It is an undeniable truth that doing violence prevention work is inherently difficult.
We are going against the grain. Challenging cultural norms is difficult. The socialization process for each of us begins before we take our first breath, before we learn to read or talk. This past weekend I got the opportunity to babysit my nephew, who will turn ten months old this week (that’s a frightening realization). I bought a car seat from a garage sale on Saturday, because quite frankly they are expensive and he’s going to grow out of it next month (he’s in the 95th percentile for his height). It’s pink.
‘Will he mind if it’s pink?’ My mom asked.
“I don’t think he’ll notice…” I said.
I took him out in the car seat to the store to get some food for breakfast and as I’m getting him out of the car I began to think about the possibility of someone mistaking or asking what ‘her’ name is. These micro-level processes ensure that one’s gender is clear, and boundaries of acceptable behavior/dress. An infant boy wears blue or black or green or brown or… but never pink. Wearing pink would make him soft or gay.
Those of us that work in prevention are up against messages that we are bombarded with beginning with our birth. These messages are so ingrained that it seems an impossible task to change them. Feelings of hopelessness and a ‘What’s the point?’ attitude pervade sexual and intimate partner violence prevention efforts. I have had many conversations in the few years I’ve been involved in this work about those feelings and ‘What do we do?’
Here are some helpful steps to prevent burnout:
- Maintain healthy, friendly, and meaningful relationships with fellow activists and having a support groups in which you can debrief and release your feelings.
- Live one day at a time but realize that working for peace/justice is a lifetime job.
- Be aware that it is not possible to control everything in one’s work and life and viewing some stressful situations as challenges to be overcome.
- Recognizing the ebbs and flows of political work and responding accordingly.
- Knowing the fact that you are working on such social concerns is one sign of a healthy mature individual; that what you are doing is right – no matter the outcome – and celebrating the victories that do come, while rewarding yourself for the work you are doing.
- Realizing that changes occur over time – in various directions – and that that is the constant; new injustices will evolve and battles won at one point may have to be fought again, losses now may be reversed in the future.
- Cultivate a sense of humor.
- Take care of yourself physically as well as emotionally; exercise, meditate and relax.
- Understand that more serious cases of burnout may require therapy.
It is important to remember that change begins on an individual level. It only takes one person to change things. We are planting seeds for the future, and if we get just one person to open their eyes, we have made all the difference in the world.