Secondary Trauma in the Workplace

Updated: Feb 23

Unresolved trauma in helping professional workplaces manifest in a number of ways.

There are sixteen signs of trauma, here is a handful:

· A sense of never doing enough

· Hypervigilance

· Diminished creativity (no longer self-care acts)

· Inability to Embrace Complexity

· Chronic Exhaustion/Physical ailments

· Inability to Listen/Deliberate Avoidance* (personal comparison of suffering)

· Guilt

· Fear

· Anger and Cynicism (anger and lack of hope about the social injustices)

· Inability to Empathize/Numbing

· Addictions

· Grandiosity: an inflated sense of importance related to one’s work. (When this becomes the center of our identity, we are unbalanced with the reality that we are ever-growing beings with fallible humanness like everyone else. The minute you believe that you got it all and about your work identity and not your personal relationships, behavior, curiosity, and self-love you risk imbalance. Imbalanced places are vulnerable places for our mental (spiritual, emotional, and physical) being and risk for secondary trauma). *Keep humble and maintain a commitment to personal growth.

· Dissociative Moments (I think about zoning off, like maybe on your phone with social media, the television, a blank stare at your ceiling that is occupying your time, creating distraction and is imbalanced.)

· Sense of Persecution (ambivalence – “what if I can’t do anything different, what if leaving isn’t an option?!!!). (See treatment planning for resolving ambivalence in battered clients)

*Secondary Trauma Response is a risk reality for “Helpers”

Body memory is a driver of reenacting the trauma (Limbic system) for everyone, so awareness and a plan are critical and you as a helper are worth it too! When a Tiger jumps out at you, your body freezes you become immobile (Lavine, P., 2018). Peter Levine authors the book walking the Tiger and is featured in many podcasts including the Being Human podcast and discusses how trauma can really be debilitating where someone freezes from fear and when triggered could withdrawal and become isolated. has newsletters and many helpful resources.

Redirect yourself to greatness! Answer your calls! Answer yourself! (I recall my personal experience in retrospect I had very many signs that I had not recognized. For example, I stopped answering personal calls from loved ones because I didn’t want to share and be vulnerable. The risk for trauma survivors is that isolating and withdrawing puts us in a much more vulnerable place and the risks are greater for suffering, so we must stay on top of balance, personal growth of self-awareness, so on and so forth!

Since answering those calls and being honest with my humanness while encouraging others to be real with theirs, I can practice compassion for others as I hold my “inner me” compassionately. I ask others to keep me personally accountable, to take care of myself! Since I truly understand how vulnerable every one of us is and the critical need for self-care I also understand because we are human that we need others. This includes needing a community of love to help each other when at times being human with all the complexities that exist, can get in the way of seeing how to love ourselves or what we need. I and YOU are those humans!

Speaking of what we need, self-awareness and community to help us see during what may seem to be impossible times, questions such as what is going on in my body, am I stiff, my shoulders contracting? Those of us with trauma stories need to check in with ourselves and ask if my body memory, the limbic system is giving me signs, how am I tensing, where is my mind going? Because if we don't the risk of body collapse, going “numb” is very real!

Find a mode of ‘working on yourself

Know sociocultural realities about mental health and the impact on your personal beliefs and choices. A negative societal stigma: only unintelligent or lesser beings have problems or leave the past in the past. Unfortunately, our spirit, heart, and body won’t let the emotions from our trauma memory in our brain not live and relive it; think about Wellbriety and the importance of balancing the four connected corners of your emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health/being. Our body is an alert system, the fear has to be addressed, not revisited but patterned. Our spirit and heart need love, mending, and healing, to feel safe, so we can calm down and our brain needs new strategies to recognize (increase our awareness) trauma signs, signs that we need to explore our interpersonal growth needs, and prioritize them in our lives!

Ask yourself, why you are here, if you find yourself believing that everything is learning, exploring, or discovering in life, then it just may be that that may just be about how you work on yourself or rather your “being” in this world.

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