Understanding Vicarious Trauma: The Second Hand Trauma

Last Update on August 3, 2022 : Published on August 3, 2022
Understanding Vicarious Trauma

Have you ever heard someone’s painful story and resonated with it so deeply that tears roll down or there is a shiver through your spine? You must have heard at least one experience of someone that felt so personal or you literally felt their pain.

That’s somewhere close to vicarious trauma. Some people don’t actually experience trauma but knowing first-hand traumatic experiences of people, makes them develop secondary traumatic stress.

Vicarious trauma can happen to anyone who is very close to the actual victim of trauma or works at a place where they meet a lot of trauma survivors like the police department, the fire department, health care employees, counselors & psychologists, family & friends of trauma survivors, etc.

Let’s understand vicarious trauma in detail…

Vicarious Trauma Meaning


Vicarious Trauma can be defined as an indirect experience of trauma that turns into secondary traumatic stress. Vicarious trauma is that kind of trauma that is not a physical or first-hand experience but is a second-hand experience of someone else’s trauma.

This can happen when you listen to someone else’s traumatic experience from the victim itself. You feel their pain so much so that it almost feels like your own. When that happens, there are high chances of developing

Vicarious Trauma Definition

Vicarious traumatization definition: the term vicarious trauma was coined by McCann and Pearlman. It is a phenomenon that is described as the indirect link between someone else’s traumatic experience and the one who heard the first-hand detailed description of the entire incident.

Vicarious trauma was first found in therapists and nursing staff who worked with people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or some similar trauma issue. It can happen to someone who is closely studying someone’s traumatic past or is helping a traumatic patient heal. It can also happen to people who rescue a trauma victim.

Signs & Symptoms of Vicarious Trauma


Vicarious trauma is often misunderstood. In fact, the person who is dealing with vicarious trauma might also find it absurd. It sounds unreal, how can someone who has not even experienced the trauma, develop consequences of trauma? But the human mind is capable of so much more than we can imagine.

Anyway, it’s very important to know the signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma. I say so because vicarious trauma can have an impact on someone’s mental health similar to that of a person with Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Let’s have a look at the signs and symptoms of vicarious trauma;

1. Emotional Symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Feelings of extreme grief and sadness
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Irritable mood
  • Easily distracted and get angry because of that
  • Change in mood profile
  • Feel vulnerable and unsafe

2. Physical Symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Heartburns,
  • Various aches in the body,
  • Rashes,
  • ulcers, etc

3.Behavioral symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Social  isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Altered eating habits
  • Difficulty in separating work and personal life
  • Engage in risky behavior

4.Cognitive symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Cynicism in thoughts
  • Negativity
  • Difficulty in concentration & memory
  • Issues with decision making
  • Intrusive thoughts about someone else’s trauma

5.Spiritual Symptoms of vicarious trauma

  • Loss of hope
  • Reduced sense of purpose
  • Feel disconnected from others
  • Feel unworthy of love

Vicarious Trauma Treatment

Vicarious trauma is widely seen in people who are in the caregiving industry, people who work in the areas of traumatic incidents/accidents, or people who are trained or are training to expamine, rescue, and help traumatic victims.

Most of them are aware that they can become victims of vicarious trauma. The best way to keep yourself away from falling prey to vicarious trauma is to engage in self-care. You must spend enough time taking care of yourself so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and are not caught off-guard.

Here are a few things you can do to engage in self-care activities;

There are many other ways you can engage in self-care. Make sure you give yourself the attention you need. Just in case self-care doesn’t work for you, you can always visit a trained professional to help you with your vicarious trauma treatment.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you found this blog about vicarious trauma informative, interesting and helpful. Do share this blog with your friends and family and especially with those people who spend a lot of time with trauma survivors.

Thanks for reading.

Take care and stay safe.

About The Author

Kirti Bhati
Kirti Bhati

I am an English literature (major) and psychology (minor) graduate from St. Bede’s College, Shimla. Postgraduate in Clinical psychology from IIS University, Jaipur. She has published a Research paper on Music therapy in the military population and Workplace stress in a national seminar conducted by Fortis hospital (gurugram) and international seminar conducted by St. Bede’s College, Shimla, Respectively. Authored a dissertation work on ‘effect of social media addiction on the mental and physical well-being in adolescents’ Currently working at calm sage as a writer.

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