Ask a 4-year-old boy who he knows that most closely resembles a super-hero, and he will often shout out, “My DAD!” with great pride. I remember my own Dad, when I was young and even well into my 20’s, and how I thought he could do absolutely anything. If something was broken, he could fix it. If I was scared, he was brave. If I couldn’t reach or lift or manage something, he was tall and strong. My dad could handle anything, and he was the smartest, most capable person I’d ever known, and this image provided me an enormous amount of security.
My grandfather, my Dad’s father, passed away when I was about 9 years old. I was standing at the casket beside my father, holding his hand, and I felt him trembling. I looked up at him and saw tears pouring from his eyes. It was the most surprising, and frightening, thing I’d ever seen as a child. Daddy had no weaknesses prior to this, and suddenly he seemed to be crumbling before me, along with every bit of my sense of security in him. And then, he reached over, placed his hand on my grandfather’s, and said, “Thank you for making me who I am.” Even with tears in his eyes that I’d never seen before, and a clear overwhelming sadness within him, he seemed sure, strong, confident, and solidly stable, immediately rebuilding my feeling of security. And it was that day that I learned that even super-heroes have feelings and that they aren’t invincible; yet they are still fully capable of being a solid source of security and safety.
Imagine someone breaking into your house waving a gun, or someone in your family injuring themselves badly, or your being involved in a bad car accident – the first thing we think to do is call someone we believe can help us, typically 9-1-1. What we want on the other end of that phone call is someone strong, solid, secure, safe, knowledgeable, and kind of like a super-hero who will come to our rescue. If the person answering the call seems just as frightened and unsure about what to do as we are, it does not provide a sense of security, but instead increases our level of fear.
Even super-heroes have feelings and that they aren’t invincible;
yet they are still fully capable of being a solid source of security and safety.
What makes the person on the other end of the call as strong and dependable as we expect them to be? Are they just naturally resilient to fear? Emergency responders, like 9-1-1 dispatchers, emergency room doctors and nurses, paramedics, firefighters, police officers, are all seen in our eyes as being “tough cookies,” ready to handle whatever comes their way, and to protect us in the meantime. Those who work with these amazing people every day, though, know the other side — you may have seen and experienced a situation that made you feel much like I did that day standing beside my dad. If you are one of these emergency responders, you know there are times when you doubt your own strength, and you feel less prepared to handle an oncoming crisis. I’ve heard that bravery isn’t the lack of fear – it’s being afraid and facing whatever is causing your fear anyway.
Those in first-response careers or other care-giving and help-providing jobs are well aware that others expect them to be the super-hero. What needs to be addressed, though, is that these super-heroes need to replenish their source of strength, maintain balance, and care for themselves in order to make them more ready and able to care for others. Battling through a critical incident or stressful situation depletes a super-hero’s resources. Picture yourself being expected to rush in, face a life-threatening situation, fix the situation, and keep everyone else calm and safe at the same time. Afterwards, you’re going to naturally have a whole range of reactions to what you went through. If you found yourself drained or stressed or even emotionally reacting, and someone came to you and said, “Suck it up, buttercup,” would that really help you? What you need is someone to listen to what you went through, someone to acknowledge that it was stressful, and critical, and life-threatening, and dangerous, and that you had a lot of pressure on you to fix it. You need permission to experience emotions, and even allow yourself some sort of emotional release – crying, screaming, physical exertion, etc.
Tough cookies don’t like to talk about their feelings, right? So if you have super-heroes, they’re not likely to feel like they have permission to “talk it out” afterward, and they generally won’t seek help like counseling or even debriefing because of the fear of appearing weak. The thing I provide training on the most often, which also gets the greatest and most surprising welcome response from those I’m training, would be this very idea. Anyone who goes through anything that is frightening, stressful, dangerous, or high-pressure, needs and would benefit from after-care. You want your tough cookies to stay tough and be prepared for the next incident? Provide after-care each time they’re put through a stressful incident situation.
Super-heroes need to replenish their source of strength, maintain balance,
and care for themselves in order to make them more ready and able to care for others.
Life is hard, particularly for super-heroes. Keeping a super-hero fit – physically, mentally, and emotionally – does not indicate weakness, it indicates intelligence. And it prepares a super-hero to be there when someone is in need. Wouldn’t you rather have your super-heroes strong, ready, willing and able, knowing that they took the time and effort to acknowledge that even super-heroes need to take care of themselves? Take a break, cupcake, and talk about your day with someone who can help.
Written by Amy Morgan, Executive Training Director of Academy Hour.