Bethany Hiser is the Northwest Family Life Director of Soul Care. She shares with us just what soul care means and how it differs from traditional ideas of self-care.
Q. What is Soul Care?
Soul care is tending to our inner psychospiritual life, which affects our whole self.Soul care doesn’t just mean spiritual care. We are complex intertwined beings. Our soul, body, mind and emotions are all interconnected in who we are.
Tending to thesoul does not preclude listening to our bodies. As I address my false beliefs that drive my unhealthy behaviors and integrate a daily prayer, I am benefiting my whole self. I breathe easier, I am more grounded, I am less stressed, and I am more alive. I am resilient. I am free to thrive.
Q. How might soul care differ from self-care?
At least in popular culture, self-care seems to mean pampering or other activities that we need to add to our lives. In contrast, I see soul care as a deep tuning in and tending to our whole self. It is not necessarily adding activities but reorienting our lives and listening to what our body needs – taking a lunch break or going to the bathroom when needed. It might involve exploring the reasons why we don’t take care of ourselves, and addressing our inner beliefs that drive our unhealthy behaviors instead of simply creating a self-care plan. It might encompass a daily practice that is simple, life-giving, nourishing, and grounding. Soul care is a journey of recovery towards wholeness.
Q. What are some of the aversions you yourself have had to the term “self care”?
I used to think self-caremeant pampering and was thus trivial. I thought I didn’t need it, that I was strong enough.I also felt guilty at taking time for myself in the face of so much injustice and poverty.
Q. Would you share with us a little about how you came to be passionate about soul care?
My passion for soul care arose from necessity – going through the emotional exhaustion and toll of burnout. Ten years ago, if I were to learn that I would become passionate about training and equipping others for a more healthy and sustainable life, I would have been shocked. Like many, I was affected by the stories of trauma I had heard working in a domestic violence shelter, in jail, and a family support center. I felt the weight and grief of people I cared about who were torn apart by immigration, incarceration, abuse, sexual exploitation and addiction. I came to the end of myself and couldn’t go on. I started this soul care journey recognizing that I needed help and to make significant changes. I felt powerless against the effects of accumulated secondary trauma, work holism and codependency. My life had become unmanageable. I was taking step 1 of 12-step programs without knowing it.
Recovery has involved journeying towards living out of being God’s beloved instead finding my identity in what I do, towards freedom instead of desperation to make a difference, and towards loving myself as I love my neighbor. It’s been a journey of pride and brokenness, of learning to say no and asking for help, of healing and renewal, of contemplation and centeredness.
Q. How might someone add rhythms of rest to their life?
In order to change behavior, we need to begin small and daily. Although a daily practice can feel hard to maintain in this midst of many things to do, it can actually make us more alive and equipped for the tasks at hand.
In Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s book, Trauma Stewardship, she recommends choosing what works for you, for the season you’re in.
It might be centering prayer or other meditation, yoga, reading Scripture, exercise, journaling, coloring pages, going for a walk, or simply sitting with a cup of coffee for a few minutes when you wake up.
Whatever it is, the two key elements are: life giving and daily.
Integrating regular rhythms is essential to be rooted in the truth about ourselves and to be resilient.
Q. Could you talk about small margins in the day that let us take care of ourselves and let go of what we are carrying?
One idea is to have small practices during transitions, when waking up, before going to work, before getting home, in between appointments, or during a lunch break. For example, during or after an appointment we might check in with ourselves:
How was I feeling listening to that person?
How did that appointment affect me?
A transition activity doesn’t have to be a huge time consumer, but rather a simple activity that engages the senses: washing hands, walking around the block, taking three deep breaths, or free-writing for five minutes. Maybe it means not checking email first thing upon waking up or setting a reminder to start unwinding at a certain time of day.
Q. How is one’s identity and what they believe about themselves linked to how they care for themselves?
We have to believe we deserve care. We have to know we are loved regardless of what we do. Self-care is undermined if we don’t believe that we deserve it or need it. Seeking to change our behavior will be futile. Somewhere along the way, many have internalized the message that we are loved for what we do.
When we live out of our identity in what we do, we risk not only hurting ourselves but also hurting others, including those we seek to serve. Those we are trying to help become projects on which our success depends. Their failure is thus our failure. When living this way, the remedy to failing is to try harder and do more. We can begin wanting their change more than they do. Sometimes this develops into a need to control another’s lifeand alienate the very people we are trying to help, leading to an unhealthy codependency instead of a love born out of freedom.
Deeper soul care is needed to ground ourselves in our identity as beloveds, explore the beliefs that drive our unhealthy behaviors, and begin taking care of ourselves.
Q. What are some of the signs of secondary trauma?
- Guilt, feeling bad for taking care of oneself.
- Feeling helpless, like you can’t do enough.
- Physical or emotional exhaustion, hyper vigilance.
- Messiah complex, feeling like it’s all up to you.
- Fear of not being enough, not being accepted, of rejection. Fear for personal safety, of persecution.
- Culturally accepted addictions like codependency and work holism.
Q. Do you have some tools for people to become aware of how their work is affecting them?
These assessments are helpful for some people, not all. They are not meant to add guilt or shame. Rather they can help increase awareness of how you are being affected, validating that you are understandably affected.
- The Professional Quality of Life (PROQOL) Test: https://proqol.org/ProQol_Test.html. Tests for Compassion Fatigue, Burnout, and Compassion Satisfaction.
- Burnout assessment and work life satisfaction assessment can also be helpful. https://www.mindgarden.com/184-maslach-burnout-toolkit.
- The book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Othersby Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. Includes the 16 most common responses to trauma and is a great resource. The website http://traumastewardship.comand Lipsky’s TedX talk are also helpful.
- The Compassion Fatigue Workbook: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Traumatization, by Françoise Mathieu
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies http://www.istss.org/treating-trauma/self-care-for-providers.aspx. Indirect Trauma (PDF) Free Handout. Self-Care Tips Handout in English/Spanish/French.
Q. What does one do with that awareness?
Pursuing healing and change…begin the soul care journey! Start a daily practice. Build a support team that could include: a consult group, personal therapist, Spiritual director, mentor, ect.
Bethany has a book on Soul Care in the works, full of content that is accessible, relevant, and helpful. We look forward to sharing it with you when it comes out. You can connect with her here