My first social work position was in a hospital emergency room where I sometimes had to be very firm with drunk or drugged patients who were acting out. I had all the training I needed to do the job, but I wasn't ready for clients to call me names, scream obscenities at me, or throw half-full urinals at my head.
After a few weeks of this, I went to my supervisor in tears and told her I couldn't take it anymore.
She then told me something I've never forgotten: "You know," she said, "given the clients you work with, if you don't get called a bitch at least once a shift, you're probably not doing your job right."
What an eye-opening concept. I returned to the emergency room with a whole new mindset. Each time a client cursed me out, I held my ground and reminded myself that the verbal assault was an affirmation that I was, indeed, doing my job.
Eventually, I developed a greater comfort level with my clients, as well as a thicker skin. I even started to joke with some of our regular patients, whom we called "frequent flyers."
"Why don't you call me a puta (prostitute) anymore?" I asked one of our Mexican patients who was wide awake despite having a blood-alcohol level that should have been lethal.
He clapped a hand on my shoulder. "Is no fun now that you don't cry no more."
"Come on, call me a name for old time's sake. I haven't met my nightly quota."
He gave me an odd look and muttered something that ended in "loco."