense emotions of grief, rage, and hurt we’re bound to feel in the aftermath of trauma.
  3. Don’t neglect your physical health: don’t get dehydrated, don’t get sleep deprived, don’t over- or under-eat.
  4. Try to maintain your daily routines as much as possible.
  5. Take part in rituals that are meaningful to you to express and communicate your experience that don’t involve the children.
  6. Send an email to an elected official about what you think needs to change.
  7. Join a social activist group.
  8. Donate to an organization that you believe supports a cause in a meaningful way.
  9. Participate in acts of kindness.

For your children:

  1. Engage the child in imaginative play with toys and figures, storytelling or drawing.
  2. Don’t lead the child. Follow the child’s directions.
  3. If you are playing with the child, ask the child what you are supposed to be saying or doing.
  4. If the child is telling a story, ask open-ended questions to guide the child along.
  5. If the child is drawing, observe quietly, listening to what the child is saying while drawing.
  6. Don’t react to the child or interpret what the child is doing or saying through the eyes of an adult.
  7. Reassure the child and suggest to the child something that the two of you (or more) can do together for fun.
  8. Make sure the child’s routine continues.
  9. Let the child know what to expect during the course of the day.
  10. Answer the child’s questions with minimum information necessary or say, “I don’t know, maybe we could find out together.”
About the Author
Bio: Born in Israel, grew up in Montreal, Canada, studied in the States, worked in Toronto, Canada and made Aliyah in 2009. Sara Jacobovici is a 30 year veteran in the health and mental health fields as a Creative Arts Psychotherapist. She lives and works in Ra'anana, Israel. As an expert in the field of non-verbal communication, Sara reconnects individuals with their first language, the creative arts; visual arts, music and movement.
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