In order to begin or continue this discussion about trauma, I think it is important to discuss some of the differences between secondary trauma & vicarious trauma. The terms can be used intermittently but depending on what you research can have very different definitions. Let's look at the definitions:
The definition of secondary trauma is: Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.
The definition of vicarious trauma is: Vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors & helping professionals have from working with people as they are hearing their trauma stories and become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured. It is important not to confuse vicarious trauma with “burnout”. It is also known as compassion fatigue.
As someone who has experienced a traumatic house fire & as a therapist, I have definitely struggled with not only trauma but vicarious trauma. I will say that after fire I took a couple of days off before I went out of town to celebrate my nephew's birthday. Once I saw my mom & sister I found that I could not stop crying. And of course being the person I am, I apologized for crying despite the reassurance I was receiving from my family. When I went back to work, I was overwhelmed with having to be present for my clients. I began to take on their pain. After a couple of weeks, I re-committed to self-care. I started with exercising. I then reached out to friends. I planned a fundraiser. The fundraiser although amazing to see our family, friends & community support us, was extra work for me. At times, it gave me something positive to focus on. At other times, it became a distraction from my feelings. I will say that after experiencing our house fire, I really learned the importance of emotional boundaries, of not taking on other's pains & to stick to self-care. Currently, I am struggling with not being able to go on much needed walks. I, along with most people, feel stuck inside because of the smoke. The smoke continues to remind me that our firefighters are fighting incredible fires. It also reminds me of the other helping professionals volunteering their time to support those who have lost so much.
I have included an article with the warning signs of secondary & vicarious trauma. My next blog will be about secondary trauma in children which will be followed with vicarious trauma in helping professionals.
As I said in my last blog, be kind to yourself & others. Please focus on self-care!