In chapter 4 of my new book, #SurvivorCare, I talk about vicarious trauma and what this means as we respond to people traumatized by domestic violence and sexual assault.
Vicarious trauma, self-care, and compassion fatigue are all ‘buzz words’ these days but what does it really mean?
In #SurvivorCare, I depend heavily on the work of Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, “Trauma Stewardship” and talk about vicarious trauma in terms of getting “so wrapped up in the traumatic experience of another” that we “exhibit physiological, psychological, and spiritual responses as if” we were the ones who experienced the primary trauma (Survivor Care, 121).
I argue, in this chapter, that “vicarious trauma happens when we care about another person” (Survivor Care, 121). Generally, I find that we all think this is a GOOD thing. We tend to value caring about others.
Thus, if we care at all, and if we are the helpers we want to be, we will probably experience vicarious trauma to some degree or another. Caring means we are invested. Caring means we are feeling with another person.
The key to caring (without also drowning in vicarious trauma) is to know when you start to exhibit signs of vicarious trauma and deal with it by implementing your own self-care plan.
Or, as the picture below illustrates, see the banana peel and act before you find yourself on the floor.
We must prepare for vicarious trauma. We must know what signs indicate we might be starting to experience it, and, honestly we need to expect symptoms will show up, if we care at all. And, then, when we see those symptoms, we must act.
Here is an example.
It is currently October, which means it is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Below is a picture of me a few weeks into the awareness month. Since I attend and speak at lots of events during October, I hear mothers talk about the murder of their children by their partner. I hear stories about pimps picking up 14 year old girls at the mall, and I hear so much about the worst things humans can do to each other.
By about Oct 20, just enough in to hear too much in a short time, I started to experience a bit of vicarious trauma. You can almost see it on my face.
I look professional, of course. I’ve got my purple ribbon and my teal shirt. I’m all decked out in awareness month colors. But I look tired and worn down.
This picture was one of the many signs, for me, that I needed some puppy time.
That is my self-care plan. It’s that simple. When I start to show signs of vicarious trauma, I know it is time for me to get some puppy love.
These pictures were taken a couple hours after the one above. Thanks to my 6 year old daughter who loves to take pictures, you can see my self-care plan in action.
First the puppy and I lean into each other and get to know the other. My face starts to change a little as we have fun together.
And then, as time continues to pass, my whole face begins to change drastically and light up.
By the time I get a second puppy, and my entire outlook on life is different. The pictures show a huge difference.
Last night, as I flipped through these photos taken while I was enacting my self-care plan, I thought, this is a perfect example for people to see what I mean in chapter 4 of my book! I have a lot of words in the book, but I think these pictures really get the heart of my message across. Pictures really do speak louder than words.
Plus, I also learned I can add birds to my self-care plan.
Gunter Sim, Christy. Survivor Care: What Religious Professionals Need to Know about Healing Trauma, Wesley Foundery Books (Publication pending, either late 2018 or Spring 2019). For more information see: NEW BOOK!
Van Dernoot Lipsky, Laura. With Connie Burk. Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2009).