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FeelingsMental HealthRecovery

Getting Overwhelmed: Knowing Your Limits and the Limits of Others

By June 4, 2013No Comments

Scrubjay.... Flying away. Better stay away fro...

As teachers, therapists and facilitators, we have to become aware of our own edge: knowing when we are getting overwhelmed, knowing when those in our charge are feeling overwhelmed, and knowing when we need to step back ourselves or facilitate that same process of backing off in someone else. Working with the addiction and mental health population means coming to a place of deep understanding and awareness of the subtle shifts of emotional temperatures that can occur in any given situation. The process of helping others and working with others isn’t about feeding our own egos so we can feel superior, but rather facilitating and creating a safe container for those in crisis and helping them find the willingness to take a chance at finding their own edge (trying something new and finding that sense of coming close to but not being overwhelmed) and broadening their comfort zones.


There are many ways in which we can recognize when someone may need to back off, or work on getting grounded. As part of a treatment team, we have to be aware of each client’s needs and these are some of the key signs we look for as well as some of the key tools we need to have in our toolboxes:


  1.  Look for any change in a person’s baseline behavior. Some people will talk more, and some will talk less. It’s as though some are stuck in the “on” position and some on the “off” position.
  2. Some people shut down. Are they isolating? Are they crumpled up in a ball?
  3. Actively listen to what someone is saying. If someone shares his or her difficulty, take heed, are you really listening?
  4. Know who is actually working with their edge and know what their resources are. Can they self-regulate? Do they have their resourcing (their calming tools) readily available?
  5. Facilitate time-outs. Let people know that it’s okay to take breaks from a situation that is making them feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, showing someone what a time-out looks like by mirroring it, helps illustrate its safety.



While we certainly want to push our clients and ourselves to explore and expand emotional and physical limitations, it’s extremely important we provide a safe container in which this can become possible. We are empowered to show others how to orient themselves in new situations, find their grounding, and self-regulate when they begin to feel themselves slip of out of control. We are also empowered with the loving arm of compassion and service which allows us to show someone how to ask for help and accept that help when it is offered. To teach, treat, and to care for others is a gift and an honor.


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