This post originally was written for Next Element, the US distributors of the Process Communication Model. You can find the original post here: https://next-element.com/how-do-you-wring-out-your-sponge/
When I first started in ministry, a mentor asked me a cryptic question.
“How do you wring out your sponge?”
My response: “Huh?”
He went on.
You see, those of us in caring professions soak up a lot of stuff…often a lot of negative stuff. And, no matter how wonderful you are, eventually you have to wring out your sponge.
I personally am more of a washcloth guy than a sponge guy, but there have been moments in my life where the sponge metaphor really hit home.
For instance, I remember living in Washington D.C. during a year-long internship. All of my peers were broke as a joke, so nine of us lived together in a big, old, and very disgusting house. In our kitchen, which always had a funk, there was a sponge on the sink.
From this experience, I learned two ways to ruin a sponge.
Over Saturation: This is when the sponge simply becomes so full that it cannot hold another drop of liquid. Everything you try to pour into it goes right through without even slowing down.
Contaminated Growths: A sponge that doesn’t get cleaned regularly ends up with bits of food, bacteria, and other gross stuff embedded inside the sponge. It only takes about a day for it to start stinking and only a few more days before you can actually see the filth begin to grow out of the sponge and into the world!
People in caring professions can be ruined in the same way.
Over Saturation: You hear so much pain and trouble that you no longer can offer resistance. The people you care about start to feel unheard and you lose the ability to offer encouragement, empathy, or grounded advice.
Contaminated Growths: This is the ugly result of caregivers becoming attached to the pain and trouble they hear. Instead of maintaining healthy boundaries, the caregiver carries the pain of others as if it is their own. Before long, they begin to take that negativity out on self, family, and co-workers.
So, how do you wring out your sponge?
Take care of yourself! Professional care-givers are not the best at this work. Often my colleagues and clients in caring professions are at the end of their rope and already daydreaming about taking up a barista job. If that’s you, it may be time to wring out that sponge.
Here are three tips to make it happen.
Schedule it into your week: We all know it’s easier said than done. Make sure it gains enough importance that it is actually on your calendar.
Tell someone you are going to do it: This is all about accountability. If you want to make it really real, get a coach who can help you stay accountable. Any coach worth their salt will be checking in regularly about self-care practices.
Do something you really love: I hate exercising. Yeah, it’s good for me but it doesn’t wring out my sponge. My self-care is playing banjo, having drinks with friends, or taking an afternoon nap. If you pick things you love, you might actually find yourself doing them!
There is enough dirty grime in the world already, so go forth and wring out your sponge!