One thing I have struggled with a little is boundaries, more so in that I am deathly afraid to cross them. For survivors of abuse, boundaries are especially important because it is a huge step to take power back and be able to say what you are and are not comfortable with. I am so worried about crossing that boundary and having someone I’m working with say/do something they are not okay with. Specifically, I have not been asking about follow-ups or getting their basic information (i.e. name) because I do not want them to feel like I’m pushing them. Now, while I think it is good that I’m hyper aware of those things and am taking steps to actively let them decide what is okay, it can inhibit my ability to help them in some ways. For example, I met with someone last week and when they left, they said they would be back in that day or later in the week to follow up and get help constructing an email. However, all I knew was their first name and we did not talk about a time they would come back or how/if I could contact them to follow up. So, they did not come back to follow up and I have not been able to contact them, which makes me feel like I am not helping them as much as I could. I talked to my co-workers about appropriate ways to handle this and what to do in the future (and it helped me that my supervisor reassured me that she often forgets this part as well). So, one thing that we talked about is once I feel things are wrapping up to ask them how they would like to proceed, let them know when I am in the office and ask if they would like to be the one to contact me as needed, or if they would prefer I contact them every so often (an established period) to check in etc. That way, I get the information I need as to how to handle the follow-up, but they are the one deciding what they are comfortable with. I kind of followed through with that today, but only half. I had a lengthy one-on-one with a student and their roommate about the student’s struggling with self-esteem and anger as a consequence of past assaults; after what seemed to be a good meeting, I asked what would be helpful for them and if they would be comfortable with me contacting them, or if they would like to initiate contact as needed. They were not comfortable with me contacting them, in fact they didn’t even give me their name, but said they would be back next week to check in and talk more. I gave them my card with my name, email and direct line in case something should come up before then. Overall, I feel like it was a big step because I at least remembered to have that conversation with them and let them decide the next step. Part of me still wishes that I had a more concrete answer or decision so I knew what to expect, but I know it isn’t about me and what is important is that they felt supported enough to feel comfortable coming back; clearly I did something right.
I’m realizing (re-realizing) that I am very critical of myself and will always feel like I could have done a better job. But that’s what this is for, for me to document those thoughts so I can work on things and become a better advocate. In today’s one-on-one I felt like I was repeating myself a lot and that I wasn’t being helpful, but at the end the person was like “okay I’ll try some of those things and see if they help” and it made me realize that okay, what I’m saying is helpful and I am able to offer something.
One thing that my office/co-workers are really good about is processing after meetings. After the one-on-one, two of my co-workers were there for me to process with and kind of debrief about what happened. Processing is both good and bad; it helps me recognize what I did well and the good things I did, but it also points out the things I missed and what I could/should have said. For example, in today’s meeting with the survivor and their roommate, the survivor mentioned that they had been in counseling but had since stopped, and mentioned that money was a factor. I moved on and talked about the ways that this office and I could work with them to help. My co-worker pointed out that the survivor could be a good candidate for Victim’s Compensation because the assault had been reported to the police, and therefore they could be eligible to have private counseling paid for. While I am appreciative that people here help me realize these things and suggest options to me, it is frustrating because I know about the resources and feel like I should have been able to come up with that on my own, and am disappointed in myself that I didn’t. I just have to remind myself that my co-workers have been working in the field for years and have much more experience and familiarity/comfort with the resources than I do.
All in good time…
(note: sorry for all the “they” “survivor”, I am trying to maintain confidentiality but fear that it inhibits the readability of the posts).