Love Others As You Love Yourself: Bearing the Suffering of Others Through Trauma Stewardship
Natalie Cyphers, PhD in Nursing, Associate Professor, DeSales University
Since the days of Florence Nightingale nurses have been called on to serve others before self. Perhaps this was due to the influence of Christianity at the true birth of the profession. The influence of Christianity was manifested through the belief in a calling into the profession and was carried out in the selfless care of nurses throughout the centuries. Nurses have born witness to the traumatic events of their patients in war zones, emergency departments, psychiatric units, varied intensive care units, and in everyday places. Over time, bearing witness to the suffering of others took its toll and trauma exposure symptoms emerged. Trauma exposure symptoms include guilt, fear, hypervigilance, addictions, and a sense that one cannot do enough, to name a few. Across hospitals and in wide areas of patient care, evidence of trauma-exposure symptoms are present not only in nurses but in a variety of other health care providers. Providers bear witness to traumatic events of others and over time have less ability to empathize with their patients creating invisible walls to avoid further pain. Learning to carefully manage the trauma others experience without denying the impact on one’s own work and life is known as trauma stewardship. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss trauma stewardship and how the history of Christian principles can continue to guide healthy management of the everyday experience of bearing witness to the suffering of others. Several strategies for trauma stewardship will be discussed including: 1). Asking the hard questions such as: Is this still where I want to work and is this where God wants me to be? 2). Building compassion and community. 3). Choosing your focus and being present in each moment and 4). Finding balance between work and home life. Having the privilege to bear witness to the most intimate moments in the lives of others, even when those moments are most tragic, is a profound honor that lies in the nature of nurses’ and other healthcare providers’ daily work. Being good stewards of this responsibility requires going beyond putting others before one’s own self and incorporates other Christian principles such as loving others as you love yourself. Building on the history of Christianity in healthcare will provide a more sustainable future as nurses and other healthcare providers continue to bear witness to suffering using principles of trauma stewardship.