Doctors and Relationships – The Ironic Truth
Now that "burnout" seems to be a buzzword these days, the institutions and organizations are looking for all the various reasons that this epidemic is sweeping our industry.The truth is, the symptoms that come with burnout are multifactorial.The most obvious scapegoat these days is the "system"; and while the system does have a major role, there are a few other significant factors that often get overlooked especially when it comes to physician mom wellness. I've spoken with hundreds of doctor mommies and three very common themes that I find come up over and over are the need for freedom and flexibility, connectedness, and time with family.So, the values are family, freedom, and connectedness.When deprived of these three things, the risk of physician mom burnout is significantly increased.Of course, there are other factors, but these three values seem to be the most violated in my burned out (or near burned out) doctor mommies.
Inside of these values, relationships is a factor that affects two of the three major values and is often overlooked.In my coaching with moms in medicine, I have found that while the initial inquiry is about burnout in career, what I often find is when we begin to affect positive change in the home (specfiically the relationships with spouse and children).That's not to say there are problems in the relationship, but the communication is often either ineffective or lacking completely.I've observed a few things that may contribute that I think could be valuable to contemplate.
- We have feelings but we ignore them – We are trained in the physician culture that as women doctors we have to "man up" and for some of us that means "leave our feelings at the door".That may work when we are running a code, but it most certainly doesn't work in relationships of any kinds. What it leads to is bottled up emotion that eventually either leaks out like feces from an overflowed colon, or an explosion (like a shaken up coca cola).Furhter more suppressing and not expressing our feelings leads to resentment, low self esteem, and even self deprivation.Similarly, we know that repressed anger, sadness, hurt, and guilt can lead to physical as well as mental illness as well.
- We forget to take off our "doctor" hat at home – This one can be easy to fall under the radar. Most times you spend your days rushing from room to room, working through lunch, rushing to finish charts and then making a mad dash out of the door to get home to the kids and family. Sometimes when we do this we forget to take off that "doctor" persona (you know, the one where we have to be hard core…"man up"… but super assertive and sometimes aggressive to keep the ship tight at work). We forget to take that off and that can lead to discord,feelings of frustration and even disconnectedness when we are still in "work" mode. The solution here is simply to make sure you have a decompression or transition ritual. It could be anything; a walk after work, certain music on the way home, 30 minute quiet escape before engaging with the family. I've even had some of my Dr. Mommies take the long way home to get that extra time (if they have a spouse or other caregive that can pick up the children).
- We think the strength of vulnerability is actually a weakness – Again, this speaks to our conditioning.In our society, vulnerability has gotten a bad rap.Vulnerability is seen as a weakness especially in the medical community.I assert that this gross misconception is the reason so many physicians choose to take their lives rather than ask for help.The truth is vulnerability is a strength. It takes significantly more courage and strength to reveal your true self than it does to hide. It's very uncomfortable, it's scary. But it saves lives (not just yours, but those of the people you inspire in the process). When we are vulnerable we give courage and voice to those who have been experiencing the same sufferings as we have.Another factor; when we are courageous enough to be 100% authentic, we can be surprised at how willing others are to accommodate our needs.The key is how you communicate those needs. I speak about this in a webinar 5 Steps Our Dr. Moms Took to Create the Life of Their Design.
- We are looking but we can't see our partners bids for connection – While we want connection with our partners and children, many times the people in our lives are seeking our attention and connection, but it doesn't always look the way we think it should. Further more, when we are exhausted and are not getting our own needs met, it can be easy to miss these bids for connection from our kids and our partners. We may see it as "mis-behaving".The main point here is that bids for connection come in all different manners, and getting to know our partners' communication style can be very valuable in recognizing when they are trying to show you love or even request affection from you.More importantly, when you begin to get your needs met (and are not so tired all of the time), it becomes easier to see and recognize when these bids are happening and futhermore you have more energy to respond.
- Trying to meet the needs of others, we aren't taking care of ourselves – This is probably the most pervasive.I always say that physician moms have a double whammy in this department. As physicians we are taught to put ourselves on the back burner, and as women it's more instinct to put everyone before ourselves. This is probably the BIGGEST contributing cause of burnout that I see in physician moms across the board. The solution, while simple is not easy to implement because it requires a complete mindset shift. This is where I find support and coaching can be valuable.For one of my clients who is a physician single mom, it took only a few conversations to reframe her inappropriate guilt, which allowed her to be able to take the time she needed for herself to decompress each day.Once she had this time she was able to be more clear about what she needed at work, and now has really begun to enjoy being a doctor again.
Learn 5 Steps to Reclaim Your Time, Joy, and Freedom as a Mom in Medicine. Visit www.stressfreemommd.com/webinar-replay.