You may have noticed fewer blog posts lately. I’m not writing as much since December 14. Something about that event – that particular explosion of mass violence – feels like it shattered some part of me.
Usually joy fuels my writing, but right now my joy is scattered jagged fragments littering the soft floor of my gut.
I have a theory about why I’m feeling this way, and since I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one, I thought I’d share.
A good friend of mine (Elizabeth Venart) is a licensed professional counselor who educates other helping professionals about something called Vicarious Trauma (VT). Wikipedia defines VT this way…
Vicarious traumatization (VT) is a transformation in the self of a trauma worker or helper that results from empathic engagement with traumatized clients and their reports of traumatic experiences. Its hallmark is disrupted spirituality, or a disruption in the trauma workers’ perceived meaning and hope.
After listening to Elizabeth during several workshops when I was a guest presenter, I’ve become more aware of how something similar to VT (though not VT itself) might show up in my own practice. (Soul-Truthing can include witnessing some traumatic life experiences that influence how people are perceiving themselves.) I just wasn’t expecting it to show up in response to events outside my practice.
Here’s what caught my attention. VT is a process. It’s effects are cumulative, occurring when an empathetic listener repeatedly witnesses traumatic stories. And, as you saw in the definition above, it disrupts spirituality, meaning and hope.
Now for the theory I mentioned above…
According to research collected by Mother Jones, in 2012 there have been seven mass shootings in the United States. There have also been several huge natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy, the midwest drought, widespread wildfires…)
Because of the internet and instant media coverage, we witness these traumatic events with excruciatingly intimate immediacy. Raw, confusing, overwhelming…
Even if we were only attentive to coverage of major U.S. events this year, we still witnessed repeated trauma. Even if we avoid watching and listening to the news and reading newspapers we still met with these tragedies through social media. And none of this takes into account personal tragic events.
My joy shattered because I have an open and loving heart, because I’m a changemaker, and because the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school was the last trauma my system was able to accumulate in such a short time.
To be clear, I’m NOT experiencing VT (or PTSD or secondary trauma). But I have gone past the edge of my resilience. My shattered joy and lost writing mojo are signaling for my attention. Asking me to re-group and restore my resilience, hopefully before I’m witness to any more trauma. What about you? Have you ever experienced reaching the edge of your resilience after witnessing trauma from a distance?
There are no quick fixes for this. I don’t think there should be. Anytime something shatters you have the chance to learn, to transform, rather than sticking the pieces together and heading back to the way things were. The journey does take willingness, and patience, I can tell you that much.
Not knowing exactly how to repair my shattered joy is disconcerting. But, relying on my inner guidance, reaching out to friends and colleagues, and doing extra self-care seem to be a good place to start. I’ll let you know how it goes…
If you’re a mental health professional I welcome your thoughts (and corrections if I’ve inadvertently given any misinformation.)
(originally published January, 2013)