Saturday, November 29, 2008

Too Close to Home

I was watching a commercial on television the other day and found myself tearing up. Instantly, I snapped out of it and tried to critique the whole thing and figure out what had affected me like that. Obviously, I had personalized the situation and it touched an emotional hot button.
What does that mean? I could analyze everything and never learn anything about myself! The commercial was easy to figure out. It was a holiday dinner table with family sitting around it. I filled in the blanks with memories of my own childhood holidays . It is easy to see where the 'good tears' came from. (and the bad memories)
These same mental gymnastics happened to me as a firefighter in a more negative way many times. It is so easy to think about you own wife and kids when pulling up on the scene of a fire or automobile accident , or heart attack victim, etc. It was usually just a fleeting thing, over in an instant, because you don't really have time to dwell on it.

[I don't know how people experience this, especially firefighters and other public safety folks. I don't believe I have ever asked anyone so I'll do that now. Comment on this post and tell me if this has ever been something you have experienced.]

In a business like the fire service, you really need to develop the ability to disassociate, even repress, these thoughts and memories if your going to keep yourself from melt down. Of course you have to try to be objective, right? Then again, are their situations where identifying with victims the way we almost instinctively do, may help us do a better job? That is a factor always present in counseling, I know for sure. Even when you try to stay objective and professional, if you are a human, or at least an honest human, you have to be touched emotionally to really have empathy for your client, don't you? I mean, I'm asking, do you agree or disagree?

This is a real dilema for the helping professional. To just deny and repress the feelings one has to experience on emergency situations is a recipe for disaster, or at least burnout eventually. On the other hand, if you let yourself identify with every fire or accident victim and 'feel' for them, you are the one who will end up an emotional 'basket case'! I believe the best path is a balance of both ends of this continuum. Honest expression of the way you feel about some of calls you experience ( especially the bad ones) and a learned, professional , detachment from the scene which allows rational thinking. This is obviously not an exact science. Again, I'd be interested in the way others have experienced this and perhaps dealt with it. post

tom hudgens

Sunday, November 16, 2008