Vicarious Trauma: How To Learn Through Others

In my previous post titled, “Vicarious Trauma: How it Affects You Without You Knowing & How To Use It

To Your Benefit” I discussed how to use smaller traumatic experiences and the experiences of others to

prepare ourselves for our own, more significant traumatic experiences. In this post I want to explore

how we can vicariously learn from the experiences of others.


Here is the paradigm shift for vicarious trauma; are you ready? What if you could use the

trauma of others to help transform you? The technical jargon for what I am talking about is vicarious

transformation and this is what I mean by it. A few years ago, I had the unique opportunity to meet

Elizabeth Smart when she came to speak to the girls at Heritage. If you don’t remember her, google her

name, you’ll remember real quickly. We are both the same age and lived in relatively close proximity of

each other so her story resonated with me. As I listened to her memoir, I was amazed at her ability to

take the experience and move past it without a second thought.


I immediately got to thinking: How is it that she could go through such terrible circumstances and

come out such an amazing person full of compassion, empathy and self-respect without ever having to

go to therapy? She explained the key characteristic: she refused to be a victim; she is instead, a survivor.

Yeah, something terrible happened. Yeah, she lost a large part of her youth and yes, no doubt she

experiences difficulties from that ordeal to this day. But she made the conscious decision to never let

those people take away any more of her life.


Wow! How powerful is that? My biggest concern in life is finding a date for Saturday night (and

not getting mopey about it when I can’t!). Then here she is saying that things were bad but it always

could have been worse and she was just grateful to be past the ordeal.


My life was transformed through her experience. I empathized with her and felt the trauma

vicariously through her story. In that moment I reevaluated my life and took her message of gratitude,

survivorship, and looking forward, never back, as a means to battle my own demons. Through her

example, I know I can handle anything and still come out okay.


I no longer fear hardship. I still don’t like it, but at least I don’t fear it. I no longer have to avoid the

horror stories my students share because I now know how to empathize with them, embrace their pain,

and use it to make me a better role model, a better friend, and a better person.


To end, I’ll leave you with this quote from Jacqui Dillion:


“If we can embrace, rather than fending off, other people’s extraordinary pain, our humanity is

expanded. In this receptive mode, our caring is deepened. People who have suffered trauma and abuse

can feel that we are allowing them to affect us. This reciprocal process conveys respect. We learn from

trauma survivors that people can endure horrible things and carry on. This knowledge is a gift we can

pass along to others.”


The third and final part to dealing with vicarious trauma is to make self-care a priority. Look for

my future posts which will focus on simple, daily tasks that can help keep you fresh and renewed to

offer more to your teen and give them the best help possible.