‘The reason why people give up so fast is because they tend to look at how far they still have to go, instead of how far they have gotten’
In the words of Kid Cudi, “It’s true that pain makes people change.”
The life of an organizer can be really challenging at times. Between the daily dumpster fire we witness on social media, to the vicarious trauma and frustration we may sometimes experience fighting broken systems and not being able to help in the ways that we’d like with the vulnerable populations we work with.
It can be a lot to take in and our bodies and minds aren’t always feeling it.
There’s a multi-billion dollar self-help industry out there that is designed to shame us when we give up. It never takes into account the reality that some of our ideas and approaches to advocacy may no longer be useful, may have been stretched beyond capacity, or we’ve simply outgrown our understanding of the issue in ways that force us to question whether the approaches we’ve signed up for are the most effective.
If we aren’t prepared for this level of fatigue or need for redirection, we can spiral down a rabbit hole and across a spectrum of emotions which deprive us of any sense of joy and accomplishment we may used to feel, leaving us begging the question “how in the world did I even get here (in this circumstance that I don’t consent to)?!”
The most ubiquitous experience of this that we can all seem to relate to is when we find ourselves inadvertently fighting with strangers over civil rights issues on the internet.
Even the most well-meaning comment, intended to de-escalate and spread hope can force us to navigate landmines of callouts and questioning our willingness to engage with the work — to be in an environment where the motives of would-be advocates are questioned by those with painful histories and experiences you may have not included in the overall context.
These triggers can stimulate our fight, flight, or backpeddle mode. The adrenaline can leave us feeling defensive and shaky especially when unexpected conflict puts our relationships on the line.
For those who have become quite literate in the language of loss and deprivation, of unapologetic resistance, disassociation that vulnerable populations experience, adrenal triggers can hardwire pain (both physical and psychological),can fatigue our adrenals, or create a state of learned helplessness.
And we want to be very clear, it is the stance of the NeuroTrust to acknowlege that the pain and associated barriers people experience are real.
We all process pain differently, but each individual’s sensitivity to pain is modulated in the same parts of the brain called the amygdala and nocireceptors that create the stress reactions we experience. So, whether it’s emotional tension or physical trauma our minds process that source of pain in the same part of our brain that decides whether to shut down or stick out the painful experience in order to survive.
The good news is, that there is also a section of the brain, and we’ll discuss that a bit later, that sends relaxation signals to help ease that tension when we trigger it.
One helpful exercise that we like to encourage is to redirect participants attention in order to:
- reflect upon the outcomes they would like to see,
- have them identify where they may have outgrown their goal and
- assess when it may be appropriate to take next steps forward.
Tell us about any progress you’ve made on a goal you’re working toward. What made it worth working toward? What’s driving you now? Inertia? Is it personally meaningful? Have you noticed any signs (or triggers) of fatigue?