People who work in the helping professions experience changes within themselves after being exposed to the traumatic life events of others. The police officer who witnesses the aftermath of a shooting, for example. Or the social worker who listens to horrific stories of domestic violence. The hospital employee who experiences the death of a patient, or witnesses’ severe suffering. The clergyman who receives a midnight phone call from a suicidal parishioner after presiding over a funeral and visiting the hospital during the day.
These types of exposures change people. Often the worst part is a belief that struggling with the trauma of others is just part of the job and something to somehow be “bigger than.” However, these types of traumas cause brain changes that can result in years of suffering. Just “sucking it up” or stuffing the emotions away makes ones day to day life less and less functional over time.
Vicarious trauma is not just for those in helping professions. Witnessing car accidents, violence, and death can be difficult for anyone. Just because the trauma did not happen to you, doesn’t mean you are trauma free. Deep suffering for you can result from exposure to the suffering of others.
Interestingly, people often do not realize there is anything wrong. You may not have nightmares of the event, or break into a cold sweat when you are reminded of it. However, those who are closest to you know. They can see the underlying anger, rigidness, need for control, numbing, or secluding that has begun to creep in. There are many symptoms of vicarious trauma that you may not have considered.
Here is a list I found online from the Blue Knot Foundation.
- Emotional numbing
- Social withdrawal
- Work-related nightmares
- Feelings of despair and hopelessness
- Loss of sense of spirituality
- More negative view of the world
- Reduced sense of respect for your clients
- Loss of enjoyment of sexual activity
- No time or energy for yourself
- Feeling that you can’t discuss work with family or friends
- Finding that you talk about work all the time (can’t escape)
- Sense of disconnection from your loved ones
- Increased sense of danger (reduced sense of safety)
- Increased fear for safety of children or loved ones
- Sense of cynicism or pessimism
- Increased illness or fatigue
- Increased absenteeism
- Greater problems with boundaries
- Difficulties making decisions
- Reduced productivity
- Reduced motivation for your work
- Loss of sense of control over your work and your life
- Lowered self esteem, lowered sense of competence in your work
- Difficulties trusting others
- Lessened interest in spending time alone
- Less time spent reflecting on your experiences
It is much better to seek treatment than to suffer alone, or worse cause suffering for your family and coworkers. I am here to help. Give me a call.