The Problem with Distance

image of a very long straight road with mountains in the background

Once upon a time there was a young woman named Millie who had a boyfriend named Mike.

Once upon a time Mike broke up with Millie (for the 10th time).

Once upon a time Millie was crushed because Mike broke up with her and broke her heart.

Once upon a time I was told to keep “professional distance” because I consoled Millie over her breakup, hugged her while she cried and told her that Mike was a jerk and she could do better (because, that’s what Millie needed to hear.).

Why is this a problem?  The helping profession… the supporting profession requires having a heart and having empathy.  It requires a person to feel, and connect with another human.  If you had encountered a person in a park who was sitting on a park bench weeping, would you not approach them, ask them if they were ok and ask them if they needed or wanted help?  Some may not.  Some may think, “No, I don’t want to get involved.” or “No, they must need privacy.”

Why in the area of intellectual disability support (or any area of support) can “Professional Distance” be a problem?  When one takes  this definition and takes it verbatim, the supporter can become numb to the human condition and treat their profession as just any other job where you clock in and clock out (and just move through your day).

Now, I will say, concurrently, we also need to protect ourselves and give ourselves space.  We don’t want to take home with us, at the end of our days, the dynamics and emotions.  But we can’t be numb and create a sterile approach to supports to people.  I wasn’t trying to be Millie’s friend (that’s another topic completely) as I was accused by this higher up at the organization.  I was just being human.  One human to another connecting with another and supporting them in a difficult time.