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  • Writer's pictureCait Donovan

#straightfromcait: Heal Burnout by Keeping An Eye On Privilege, Trauma, and Your Nervous System

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Hey Fried Fans,

This week’s episode has been a long time coming and something that I’ve thought a lot about over the years.

It’s about privilege and the good and bad of how it’s interwoven with burnout. It is extremely difficult for people that I grew up with to accept that they are the recipients of any sort of privilege and I understand why. Fall River, Massachusetts isn’t a city that dreams are made of. Our police motto is “We’ll Try” and we’ve been high on the list of most heroin per capita since long before the opioid epidemic. It is a downtrodden place that comes with an extreme sense of pride - that pride sometimes feels like the only thing that keeps the city going. Most families I knew growing up, including my own, struggled to make ends meet, often working multiple jobs to keep the lights on and food in the fridge. Having this as your lifestyle and acknowledging your privilege is a big ask. There is no room for feeling privileged or worrying about how others are disadvantaged when you’re simply trying to survive yourself.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that unless basic needs are met (basic being defined as: food, shelter, drink, clothing, warmth, and some level of stability) it is nearly impossible to expect anyone to be reaching toward ‘higher’ ideals such as self-actualization and personal growth. I believe that it is in this area of personal growth that one can begin to identify one’s privilege. At least, that’s how it worked for me. It wasn’t until I was highly successful that I was able to turn around and realize that my life was easier because of the following factors: 1. White skin

2. A 2 parent home

3. Supportive, involved parents that encouraged reading and education

4. A large, well connected extended family

5. A close circle of friends around my parents 6. Always having enough food, a place to live, clean clothes, and heat in the winter

7. Cis gendered

8. In a hetero relationship

9. Able-bodied

10. Sporty physique

None of those things prevented me from burning out. They did make it easier for me to find help when I was burnt out AND they kept me on a burnout cycle because I was comparing my life situation to lives around me and taking note of my luck and my privilege.

It lead to increased feelings of guilt and shame (which burnout has enough of in and of itself) and a lot of beating myself up for not appreciating what I had more, for not being grateful enough, for not using everything I was gifted with to create a life that was fulfilling to me and useful to others.

I believe strongly in recognizing my privilege. I think it’s important because it helps to remind me to leave a piece of my ego at the door. No matter what I’ve accomplished, there have always been things that gave me an edge. It helps me to both take credit for my work AND rest on the fact that it wasn’t ‘all me’.

Back to burnout. When you read the research on burnout, it’s mostly been studied in corporate and hospital settings (read: settings that prefer white skin) and the result of said studies is that the environment, the company, the hospital - is at 80% fault for causing burnout. When I did my own research, at the bottom, in the depths of what I truly believe sits behind burnout is trauma. Trauma that causes nervous systems to be on high alert which leads to behaviors that burn us out. It doesn’t have to be one singular traumatic event that an after school special would be made about - it can be an adult with unstable and inconsistent emotional states, it can be a constant cutting down of your self worth through comments about your clothes, style, way of being, body, it can be emotional disconnection and abandonment - even from parents that were physically there. It can be a society that thinks of you as less than. It can be living in skin that makes you more likely to be not believed by medical professionals and more likely to be violently attacked/killed by the people whose job it is to protect you. It can be a sexual orientation or a gender that leaves you at risk for familial/societal/religious rejection.

Every single aspect of your life that makes you unsafe: Mentally, physically, and emotionally - can lead to burnout.

So yes, recognize your privilege and also pay attention to what created a lack of safety in your life, at any stage. Recognize your privilege and also give yourself the space for grace and the right to heal. Recognize your privilege and acknowledge your burnout - because you healing your nervous system will affect everyone you come into contact with.

Adding more regulated nervous systems to the world raises us all up - the more regulated we are, the less likely we are to create more trauma for others - the more likely we are to recognize another’s pain and take action toward solving it.

If you’re privileged and burnt out - Please know this: your healing isn’t just for you. It’s for all of us. You deserve to heal no matter how ‘good’ you’ve got it. If you’re lacking privilege and you’re burnt out - Please know this: you are seen, heard, acknowledged, and loved. Your healing, too, is all of our healing. You deserve to heal, no matter who has told you differently.

If you want to listen to an episode on Burnout and Racism, please go listen to the episode that I recorded with Khadijah Tishan Washington.

We all need to bring our regulated nervous systems to the world so that the world can start to heal.

If you’re burnt out and you’re denying it because you’re privileged: book a call now. Let’s get started healing. If you’re burnt out and you’re underprivileged and coaching is out of your range: book a call now. Let’s get started healing.

There is a group called Peer Hopes, you can find them at, that offers low cost 1:1 and group counseling.

You all deserve to heal. <3



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