Building Self-Resiliency in our Work with Sexual Assault Survivors

Self-care is so obvious a prescription for first-line crisis responders that it has become something of a cliché: before you can put the oxygen mask on your child, you must first apply it to yourself. The consequence for not giving yourself oxygen first is clear; unconscious, you won’t be any good to your child at all.

Self-care might be the obvious prescription for this line of work, but- as it turns out- it is not the most instinctive. Many of us were taught at an early age to always adopt a posture of service to others. After all, we didn’t gravitate toward advocating for or providing services to survivors of sexual violence because we are most concerned about ourselves. And for most of us the act of looking inward to assess our own needs can be downright uncomfortable, particularly if doing so has us revisit traumatic experiences.

Recently I had the opportunity to examine the impact of various mindfulness exercises in working with trauma survivors. I was fortunate to attend the Family Justice Center Conference in San Diego, where I explored a variety of subjects, from intervening with adults who have high Adverse Childhood Experience scores to introducing deep breathing techniques to children who are dis-regulated. After the conference, I participated in a two-day workshop in the Community Resiliency Model, which uses the language of bodily sensation and mindfulness as a sort of behavioral first aid for those who are operating outside their “resiliency zone,” a state in which we perform and act at our most optimal. 

In trying to synthesize all of this great information, my mind invariably travels back to how we can equip ourselves and each other with the self-care needed to sustain the work we do at Our VOICE. How can we give care to the care giver? How can we build resiliency as a network of people providing hope and support to victims of sexual violence? How can we place the oxygen mask to our collective face first?

At Our VOICE we strive to give attention to these questions in an intentional way, building resources through both staff and volunteers so that we can be a community of care operating in our “resiliency zone.”

As with the proverbial oxygen mask, it starts with our individual practice first. Inspired by the classes I have taken, I am developing my own mindfulness practice through meditating. I have learned a number of things about myself since starting this practice. Above all, I have learned that the muscle for emptying my mind is very, very weak. I live in my head too much, and I am many more times likely to tick down my “to do” list than I am to concentrate on my breathing. But I am trying. And I challenge each of you to find something that helps you feel centered throughout the day.

There’s no one correct prescription for self-care. Do yoga if it’s your thing. Walk in the woods with your dog. Enjoy time with a supportive friend. Get a massage. Use mindfulness apps like IChill (which describes the Community Resiliency Model and its techniques) or Stop, Breathe, & Think (a guided meditation app for beginners).
Do whatever to take care of yourself. If not for yourself, then for the volunteer who accompanies a victim to the hospital, for the educator who hears a child disclose sexual abuse, and for survivor of sexual assault who comes to Our VOICE for healing and hope.


–Val is the Program Director at Our VOICE.