Trauma-Informed Organization: Self-Care is Not Selfish

Posted on December 14, 2021

Brené Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection writes, “In a society that says, ‘Put yourself last,’ self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.”  Self-care is not a disregard for others’ needs. It is extending the same concern and empathy for your needs that you offer others.

We’ve all heard the words that may feel like clichés, such as “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else” and “You cannot fill someone else’s cup if yours is empty.”

They are so much more than catch phrases. In the world of child welfare and trauma, the words are foundational to mental, physical and emotional well-being. How do we move from, “I know I should take care of myself” and put it into practice?

First, some definitions:

  • Burnout — A gradual process of a staff member experiencing feelings of hopelessness, fatigue and being overwhelmed, resulting from a lack of support, excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations.
  • Compassion Fatigue (CF) — A combination of secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma and/or burnout.
  • Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) — The onset of trauma-related symptoms as a result of witnessing the trauma/adversity of another or working with people who have experienced trauma.
  • Vicarious Trauma (VT) — The development of negative changes in world view as a result of the cumulative impact of witnessing the trauma/adversity of others over time.
  • Self-care – The intentional act(s) and practices that one engages in on a regular basis to reduce stress while maintaining and enhancing health and well-being in the short and long term.

Making positive changes

In the model of change theory, James Prochaska found that people who made positive changes go through five specific stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Apply this to self-care:

  • Precontemplation: Not acknowledging that there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed.
  • Contemplation: Acknowledging that you are not taking good care of yourself, but not ready or sure of wanting to make a change.
  • Preparation: What information and planning do you need to engage in self-care?
    - Ask yourself: what barriers exist that do not allow for consistent, intentional and thoughtful self-care? Who or what can help you eliminate or decrease the barriers? What (or who) do you need to say “no” to?
  • Action and Maintenance: Find what works (and what doesn’t); implement what does and remove what doesn’t. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

If you slip back into old habits, recognize that adapting and recommitting is part of the process.

What is one thing you can do for yourself each day both at and outside the work environment that will have a lasting impact? Consider:

  • Eating better – even a few small changes during the week
  • Exercise/yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Set good boundaries – saying “no” is self-care
  • Download mindfulness or calming apps
  • Look at the four following domains: physical, psychological, spiritual and organizational (development, boundaries and collegial support)
  • Is there something from your culture you can incorporate? Find it and build on it.

Also—find a buddy. Who is someone you trust to help hold you accountable, offer support and get you back on track if you need it?


Why does self-care matter?

Because YOU matter and the children and families you care for matter. Caring for yourself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.

The Trauma-Informed Workgroup continues to work with leadership to help CHS become a trauma-sensitive, trauma-informed and trauma specific organization that supports self-care.

If you need support outside of CHS, the Employee Assistance Program is provided at no cost through Avera EAO and ACI Specialty Benefits. If you have questions, please contact Mark Niemeyer or an HR representative.

Explore resources close to home – in the Black Hills or Sioux Falls:

  • Go for a nature walk—make it a scavenger hunt
  • Find a new coffee shop—take a good book with you
  • Unplug from electronic devices

Self Care Assessment