Here is an excerpt from our book Second-Hand Shock: Surviving and Overcoming Vicarious Trauma. Co-author Vicki Carpel Miller, BSN, MS, LMFT and I hope you find it to be informative and helpful.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire
We have all heard of Second-Hand smoke. What image does that conjure up for you? Let us put you in a room with a heavy smoker. You are breathing in the smoky air. As you inhale, it irritates your nose, your mouth, your lungs, your bloodstream; it smells and remains on your skin, your hair and your clothes. After a while, you might start wheezing or coughing; your eyes may become irritated. Then, it may become difficult to breathe. Prolonged exposure creates a greater risk for adversely affecting your health and well- being, perhaps causing damage to your heart and your brain. Inhaling smoke over time may cause you to develop asthma, emphysema, chronic pulmonary disorder, cancer and the like. Let’s look at how the experience of absorbing trauma, second-hand, is equally as dangerous.
The experience of absorbing trauma, second-hand, is much the same as the second-hand smoke example. The person who experiences the primary trauma (in our example, the smoker) may be adversely affected by a syndrome called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The primary trauma survivor is the one who was in the car accident, at the disaster, caught in the storm, fighting the war, being abused or abandoned by a parent, a spouse, or suffering the rape, the robbery or the attack. They are having the event directly happen to them. The heroes and caregivers who are called upon to help, listen, observe, intervene, guide and care are exposed to that same trauma, second-hand and over time, are at risk for Second-Hand Shock Syndrome (SHSS).
We believe that Second-Hand Shock Syndrome is a spectrum disorder that encompasses a wide range of physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual effects from the indirect experience of trauma much like being in the presence of a smoker creates the experience of second-hand smoke. Over time, this can indirectly create disease in its recipient. The effects of trauma are secondarily contagious, adversely affecting your body, mind and spirit.
We believe that there are many millions of people struggling with some form of Second- Hand Shock Syndrome; both professional and lay persons. We are all exposed to trauma daily, many times a day. The news, radio talk shows, instant information via the Internet continue to feed us copious doses of trauma-content while we have little consciousness of the fact that we are even being traumatized; much less what the trauma content is doing to our health and well-being.
When we are first indirectly exposed to trauma, our brain begins to paint an empathic picture for us by the activation of mirror neurons in the visual cortex, We ‘see’ the event as if it were happening to us. A series of bio-physiological events then occurs which results in the spilling out of chemicals into our bloodstream and throughout our body. This chemical chain reaction ultimately concludes with the over-production of cortisol, which is attributed to the onset of many serious physical illnesses.
We believe many people are currently being treated for the symptoms of Second-Hand Shock Syndrome, which can be confused with other illnesses. Many folks are receiving treatment for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, obesity, anxiety and depression, who likely began their downhill descent with some form of Second-Hand Shock Syndrome. We think it needs to become a recognized diagnosis and we believe that if people began to acknowledge and control the chronic intrusion of trauma content in their lives; their physical health would improve. It would also save our ailing health-care system billions of dollars.
If you are a caring listener, please take care of yourself. Trauma-content stories can be hazardous to your health. Educate yourself about Second-Hand Shock. Please check out our website: www.vicarioustrauma.com.