Vicarious Trauma And You

vicarious traumaWhen I was getting my MA in counseling to become a therapist one of the things we discussed was self-care. Therapists and all helpers in general are vulnerable to vicarious trauma, and though this may not be your field or career, everyone experiences it.

Vicarious Trauma And You

Have you ever had a friend or someone close to you vent to you about something and when it was over you just felt like yuck? Maybe you even want to take a shower after the conversation to rid yourself of the emotional vomit that you felt you were covered in. That right there is vicarious trauma and it is indeed some nasty and toxic stuff.

Officially, defined, vicarious trauma is the emotional residue of exposure that counselors 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.

But everyone is vulnerable to it…

And unless you take care of that and can clean yourself up, those toxins will build within and on you to the point that you may be compromised as a person, as a helper, or even as a friend, family member or coworker.

But how do you prevent what you hear, see, observe, and ultimately “take on” from others which can be extremely unpleasant in nature from having a negative if not destructive impact on yourself? And in today’s day and age, the traumatizing stuff we here and see is EVERYWHERE. Mass shootings, devastating acts of nature, hell, even our upcoming presidential election and all of the nastiness around that is enough to make any one of us feel less than clean.

And even as a life coach who does not do traditional therapy with my clients, vicarious trauma is still an issue at times. There is a reason that most days when my day is over my phone goes into airplane mode and I turn my laptop off; to give me time to shed myself of all that I heard that day. That is my time to disassociate from all that I have heard, compartmentalize it all, and close out my day. It really has become a ritual of sorts.

It is a skill I had to master in my internship and later as a worker in Emergency Rooms performing ER Psych Triage; otherwise when I went home I would never be able to go to sleep without crying for an hour first. I had to learn that what I heard or “took on” was not me… I had to learn to “leave it at the office.” I had to learn that with my cases there was never a chance for follow-up care so it was my job to do the best I could with the patients and help them as much as I could while I had them. So that in that hour of two that I had to work with them before they were discharged or sent elsewhere; that they got the most help that I could offer them.

Then I would move on…

But how does all of this apply to everyday life and the stuff that we might take on from others? How do you not become toxic yourself?

To put it simply… many of us identify solely with our problems, to the degree that we think we are our problems. Then on top of that, when were hear of other people’s problems and we take those on too… and that all becomes a part of our identity as well… stuff that we just carry around with us, healthy or not.

The trick here is to learn (and know) that your problems and struggles are not you… Past that, other peoples problems and struggles are not you either, nor should they be or become a part of you. I think of Don Miguel Ruiz here, and of his Four Agreements, one of which is, “Do not take things personally.” And to me that includes personally taking on anyone else’s troubles in life as your own as they have nothing to do with you.

I hate to say it, but the world is full of a lot of toxic and caustic stuff that we are exposed to daily. Add in the trauma and drama that we pick up from those around us, it’s a wonder that we are all not just walking toxic-dump-sites.

But when you are feeling like a victim of vicarious trauma, or you have been exposed to too much… well, recognizing that is your first defensive play. When you see it, feel it, or begin to feel yourself affected, it is time to take care of you. Take time to yourself to sort things out… limit yourself from more exposure the best you can while you are “bleeding off” all of the other accumulated stuff.

Help yourself… and that might include finding someone else to talk to. There is a reason that all therapists have therapists (and coaches have coaches) it isn’t because we/they are all crazy, no… it’s to help to deal with all of the things that otherwise may be hard to deal with by oneself.

Lastly… learn… knowledge is power even against vicarious trauma and becoming overly toxified. Maybe something you were exposed to DID open up a sore spot for you that you might want to explore… maybe something unresolved. As they say, if you can feel it, you can heal it. And if you are still hurting you are still healing, and knowing what you are dealing with can go a long way to resolving it.

Andy Wooten M.A. Counseling – A Certified Life Coach In Aspen Colorado

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Photo By Rob Timko 31 December 2015

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