If you’re reading my posts, chances are you are a professional that works with people who are traumatized, or you care about someone who does. Because of that, I’m hopeful that you already know how trauma works and why you are at risk. If not, here’s a quick explanation to help frame it. There is also plenty of information out there that does a much more thorough job of explaining than I’ve done here. But here goes:
As we continue to learn about the brain, trauma, and empathy, we’re beginning to understand that much of our ability to relate to and empathize with each other happens in our physical bodies. This study does a good job of explaining it. In summary, when we hear about a traumatic event, the same neural structures are activated in our bodies and brains as when we witness something first-hand, or if it happens to us first-hand.
This body response is automatic and internal – it’s not something our professional boundaries and self-care can necessarily control (though both of those can lessen trauma responses). Add to that, as professionals we are encouraged, required really, to care about those we help.
Most of us go into this work because we do care about people as a general rule. Extending ourselves in that relationship is where we become vulnerable to the impact of exposure to trauma. It is a job hazard we take on when we agree to do this work. It can’t be avoided, but it can be mitigated and treated.
Give the study above a good read. With a firm understanding of what causes provider trauma, you’ll be better equipped to recognize it in your co-workers, employees, peers and yourself.