October 18, 2012
Today I set aside my weekend schoolwork and planning, opting instead to attend a seminar on “Secondary Trauma and Compassion Fatigue.” I knew I needed to hear what this visiting expert had to say to those of us who are, as she said, “living this reality.” One thing that stuck out to me, considering the realizations I had over the summer, was when she mentioned the common talk about PTSD, or Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. What she noted was that most of us in settings like these are not actually experiencing PTSD. Rather, we are experiencing “The natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person” (Figley).
A few things resonated in me as I digested this information. One is that it is “natural.” How comforting to think that the wounded heart is a natural reaction, and not, presumably, a permanent damaging. What I worry sometimes is that the portions of me that are wounded are also permanently hardened. But I don’t think that’s the case. As she told us, most often those who are experiencing Secondary Trauma can successfully use it as a life growth tool.
Another thing that struck me relates to the sense of inadequacy that I felt for much of my first year here. I had a great deal of insecurity about my work and person; as a result, I felt that I somehow didn’t deserve to struggle as much as I was. Those with more responsibility and more impact on others here could justify weariness and emotional reaction; I, as a “newbie” with little apparent impact on others here, surely could not justify being personally impacted as much as I felt I was.
But the truth is that, if this concept is true, the “wanting to help” is as valid as the actual helping . . . thus giving gravity to even the emotional reaction of inexperience, and inadequate, souls such as I.
Apparently, history of personal trauma also intensifies one’s susceptibility to struggling with Secondary Trauma. Suffice it to say, I had plenty of reaction–and something to say–on this topic
There was a wealth of information covered in this short seminar–more than I could really go over in one of my in-the-moment blog posts. I will not try.
Yesterday evening, in the midst of busying about the work of the day, I paused as I went up the stairs of my house. I noticed the way the light was shining in through the windows and knew that something watch-worthy would be happening outside. So I paused in my own agenda and walked around on the roof till I found this: an ethereal mixture of gray and white clouds; a near-sunset glow upon the hills; a child in solitary play, stopping to sit for a bit, perched upon his soccer ball; a piece of peace.