- Mental Health
KNOW YOU ARE POWERFUL, PART 1
In this four part series of hubs, there is something here for all of us who serve people in our chosen occupation or vocation, but these hubs are particularly for you who choose to work with children and teens in residential treatment. You are a precious group of folks who deserve much support and huge salaries and you get neither! So here's for you. Enjoy the read. And let yourself take in the information. It will make your job so much easier if you do.
KNOW YOU ARE POWERFUL
Serving children and adolescents who are living in a residential treatment setting is always–IS ALWAYS--challenging. I avoid the words difficult, frustrating, exasperating, impossible, because those words create the very condition they describe.
There are many activities in life that are challenging, but not necessarily difficult or impossible. Challenges are fun, exciting, motivating, and lead to success. Difficult activities usually breed more difficulty, and impossible situations usually do not become less impossible until someone begins to believe that the situation is not impossible after all.
So throughout today’s training, we will listen intently to our language and learn the insidious ways our very words set us up for either success or failure. And speaking of words, notice the first word up there, SERVING. The word is not controlling or fixing, manipulating or bribing, rewarding or reinforcing. The word is serving.
WHAT MOVED ME TO WORK HERE?
Before we get too far down the road in our training today, we want to ask ourselves the question, Why did I choose to work in this setting? Yes, it is a choice, and as grown-up people, we are called, so to speak, to be accountable and responsible. One way we are accountable and responsible is to take ownership of our choices, for better or worse. We don’t blame anyone for our choices. And ultimately, being responsible and accountable is what we are trying to demonstrate to the children and teens in our care. Responsible and accountable.
What Does It Matter?
So, again, why did I choose to work in this setting? What the heck was I thinking when I made that decision? Did I just not know what I was getting into? Or was I hell-bent on saving the world? I know for some, this kind of work can be a perfect fit for going back to school. Perhaps, you saw this work as an opportunity to get ahead financially. Ultimately it really doesn’t matter what our motivation was or is. We just need to be aware of it, to remember. And why is that?
Well, for the most part today we are going to be looking at just how powerful we are as staff. Yes, that is what I said, POWERFUL! Yes, I know, too often you feel powerLESS, and what contributes to this feeling of powerlessness is the discrepancy between our actual job experience and what we thought the job was going to be. If we are not aware of or forgot our initial motivation, this discrepancy also falls out of our consciousness, and working here brings on a kind of low grade anxiety or depression. Imagine that? Anxiety and depression, hardly a formula for feeling powerful.
Many years ago, I taught a class entitled, “What Moved Me To Become A Foster Parent?” A foster mother proudly told her story to the class. In her early years as a Mom, her birth children were taken away from her because of her serious addiction to drugs and alcohol. And by the time she got herself and her life squared away, her children were all grown-up. She and her adult children did find a way to heal those painful years, and she now has a good relationship with them. But she missed out on raising them, missed out on the experience of being a Mom. So she became a foster mom specifically to experience being the Mom she wanted to be for her own children.
I applauded her honesty and told her it was very important for her to never forget her reason for being a foster Mom, to be always aware of it and on alert. Because the reality is that foster kids may make being a Mom miserable. So if she could remain conscious that her hope for reexperiencing motherhood might be turned topsy turvey every minute of the day, she was in good shape. If she forgot that reality for even a moment, she would find herself constantly angry, disappointed, bitter, and incapable of being responsive to the needs of the foster children.
Our Own Wounds
Many of us carry our own set of wounds from abuse, neglect, trauma, and loss, and sometimes these life experiences motivate us to work with a wounded population of folks like the children and teens here at treatment center. But this poking at our soul, so to speak, is very unconscious. We are unawares that we are tying to fix something from our own life and history. Again this unconscious motivation is a set up for us and will make our job beyond challenging. We never really healed our own wounds, and the children and teens you serve may go out of their way to make sure you play no part in healing their wounds. Damned them!
So it doesn’t matter what your motivation is. What does matter is your awareness of the way your motivation can either move you to being successful serving children and teens or turn the experience into an ongoing nightmare.
So let’s take some time to share with another person, why am I here working at this residential treatment facility? What am I hoping to get out of this work experience? Are there any potential pitfals in my reason for choosing this line of work?
Know You Are Powerful
It is imperative in this kind of healing work that you know how powerful you are, that you learn how to connect with your power, that, in turn, you exude power, you behave in powerful ways, you are at home with your power, you know just how powerful you are as well as know precisely where your limits are. It is also important for you to learn NOT to use your power. The most powerful form of power is unused power. The most powerful form of power is unused power.
It is interesting to explore this area of power because a majority of residential treatment staff report feeling powerLESS, and left with the sense that their hands are tied in dealing with the residents. This is a very interesting phenomenon because it defies the reality that staff are, in fact, very powerful.
Why Do We Feel Powerless?
So the question is, why is it that staff are so unaware of their power, so unaware that they actually complain about being powerless? How is it that an “F-U, I’m not doing my chore,” becomes so debilitating to us, so shocking to us, so irritating? How is it that this simple refusal drives us to assemble an arsenal, drives us to put the resident in his place, pushes us to come up with the ultimate consequences that will insure that this resident will never utter such a statement again?
Demanding Respect–Maybe Not!
The most obvious answer lies in our on-going attempts to control the residents, to control their behavior, which is odd because we cannot even control our own behavior. So, we are looking for our power in places outside ourselves, in places where we have no power and never will. We also insist upon demanding their respect and appreciation, which we absolutely do not need and will not get, as long as we demand it. What is somewhat funny is the adults in our life do not respect and appreciate us, so why do we try so hard to get the residents to respect and appreciate us? Is it our last ditch effort to experience respect and appreciation in our life? Something to ponder. The bottom line is we do not need their respect and appreciation, and demanding it simply lets them know that we see and experience ourselves as inadequate and powerless. And so they go for that juggler!
We Keep Looking Outside
We also try to find our power in program components. We become quite clever in designing all kinds of so-called behavior modification programs. A resident gets points, levels, money, privileges, stamps, stars, checks, or some kind of payoff for just about every and anything. When these program components seem to work, we tend to feel very powerful, but not because of what we experience on the inside, but because the clever program seems to work. As a result, we become negotiators and bankers. We are always making deals, making payoffs, and giving bonuses. You never reach that place where you can just tell a kid “it’s time to get up,” and the kid will get up just because of the power you exude, a kind of power that does not threaten, but invites, leaves the child feeling safe and secure because you are so clear and so sure that he or she is going to comply. It borders on being hypnotic and magical. That kind of power is inside each of us just waiting to be turned on and used.
THANKS FOR READING AND COMMENTING ON PART ONE. CONTINUE WITH YOUR READING AND SELF TRAINING IN PART TWO. See you over at the follow up Hub.
An excellent book about relationships and the bottom line in your work with residents is the relationship