If you’re following a blog about how ordinary people can change the world, chances are that you see the desperate need for changes to some parts of our world and you desperately want to be a part of that change. That is amazing. Your walk with God to seek justice may lead you to work among people that have been very hurt and are dealing with unspeakable difficulty. It is important in this situation to be very aware that you yourself can be traumatized by doing this through something called vicarious trauma. The ACA defines vicarious trauma as “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.” This can happen because of our own triggers, or something entirely new. No one is immune. Additionally, you can not serve people well until you deal with the secondary traumatic stress of caring for individuals.
I definitely felt this this past week. Partly, bad things happened in the present to people I care for but also deeply love, and it was upsetting. It is normal and healthy to feel sad for that. However, when it becomes all-encompassing, there is a problem. Therefore, I wanted to write this post to raise awareness about what it is, ways to avoid it, and what to do when it happens.
There are NO full-proof ways to avoid vicarious trauma. However, self care is one of the only ways to avoid it and treat it. There are several ways to practice self care, but here are a few of the big ones. If you work in social services in any capacity, it is in the best interest of you and the people you are trying to help to practice these things:
This is HUGE. As the “helper”, it is your responsibility to put in emotional, spiritual, physical, and time boundaries and keep them. I am also telling this to myself, as I have been guilty of checking my work email at all hours of the day and night.
In order to be of any use to people who are not Ok, you have to be Ok. This means getting enough sleep, eating decently, and trying to exercise. Additionally, it means getting your spiritual “food” through spending time with Jesus. An empty cup cannot pour out.
3. Mental release
Whether it be through yoga, free writing, worship, or talk therapy, find a way to deal with your stuff. We all have it… and working with traumatized or hurting people brings it out.
Lastly, I think part of the reason I had such a hard time with it is because in my pride, I tried to take ownership of something that belongs to God. We are called to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Nowhere are we called to be saviors. Which is good, because we can’t be. At the end of the day, God sees, knows, and deeply loves every person. He is their light in the darkness, just as he is ours. As soon as we forget that, we’re missing the point.
I hope this helps you in your quest to be a world-changer! Happy (belated) Fourth of July! I enjoyed some time off and I hope you did as well!
Happy Belated Fourth of July! I missed blogging last weekend, but I did enjoy some very needed time in nature. I hope you all had fun celebrating the holiday weekend as well.