August 25, 2009

Atheist Bloggers, Take Care of Yourselves

And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
--Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

When one spends a significant portion of one's time helping others who are suffering from emotional problems, one cannot expect to emerge unscathed. Psychologists often refer to "vicarious traumatization" when talking about this because of the manner in which treating survivors of trauma can affect the helper. I personally prefer the broader term, "compassion fatigue," because it reminds us that trauma is not the only way that the helper can be affected by his or her work. A helper who does not utilize effective self-care strategies is particularly vulnerable to this type of burnout. I mention this here because I think a related process can be observed among atheist bloggers, as demonstrated by our friend Mojoey at Deep Thoughts.

Anyone who spends enough time dealing with the dregs of humanity (i.e., pedophile priests and the church which conceals their crimes) is going to be affected by it. Mojoey has been doing just that, bringing us his Hypocrisy Watch series for some time. He wouldn't be human if this didn't affect him.

So what are some of the self-care skills that therapists have been using and from which atheist bloggers and activists might learn? Here are some examples:
  • Take a break, a real break. Even the most dedicated therapists take vacations from time-to-time, and nobody's blog is going to fade into obscurity simply because the author takes a break.
  • Prioritize. Not every battle has to be fought with the same intensity.
  • Ask for help. If you have supportive others in your life, utilize them.
  • Indulge in an enjoyable distraction. This may sound silly, but when I was doing a lot of intense clinical work, I found that playing video games shortly before I went to bed helped me sleep better.
  • Give yourself permission to focus on something else for awhile in your work. No blogger should feel so constrained by his or her niche that deviation is impossible. Do something different for awhile, and you'll likely return better for it.
Before you dismiss these as overly obvious, just remember that knowing what to do isn't the hard part. No, the hard part is convincing oneself that one needs to implement some of these for oneself. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that many of us struggle with this. I'm still not exactly what I'd call good at it even though I most certainly know better.

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