Tag Archives: Trauma

Recognizing Secondary Traumatic Stress in Oursleves

Culturally, in the human service field, there is a dynamic out there that secondary trauma is perceived as “weak”. As a result of this many people might be suffering from this residual experience but might either be denying it, or just plain unaware of it. So what is it really?  Freud explained it well,

“No one who, like me, conjures up the most evil of those half-tamed demons that inhabit the human beast, and seeks to wrestle with them, can expect to come through the struggle unscathed.”  

It is almost impossible to not be moved by one family’s story of insufferable struggles. How can you believe you would not be significantly changed by the stories of 10, 20, 100?

Some recognizable sign of secondary trauma are:

  • flashbacks (about our own issues/experiences)
  • triggers / buttons that a client may push (about which we are sensitive)
  • beliefs we have that are challenged by our clients
  • old wounds re-opened
  • nightmares (perhaps about something a client has shared or we have witnessed involving a client)
  • guilt, shame, rage
  • unsuccessful at separating professional work from personal life
  • becoming fearful of a client (personal safety)
  • daydreams / re-enactments about a client’s issues (or our own which have been stirred up by client)
  • adrenaline rushes
  • feeling unfulfilled by your work or feeling you are unsuccessful in helping clients
  • avoidance / denial / isolation (you may begin to blame the ‘victim’)
  • zoning out (particularly during client-contact time)
  • sleepy / trance-like behavior
  • personal depression
  • feeling estranged from others
  • overworking yourself
  • physical symptoms: sleeplessness, appetite decrease or increase, panic or anxiety attacks, hyper vigilance, hyper alert – easily startled

It’s not an overnight transformation, its damage that happens over time, similar to erosion.  There is no reason to deny that it exists. It’s simply part of the work. Remember to debrief with a supervisor about cases and experiences, even if you think you don’t need to. So take in inner inventory of your emotional and mental health. If you are experiencing some of the things mentioned above, reach out. You may find yourself feeling better, even if you weren’t aware you weren’t feeling so great.