Vicarious Trauma Affects All Victim Service Providers

Vicarious Trauma Affects All Victim Service Providers
July 26, 2021

Today a woman called me and told me that she is being abused each day by her live-in partner. She described being verbally, physically and sexually abused. She talked about being controlled and financially exploited daily. She said that she cries each day for herself and her children. She feels trapped and from time to time contemplates suicide.

I listened for the hour and a half, validated her and the laid out all her options. I then asked her if there was anything else that I can do to help. She then informed me that she could not leave because of a number of fears. Fear of losing her children, fear of being deported, fear of being homeless, fear of being ostracized by her family and community. The list of fears went on and on. As she listed her fears, I began to feel my joints weakening.

I listened as she continued to share her abusive situation. I began to feel light headed, angry, helpless, numb and truly powerless. I knew that there was nothing else I was able to do until she was ready to take action. She asked me to keep it confidential and not to share with anyone. I explained to her my responsibility to the children and my next plan of action.

I struggled with what I could say to give this woman some comfort. I told her that all I can do at the moment was to give her the support, information and guidance for her to be ready to leave the abusive situation.

When I got off the phone, I felt an overwhelming degree of fatigue which forced me to put my head to rest on a table for a while. I quickly recovered and continued my day-to-day tasks as if nothing had taken place. I contained the information in confidence in my container as I awaited the next call.

I was traumatized by her story. I was experiencing vicarious or secondary trauma, an experience I live with almost every day. People who make the choice to service victims and survivors of abuse, experience vicarious trauma each time they listen to these horrible experiences. The symptoms creep up – leaving one feeling stressed, distressed, dis-eased and ultimately, diseased.

Now, what is vicarious trauma?

Vicarious trauma is real. It is an occupational challenge that affects any and everyone who works with victims’ services. It potentially affects anyone who empathetically engages with trauma survivors. The feelings are internalized and eventually manifest in the body and can cause short and long term ills and diseases.

For the next blog posting, I will be venturing deeper into the discussion of vicarious trauma and some healing suggestions. Stay with me!

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