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  • Writer's pictureJessica Johnson

The path to healing from Secondary Trauma

Do you feel like there’s an invisible burden on your shoulders that keeps getting heavier and heavier? From sleepless nights to repeated emotional meltdowns it can be easy to overlook the toll these experiences take on our wellbeing.

Secondary Trauma was a term that I was completely unfamiliar with a few years into my adoptive parenting journey. Maybe it’s a term you too can resonate with.

Secondary trauma refers to the emotional and psychological distress experienced by individuals who are indirectly exposed to the trauma experienced by others. Consistent exposure to our children’s trauma behaviors can challenge our own resilience.

You may be familiar with other terms used synonymously with secondary trauma such as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. Symptoms that go along with this condition are feelings of helplessness, emotional exhaustion, a lack of empathy, increased anxiety, and disruptions in one’s overall ability to function.

After adopting a sibling group of three and dealing with challenging behaviors for years, both my husband and I found ourselves in an unfamiliar place. We had been in survival mode for so long we simply felt sucked dry. It has been a slow process of healing and rebuilding for both of us.

If you think you may be suffering from symptoms of secondary trauma, here are a few ways to promote healing:

1. Acknowledge what you have been through. It takes courage and vulnerability to admit that you are suffering, that you are not as resilient as you once thought. By acknowledging your current condition, you are taking the first step toward healing to honor your own emotional needs while still providing quality care for you child.

2. Prioritize self-care. Make time to engage in a hobby that brings you joy. Consider spending time in nature or doing something that promotes relaxation such as journaling or meditation. Prioritize this time in your calendar each week so it actually happens.

3. Find support. This might be a support group, counselor, or friend. It’s important to have a safe place to share openly and honestly about what we have been through and what we are currently dealing with. The more sources of support you can build into life the better.

4. Engage in self-reflection to better understand your emotional triggers. This could be done on your own or through the support of a counselor. Sometimes we have unresolved trauma from our own past that may be contributing to our secondary trauma.

Sometimes it’s easier to focus all our attention on the needs of our children. I want you to know that when you pursue your own healing journey, your children and family will benefit as much as you will.

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