The following information comes from information provided by Redeemed Ministries at their weekend conference on Aftercare Training.
Christians, if not careful, can let a healthy passion for ministry turn into a martyr’s complex.
In psychology a person who has a martyr complex, sometimes associated with the term victim complex, desires the feeling of being a martyr for his/her own sake, seeking out suffering or persecution because it either feeds a psychological need, or a desire to avoid responsibility. (Wikipedia)
In pursuit of pleasing God (as though he has not already given us his love), Christians can run themselves ragged, draining their own resources in service to the point that they are no longer useful. It is only with careful self-awareness that ministers can serve whole-heartedly…because they have made sure to keep their heart whole. The first step to healthy service is to examine the cost.
Trafficking women and children into the sex trade in order to make money is easily one of the most evil things a person can do. Being in a relationship with women who have been tortured, abused, and raped will quickly affect a caregiver mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Christians working in this field must have a firm grasp on the sovereignty of God. Does God create evil? Does he allow evil? Does he redeem evil? The answers to these questions must be answered before going into this line of work, because they will come up again and again when hearing survivors’ stories.
Questioning God can lead to depression. This will be exacerbated by the slow progress of the work itself. Women leaving the sex industry relapse, on average, 5-7 times. It is easy to become discouraged and lose hope when women the caregiver is trying to help return to a dangerous lifestyle. This will be compounded by the reaction of the Church, some of whom care more about numbers and statistics than the fact that a safe home was enjoyed by an exploited woman for one month. In fact, as with all passions, it will be extremely difficult to reconcile the Church’s general apathy toward trafficking when it is so obviously an evil that needs to be fought.
There is also the very real possibility of a caregiver suffering from secondary traumatization and vicarious victimization. Empathetic people feel deeply the pain of others, and working with women who have survived horrific abuse day after day can cause caregivers to experience the woman’s trauma as their own. If this is not addressed with counseling, friendship, and spiritual guidance, a caregiver can find him- or herself suffering from PTSD.
The costs go further. Working in such an intense environment can consume a passionate person, to the point that they no longer are able to balance friendships and hobbies with work. During those times that they do engage in social activities, they might find it difficult to empathize with friends’ troubles. What does a broken garage door matter when twelve-year-old girls are being raped by fifty-year-old men? This lack of empathy for daily struggles can quickly alienate a caregiver from their friends.
Added to these emotional, mental, and spiritual costs are the very real physical consequences of lack of sleep and stress-related ailments. Clearly, being a caregiver to sexually exploited women can quickly deplete a person of all their inner resources. How can this be prevented?
As I mentioned earlier, Christians are often skeptical of the concept of self-care. It seems selfish, and aren’t we called to imitate the God who gave up all of himself to become human and die on a cross for us? Of course we are, but with one major difference: we are not God. Admitting our need for self-care is admitting that we have needs; we cannot serve endlessly, because we are creatures and not the Creator (who, by the way, rested on the seventh day).
Put another way, self-care is like the oxygen masks on airplanes. In the event of a crash, adults are supposed to put the mask on their own face first. Only when they are safely tapped into life-giving oxygen can they put masks on the people around them. The reasons are simple: I might be able to help one person if I ignore my own need for oxygen, and then I’m dead. But if I make sure I am safe first, I can help person after person after person. My service will last much longer.
In case you were wondering, “life-giving oxygen” does not mean just “a relationship with God,” although this relationship is undoubtedly essential. We absolutely must be in daily contact with God, who listens when we scream our frustrations and provides strength when we are weak. But God never meant for us to rely only upon him. He created us as relational beings, and we need other people to surround and support us.
In addition to relationships, there are a myriad of simple ways a caregiver can treat herself. It might take only fifteen minutes or a couple hours, but these deliberate actions can rejuvenate an empty spirit. Some examples of self-care suggestions are:
- listening to music
- taking a walk
- taking a hot bath or shower
- watching a funny movie
- getting a massage
- taking a nap
- eating at a favorite restaurant
I believe that one of Satan’s most devious tactics is to convince servants and ministers to feel guilty about their own needs and weaknesses. So instead, embrace them! We are needy creatures, and that is totally fine. Take time to care for yourself, and then you can jump back into service with a full heart and an excited spirit.