How do you recognize vicarious trauma? + 5 steps to deal with this

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Are you sensitive to the moods of others? Compassion for loved ones and those around us is a sign of great empathy. Despite being a positive trait, it can also harm you if you attract their suffering too much. This is called vicarious trauma.

What is Vicarious Trauma?

Vicarious trauma is common among first responders and people in other assistive professions. But it can impact anyone who is compassionate and does not look away from the suffering of others. By assisting others, you can ease their grief and loneliness, but you can also let their fear in. This fear can leave an impression that resembles a direct experience of trauma.

Not everyone who is compassionate will be personally affected by the external suffering. If you have experienced a traumatic event yourself, that plays a major role.

How do you recognize vicarious trauma?

Everyone can experience the effects of vicarious trauma differently. Some of the symptoms to identify vicarious trauma include:

  • You may have trouble controlling your emotions.
  • You may feel emotionally numb or closed off.
  • You may experience fatigue, insomnia, or sleepiness.
  • You may feel hopeless about the future and about the meaning of life.
  • You may feel vulnerable or overly concerned about potential dangers in the world and the safety of your loved ones.
  • You can no longer feel like doing the activities you used to enjoy doing.

Concrete steps to deal with vicarious trauma

What can you do to deal with vicarious trauma?

  1. Connect with others and ask for help.
    Talk about your feelings with people you trust, such as loved ones, friends, and support groups, or see a doctor or psychologist.
  2. Rest and relax.
    Get enough sleep, set a conscious intention and meditate.
  3. Make a plan.
    Identify the skills and strategies that work best for you when signs of vicarious trauma appear.
  4. Move more.
    Walk more often, go to the gym or join a dance class.
  5. Be assertive and manage your time yourself.
    Learn to say ‘no’ and set boundaries.

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