Secondary Trauma & Compassion Fatigue

I've heard Dr. Brené Brown say, “For every action there is a reaction”, which is a simple concept whether we stop to acknowledge it or not. We react to our own actions and to the actions of others. That reaction could be in our physical bodies, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. This is especially true with a continual exposure to trauma.

What is secondary trauma and compassion fatigue?

As empaths, caregivers, mental health providers or anyone in a helping profession, we sometimes forget to develop our own healthy coping mechanisms while helping others to live and cope well. As a result, we take in so much that is heavy and strenuous in nature and find ourselves with little to no ways of dealing, processing and releasing what we’ve taken in.

What is the body, mind and soul’s response? Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can manifest in:

  • nightmares/restless sleep

  • unexplainable stress

  • easily frustrated and irritable most or all of the time

  • grief

  • emotional exhaustion

  • lashing out on those who don't deserve it

  • withdrawal

  • emotional numbness

  • poor concentration

  • hypervigilance, etc etc.

What’s an even worse symptom? Becoming detached and disengaged. We see another shooting as just the norm. It becomes synonymous to being informed that the sky is blue, a matter of fact statement. We see children being taken from their families as the way of the world. We stop caring that guns are easily entering schools and students, teachers and administration are fearing for their lives, consequently living in flight or fight mode in days to come. We lose the ability to care, and more importantly we lose the ability to act and advocate!

We are all susceptible to experiencing secondary trauma and developing compassion fatigue.

I will never forget hearing about the shooting last year in Parkland, Florida. I found myself angry and sarcastic. I had to make a decision: I either stayed in the know of the story and become cynical and crass or I disconnect from this for a while and make sure I was okay. My decision did not come without an initial level of guilt, (I thought after all as a social work student, I cannot shy away from this) but I know I made the best decision for my mental and emotional health.

I encourage you not to ignore the signs. Sometimes it sneaks up on us. Other times it’s clear as day! These symptoms can develop from national, state and local occurrences, or we can experience secondary trauma from situations happening in our homes and communities.

Check in with yourself! If you see it in those you’re close to, say something!

Here are a few tips on how to reduce compassion fatigue and deal with secondary trauma:

  • Set boundaries

  • Take a break from allowing so much into your gates, whether that be time away from social media, news outlets, or those you’re caring for. Don’t stay so connected for the fear of missing out that the influx of information and experiences leave you empty and apathetic.

  • Engage in activities that fill you up, whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. We need to live balanced lives!

  • Have a village around who you can check in and process with.

  • As always, seek out therapy, if needed.

Remember, you cannot give of yourself if you are empty.

I'm rooting for you, always!

Diamond James, MSW, LCSWA

#BreakingDownStigma #SecondaryTrauma #CompassionFatigue #MentalHealth #EmotionalWellness

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