Over my years of Social Work clinical training, I’ve learned a lot of metaphors and stories to help explain some of the concepts I teach.
One such story is called the Hazards Story. It was conceived of, and taught to me by my former supervisor and colleague, Donna Ellenbogen.
Here is a brief, adapted version of the story:
A fellow professional travels the country training colleagues in the field of psychology. He is wheel-chair bound and would drive to most of his training engagements in his large van that accommodated his needs. For one engagement, he had to travel the length of the New Jersey Turnpike. For anyone who has spent any amount of time on this stretch of road knows that it is chaotic and not driver friendly. Just drive 70 in the left lane and see how many horns get blared in your general direction. This gentleman would travel in the right lane (it is a 3-lane highway in most places), going several miles below the speed limit (65). No one drives even the speed limit on the Turnpike, let alone slower than that, but he did. Needless to say, he was welcomed by an endless slew of swerving, honking cars with drivers yelling obscenities and making every obscene gesture possible.
The next day, he had to drive the route all over again. Around 55-60 MPH, in the right lane, on the NJ Turnpike. This time, he decided to put his hazard lights on. This simple change drastically changed the reactions of the travelers around him. Now, rather than an endless barrage of nasty looks and horns honking, the exact opposite happened. More cars just went around the van, without any aggression or obscene gestures. Several cars even slowed down next to him to see if he was okay. Sure, there was still the occasional outburst from a road-raging driver (this was the NJ Turnpike, after all), yet overall, the response he received by making this simple change was astonishing. By simply put on his blinking lights to alert others to his preferred method of driving, he minimized the stress of the situation. He received more compassion and less angst.
The moral of the story, and the meaning we teach, is that if you alert those around you that you are feeling stressed or behaving in a way that is out of the ordinary, you may just increase your chances of receiving more empathy and less frustration from those around you. You don’t need to tell every single detail of why you are feeling off. The details are irrelevant. The feeling is what is most important. You are conveying your feelings of stress or anxiety to those around you so that they are aware of the state of being you are in. You are taking an active role in informing those around you. This way they may lower their expectations of you, and you can minimize the negative reactions of those around you. Of course, you can’t control the reactions of everyone, and there will still be some people who continue to have the same expectations of you no matter what, (just like those road-raging drivers who are angry no matter what), yet the odds of you receiving more compassion and understanding are increased.
Information is powerful. Not full on details, but simple statements of how you are feeling can completely shift the energy of those around you. Case in point ~ Perhaps I have an important business meeting that I need to actively participate in. Perhaps at the same time, my daughter is not feeling well and I am awaiting a call from her doctor. How shall I handle this situation? I more than likely will have to answer my phone mid-meeting. I could just step out and answer it, but that may result in my other team members feeling slighted or wondering if I’m invested in the meeting. Yet, I can also choose to enter the meeting and inform the team from the start that I will have my phone on vibrate because I am expecting an important call about my daughter that I will have to answer quickly and return to the meeting. This way, from the beginning, I am informing the team of my current state of feeling and also minimizing any negative reactions when I do leave the meeting. I am putting my hazards on for my team.
Try it out! Next time you aren’t feeling your best, let people know. Simple and clear is best ~ “I am not 100% today”, “I will do my best today, yet there are some things on my mind as well” … Informing those around you allows you to take a more active role in how they may respond to you. You don’t have full control, yet you increase your chances of receiving compassion rather than obscene gestures.
To learn more about Donna Ellenbogen and the amazing work she is doing with new moms and families, check out her website ~ FamilyWellnessNYC.com
Filed under: Addiction/Substance Use, Compassion Fatigue, Harm Reduction, Health, HIV/AIDS, Hope Notes, Mental Illness, Self-Care, Social Work, Strengths Perspective, Stress Reduction | Leave a Comment »