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Facing Your Trauma Queen

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 

Facing Your Trauma Queen

16 signs you have too much trauma in your life-and what to do about it

sad nurse

Rape recovery social workers. High school counselors in the Bronx. Los Angeles police officers. Emergency room nurses. Capital punishment attorneys. Chances are if you are involved in one of these careers or thousands of jobs similar, you are dealing with some horrific situations and heartbreaking stories that could make even Pollyanna need antidepressants. But while these jobs are difficult, they are also absolutely essential in society. If you are giving your all to help others, you may need a little bit of encouragement, too. In chapter 10 of their book Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others , trauma social worker and educator Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, with antiviolence movement leader Connie Burk, list sixteen signs that your job may be negatively affecting you.

1. Feeling helpless and hopeless

This usually involves lines like, “What’s the use?” or “Am I making any difference?”

2. A sense that one can never do enough

While the feeling of inadequacy is common to everyone, it can be exponentially multiplied when facing difficult-even seemingly insurmountable-situations in your everyday.

3. Hypervigilance

In order to catch all problems, you recognize everything as a potential threat and act accordingly.

4. Diminished creativity

When you are putting so much into your work, you may end up with no more energy or thought to do anything but go home and watch TV.

5. Inability to embrace complexity

In order to maintain control, you find yourself simplifying everything to a black-and-white, yes-or-no answer-even when it’s not that simple.

6. Minimizing

Imagine Superman responding to a call saying, “Listen pal, they’re all emergencies.” You’re surrounded by so many awful things that you become desensitized to it all.

7. Chronic exhaustion/physical ailments

Bags under your eyes. Head-weaving in meetings. Painful tension in your neck and shoulders. Bad signs.

8. Inability to listen/deliberate avoidance

This is when you decide to just stop checking your hundreds of emails or put off answering the phone. You’ll deal with it later, right?

9. Dissociative moments

Have you ever been so lost in your thoughts of recent traumatic experiences that you don’t realize you’re pouring your coffee into someone’s lap instead of your mug?

10. Sense of persecution

When constantly dealing with traumatic experiences, it’s easy to assume that you have no control over situations and that others ultimately determine your fate.

11. Guilt

It can be difficult to leave your housing rights advocate job knowing you actually have a home to return to.

12. Fear

This could include social workers for rape victims who are obsessed with learning self-defense tactics, carrying pepper spray, and packing heat.

13. Anger and cynicism

After working in child protection services for a while, you may begin to crave revenge or doubt that anyone is fit to be a good parent.

14. Inability to empathize/numbing

If you’re a cop who deals with car wrecks and shootings all day, it’s hard to repeatedly maintain the same horror that everyone should feel with death.

15. Addictions

Escaping the pain with drugs or alcohol can be a very dangerous spiral.

16. Grandiosity

This usually includes lines like “Who else will do it if I’m not here?” or “I can’t possibly leave, they’re relying on me.” Soon that becomes your entire identity.

Lipsky emphasizes that whether you identify with many, few, or none of the signs, there is no reason for alarm. If trauma seems to have affected you then that’s good news-you are still able to emotionally connect to your surroundings and it can be helped. If you haven’t had any response, you are able to give compassion and insight to those who have-chances are you probably have some good practice with helping people, anyway.

In the following chapter of their book, Lipsky and Burk address what you can do to relieve these symptoms of trauma. They discuss new ways to navigate, such as talking about the problem and practicing self-care while remembering to be patient with yourself and others. These steps and others are made digestible by including humorous cartoons to illustrate each concept, like a therapist saying that he’d like to see Humpty Dumpty eventually put himself back together again, for example. Trauma Stewardship is an essential book in learning to deal with trauma while providing unique, insightful, and entertaining examples to make it applicable and effective.