Vicarious traumatisation

Supporting people in the workplace (or even at home or someone who lives in your community) may cause vicarious traumatisation (VT).

If you have repeated empathic connection with someone who is in pain or distress, the ‘mirror’ neurons in your brain can interpret this distress and simulate the trauma in you – you could think of this as being compassion fatigue.

Some of the signs of VT are:

  • feeling useless at your job or powerless to help others
  • feeling a lack of hope or meaning in what you are doing
  • feeling obsessed by someone you are helping or desperately wanting to avoid them
  • having intrusive thoughts or dreams
  • feeling overly anxious about your own loved ones
  • feeling increasingly disconnected and isolating yourself from others
  • feeling a lack of motivation for everyday life and self-care.

If you recognise you have one or more of these signs, please speak to someone you trust who might be able to support you. We would also recommend that you speak to your Line Manager.

Knowing the signs of VT and putting in place the self-care that will help build resilience, will lower your risk of developing VT.

It is also important to know that vicarious traumatisation is NOT the same as burnout. Burnout comes from doing too much for too long – and can be experienced by ANYONE and has nothing to do with empathy or trauma. But VT and burnout can and often do go together, as someone experiencing VT can also be physically and mentally exhausted.

The good news is that what helps people to recover from VT is also good for preventing or reducing burnout!

Self-care for vicarious traumatisation

Try doing the following things on a regular basis – it can make a big difference. These actions can help you become more resilient to developing VT in the first place – and also help you to recover from VT.

  • Take more time to notice what you are feeling

    Get out of your head! Write down how you feel, you could try keeping a feelings diary.

  • Treat yourself like you would treat your best friend

    Notice your inner critical voice and try to replace their voice with a compassionate and caring inner best friend. Be kind to you.

  • Stay connected to other people

    at home and at work to ensure that you are not becoming isolated or unsupported. Talk to someone you trust about the impact of supporting someone has had on you. You could also consider support lines that may be able to support you if appropriate.

  • Try to make more time for you

    Make sure that you have a reasonable balance between the time that you give to others and time for yourself.

GROUND, RELEASE and RECHARGE your energy

Doing these three things helps to increase good body chemicals and rid your body of the bad stress chemicals. They enable you to Ground, Release and Recharge your energy.

GROUND yourself in your body when you are supporting others, feeling your feet firmly on the ground and consciously breathing.

RELEASE the pain that you take inside yourself from others. This can be done through any regular aerobic exercise such as, running, singing, virtual workouts, even dancing in your living room. This will release stored adrenalin and stress from your lungs and body.

RECHARGE your connection to life and get your body generating good chemicals by spending time connecting with friends and loved ones virtually, with pets, through play at home, being out in nature, having fun, getting creative or spiritual activities at home.

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