Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Saving the catchers, catching the saviors

I (finally) caught 27 Dresses on Star Movies last weekend. It turned out to be a really entertaining romantic comedy centered on the life of Jane, played by Katherine Heigl, who discovered early on in her life that she was meant to be heaven sent to brides in distress. When her own sister managed to schedule a trip to the altar with the man Jane has been in-love with for the longest time- her boss, Kevin, who writes the accounts of society weddings in a New York paper, helps her unravel the real reason behind she’s worn those 27 bridesmaid’s dresses.

Jane would be what Dr. Honey Carandang, a preeminent Filipino psychologist, would refer to as a “tagasalo” or a “catcher” or a “savior.” She’s someone who gladly (or not) will do anything and everything for others. She just cannot say no. She manages to juggle all responsibilities and demands, true, but to the detriment at times of her own psyche. Rightly or wrongly, she believes she HAS to do it FOR them.

Tagasalo in many families would be the unmarried child who would forego marriage until all siblings have graduated from college. The tagasalo would be the one who stays home to care for ailing parents. The tagasalo would most likely be in the service or caring profession, an unwitting extension perhaps of the role s/he has taken on for him-/herself at home.

I heard this tagasalo concept for the first time in the training we had for frontline responders to disasters and armed conflict. When it was mentioned by our facilitator, Ernest Tan, there was audible murmur of self-recognition among the participants. Many, if not most of those in the room, were tagasalo, saviors in their own spheres of influence. Unfortunately, the tagasalo is very prone to burnout.

Ernest defined burnout as a state of fatigue and frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward. It often involves depletion, wearing out, exhaustion of physical and mental resources by excessively striving to reach some unrealistic expectations imposed by one’s self or by the values of society.

Burnout can come from internal or external “pressures.” It can come from an internal drive to succeed gone awry, taking oneself too seriously, or inability to separate oneself from one’s job title. It can likewise come from low work or organizational support, poor incentive scheme, or inordinately idealistic expectations from superiors or subordinates.

So are you burned out already? Take this simple self-check. Remember though that this is cannot give you a complete diagnosis of burnout and it is best to seek help from a mental health professional. At the very least, this test may give a label to *that* feeling that’s been bugging you for sometime.

Direction: Assign a number from 1 (for no or little change) to 5 (for a great deal of change) to designate the degree of change you perceive in yourself and the world around you over the past six months.

1. Do you tire more easily and feel exhausted much of the time?
2. Do you find yourself just putting in the hours and going through the motions?
3. Do you notice feeling detached and even avoiding clients, colleagues, family and friends?
4. Do you feel bored and apathetic about your work or commitments?
5. Do you tend to eliminate more enjoyable activities because there is no more time for them?
6. Do you observe a tendency to engage in self-deprivations, i.e. excessive overtime, working late into the night, weekends and during vacations?
7. Do you become overly invested in a client’s welfare or in a project to the exclusion of other commitments?
8 Do you begin to “medicate” yourself with food, alcohol, pills, etc as a way of coping?
9. Do you notice becoming increasingly cynical and disenchanted?
10. Do you observe becoming more cranky and irritable?
11. Do you feel resentful of the time you spent with others and wish to have more time for yourself?
12. Do you feel relieved when an original plan to attend to a client or a project was cancelled?
13. Do you begin to feel pessimistic about your client or your commitment?
14. Do you have feelings of anger and contempt over many of your clients?
15. Do you question your effectiveness as a helping professional?

0 – 25: You’re doing fine.
26 – 35: There are things you should be watching.
36 – 50: You’re a candidate.
51 – 65: You are burning out.
Over 65: You’re in a dangerous place, threatening to your physical and mental well-being.

So how did you fare? Me? Let's just say that I'm a candidate =0

For more information on burnout and dealing with such stress in the workplace and beyond, visit the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention occupational health and safety science blog, and the CDC's online "booklet" on dealing with stress at work.

3 comments:

  1. wheee. i'm beyond 50. i knew it! i really have to go home and start a new career.

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  2. Burnout is a kind of job depression that diminishes - even destroys- motivation to perform. It is not caused by "adevotion to a cause, a lifestyle or a relaitonship that failed to produce an expected reward". It is caused by "uncontrollability" - perceived inability to effect important factors at work or at home. Feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. Even when conditions are all positive, one can "burnout" when the person feels that they do not control those positives, such as what I call "the poor little rich boy syndrome" where no matter what the kid does, daddy fixes it or buys him everything he wants.

    Burnout is prevented/overcome by developing "personal power'- a feeling of I-Can-Do, I can effect what happens. Doing this is a life-long challenge. For more information on burnout, what it is and what to do about it, see: http://www.docpotter.com/art_bo_summary.html

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  3. I am not the tagasalo of my biological family. But I might become one for my in-law. Quite honestly, I don't relish the idea but it is the humane thing to do. Right now, I'm still fine but I'm not sure if I will always be fine

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