Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Life

February 17, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Why does your nurse seem to keep her distance?

Do not feel sorry for me when I tell you this. (After all, I do not feel sorry for myself about it.) I do not have very many friends. Really, I don’t. Oh, I have a lot of acquaintances, colleagues, even “fellows,” I suppose you’d say. But just a few people I’d consider “friends.”

It’s fine with me this way. Maybe it’s my personality — pretty logical, less emotional, driven by getting things done rather than feeling things. Maybe, were someone to psychoanalyze me, he or she would conclude that I am, in fact, suffering from some psychopathology that has me building walls, struggling with intimacy. Whatever. Maybe. It’s not affecting my life adversely. In fact, my tendency to not have very many friends is helpful.

Here’s why:

Many professions require a measure of a worker’s more private, intimate self to be given. Think of therapeutic counselors, social workers, even law-enforcement personnel. Think of doctors, therapists of all kinds. Think of doulas. And nurses.

I can’t imagine what work is more emotionally taxing than helping people — families — through acutely or chronically stressful situations. Childbirth, by the way, can be both. For one, there’s the stress of whatever the clients are feeling. There’s the stress of having to help them find solutions. Then there’s the stress of empathy. Really, when you work at empathy, at “feeling their pain,” it takes a lot out of you.

Add on work that requires a bit of intimacy — perhaps the worker sharing little bits of personal experience or needing to develop a truly human and connective rapport — and you have full-fledged emotional WORK.

Emotional work is exhausting.

Now that I’m sliding deeper into nursing work — just started my psychiatric nursing rotation, if that’s a clue — I am seeing more clearly the need for emotional boundaries for people who do the kind of work I do. For doulas. For nurses.

I glanced at an American Nurses Association (ANA) online journal article about nurses and emotional burnout. (Read it here: http://www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/vol132008/No1Jan08/ArticlePreviousTopic/WhyEmotionsMatterAgeAgitationandBurnoutAmongRegisteredNurses.html.)

In the study that prompted the article, researchers noted that half of nurses polled in the study left work every day “exhausted and discouraged.” Half! The article goes on to dissect nurses’ “emotional exhaustion,” a painful state from which many nurses and other workers with similar demands suffer. Read it if you have time. It’s telling.

And it’s making me tired just thinking about it.

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Life
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