Vicarious Trauma – also known as Secondary Trauma
Vicarious Trauma is when someone else’s trauma impacts you so much that it starts to affect you as if you were the one who experiences the trauma.
According to the Joyful heart foundation- “vicarious trauma happens when we accumulate and carry the stories of trauma including images, sounds, and resonant details- we have heard, which then come to inform our worldview.”
Anyone who engages empathetically with survivors of traumatic incidents, torture, and things relating to their trauma, is potentially affected, including doctors and other health professionals, and especially with the ongoing pandemic. Vicarious trauma typically involves a shift in the world view of the helper. The helper’s beliefs about the world may be altered and/or damaged by repeated exposure to traumatic material.
Physical signs of vicarious trauma
- Always feeling tired even, a sleeping enough
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Head and body aches
- Getting sick as soon as you relax like on a vacation
- Feeling angrier, irritated or cynical than usual
- Feeling helpless about the situation you’re dealing with
- Feeling guilty about having more resources or opportunities than those around you
- No longer enjoying things you used to
- Using (often unhealthy) activities or substances to escape
- Lack of boundaries between your work and personal life
- Isolating yourself to only people who can relate to your experience
Vicarious trauma can affect friends and family of someone who has experienced trauma. It’s important to check in with yourself about how you are feeling to make sure you don’t burn out. Take breaks and ask for help. You won’t be able to support people effectively if you are not supporting yourself. Going to therapy can also be a form of self-care, as a therapy session allows time to focus on one’s thoughts and feelings and a safe place to examine them.