Updated: Jan 16, 2022
The idiom of "feeling like a mushroom" describes feelings of unfamiliarity. Mushrooms commonly grow in dark and humid environments, breaking down decaying organisms found in dead leaves, rotting wood, and fecal matter. Figuratively, you feel like a mushroom when you are being left in the dark and told lies.
Even if you haven't heard the idiom in a social context, you may understand the feeling if you work in a high-stress, trauma-exposed environment. Constant exposure to the details of a traumatic story or the images of a gruesome murder indirectly affects the perception and empathy of service professionals. As society evolves, modern crusaders are becoming conscientious of who will be given their saving grace.
This profound shift in worldview is defined as vicarious traumatization. The term was coined by Pearlman & Saakvitne (1995) to describe the alteration of mindset when repeatedly exposed to traumatic material. Professionals such as therapists, police officers, and health care workers indirectly experience the atrocities of service work. Over time, repeated exposure can harm one's mental health, prompting feelings of hopelessness or detachment.
I can attest to these feelings as a direct care professional. Working with survivors of sex trafficking can definitely alter your mental state and keep you up at night. Driving home, I ask myself:
Will the client recover? How can I help the client heal? Is the work I'm doing beneficial?
I carry the hardships of the client on my shoulders and comfortably sleep with their traumas. The morning after, I wake up questioning my frame of reference.
It could have been me. Where was God? Who can I trust?
I felt like a mushroom, left in the dark and told lies about the value of social service. I could not fix a system with a faulty foundation nor should I have to. However, the questions I asked were redirected with excuses and false promises. Naturally, I became tired and wanted to avoid working with clients of trauma and emotional dysfunction. I wanted to impact others, but I also desired peace and stability.
Therefore, it became imperative for me to utilize positive coping strategies to help mitigate the negative outcomes of vicarious traumatization. As a way of passing on good fortune, I will be sharing those strategies with you today.
P.S. The strategies referenced are inclusive of all learning styles.
Disclaimer: The material presented on www.thesensualscientist.com is not an attempt to practice therapy or proclaim the writer to be an expert. The information contained on this site is for the sole purpose of being informative and is not to be considered complete, and does not cover all issues related to mental health. Moreover, this information should not replace consultation with your doctor or other qualified mental health specialists. If you believe you or another individual is suffering from a mental health crisis or other medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
Strategy 1: The VT Jar
Write a list of favorable adjectives (patient, positive, polite), stick the words into a jar, and place them by the door. Before you leave for work, read and internalize the adjective you chose. "I will be patient with my coworkers today." Once your shift is over or whenever you need a break, write down what you are leaving behind. "I am leaving behind negativity." Then rip it up, burn it, or throw the paper away. You can write down a word, phrase, or story just make sure what happens at work stays at work.
Strategy 2: The Deeper Talk Deck
Whenever I talk to myself, I try to justify my actions by saying I need expert advice. The Deeper Talk Deck is a fun game for auditory learners to learn more about themselves. As a player, you are given 150 prompts to elevate your communication skills and get to know yourself on a deeper level.
Strategy 3: Create Your Fantasy
A visual way to remove a negative mind tattoo is by recreating your space. If your happiest moments are on a sunny beach, the mountainside, or on the moon, try to recreate that moment. Set the ambience! Purchase the candles, buy a tiki torch, place glow in the dark stars on your ceiling. Therefore, whenever you're home or in the office, you are not there to wallow in sadness but to moonwalk in your bathtub or schedule a hula dance at lunch.
Strategy 4: HIIT
If you haven't engaged in High Intensity Interval Training, it's not for the faint of heart. After 1 hour, you will worry less about not doing enough and wish you weren't doing so much.
Let me know in the comments, if any of these strategies worked for you. In the meantime, drink your water, take a nap, and continue to do your best!
Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. W W Norton & Co.