Survivors of domestic violence are often faced with the question, “why did you stay in such an abusive relationship?” and “why didn’t you leave immediately and report it to the police?”
These people are obviously unfamiliar with trauma and trauma reactions. I suspect they are the same people who wonder why the burned out or traumatised helper doesn’t just simply leave their stressful job. Here are three reasons why they don’t do just that.
Difficulties recognising the problem has become a problem
Helpers may not realise they’re demonstrating symptoms of burnout or compassion fatigue. Like the proverbial frog being boiled alive, one doesn’t always register the steadily increasing temperature of the water around you.
The helper who experiences sudden and overwhelming trauma is more likely to realise a serious problem is afoot. This helper can’t miss it – their brains are literally overwhelmed with stimuli and are probably seeing metaphorically neon signs flashing “Problem! Crisis! Abort! Run!” In these instances, it’s a challenge to sit down and gather their thoughts, let alone focus and plan a change of employment.
Identification with the helper role
Sometimes, a helping professional may feel the need to remain in their role because they do not want to leave vulnerable clients without the service (usually critical or urgent service) they require. These helpers feel guilty that leaving their clients in limbo and their colleagues with additional work. If they’re being honest with themselves, they like the sensation of being needed and are apprehensive about ditching what is familiar and known, for a job elsewhere.
Financial constraints can cause a helper to remain in a role long after they have begun demonstrating signs of burnout or trauma. If the helping professional has significant financial commitments or is the main financial provider for their family, they’re unlikely to leave their job unless they can find an appropriate job elsewhere with a similar salary. This is often harder than it sounds. If you’re already feeling burned out or unmotivated, you probably don’t have a lot of time or energy to dedicate to job searching.
In all of these cases, helping professionals can usually only answer the question of “is my job impacting on my physical and mental health?” with the assistance of external input from supervisors, colleagues, EAP providers, HR managers, GPs, family and friends.
If the answer is “yes”, it’s these same people who are so important in helping you piece together the plan of action that is right for you.