In light of the recent events in Pakistan, where every day a woman (and even livestock) makes headlines for meeting a gruesome end at the hands of men and many individuals are outing their predators on social media – it’s no surprise that you might be experiencing secondary trauma.
What Is Secondary Trauma?
People experience Secondary Trauma when they are indirectly exposed to graphic details of trauma and its aftermath experienced by others – such as sexual assault, a violent death, terrorist events etc. A few symptoms of Secondary Trauma Stress (STS) include trauma-related flashbacks, actively avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma and becoming irritable and engaging in reckless behaviour, etc.
What Can I Do To Cope?
It is only natural, that at a time like this you may feel distressed and afraid. When your safety is always on the line and you have little faith left in the system to protect women, feelings of paranoia may begin to set in and you may feel triggered and extremely isolated.
Moreover, many Pakistanis now feel they can’t rely on therapists (thank you Zahir Jaffer for making people wary of mental health care providers) because of the lack of regulation. This leads us to the question: How do I cope with Secondary Trauma Stress on my own?
1. Pay Attention To What You’re Feeling & Figure Out A Way To Express it
Whether we realise it or not, we are attuned to our body and its needs. Listen to what your body is telling you and allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling and find out healthy ways to express it. You can do this by talking to family or friends or even journaling. Other healthy coping skills include yoga or going on a walk to clear your head. It is very important to prioritise self-care and to not bottle up emotions or isolate yourself.
2. Nurture An Effective Support System
Remember, you are not alone. Many Pakistani women are now experiencing Secondary Trauma and feel just like you do. Reach out to your friends and those in your community. Disscuss what makes you upset and find out ways to resolve it as a team. A good support system goes a long way when you know there’s someone who has your back and cares enough to check up on you. Find out ways you can rally for better laws and channel your pent up aggression towards a good cause.
3. Choose Mindfulness & Compassion For Yourself
Mindfulness is about embracing your feelings and thoughts calmly in a judgement-free zone. Paired with deep breathing exercises and meditation, it can allow you to register that the traumatic feelings are a byproduct of you reacting to the trigger and that you’re not in immediate danger. If you feel shame or negativity show yourself some compassion and empathy – the same you’d show to a friend if they were going through something similar.
4. Help The Victims
Helping those affected will help you feel less helpless and more in control. Do a fundraiser for the survivors or volunteer for an NGO. Being around others who want to make a positive change in society will restore your faith in humanity and allow you to feel less bleak about the state of affairs.
5. Get Off Of Social Media
It might be time to take a break from social media if you feel increasingly overwhelmed. Yes, social media has helped amplify voices that need to be heard but sometimes it can get too much for one person to take on a Monday morning.
No, you’re not a coward if you decide to step back and no, you aren’t sidelining the cause because there’s a fine-line between keeping updated with the news and unnecesarily going online to expose yourself to unpleasant details that cause you distress.
Go ahead and temporarily deactivate your social media accounts, mute a few friends that keep sharing triggering content and take a long relaxing bath. Read a book, watch your favourite feel-good show and be unapologetic for putting your mental health first.
Be Kind To Yourself!
The key takeaway is – be kind to yourself. You might feel guilty for something you had no part in and you might be wondering ‘maybe if I had raised my voice enough this wouldn’t have happened?’, but the truth is – you did all you could have.
This is a systemic issue. Yes, we are all striving towards better laws that protect women and the vulnerable but the journey ahead is long and perilous. This isn’t the first instance of violence that has shocked the masses and nor will it be the last. Unless our lawmakers actually pay heed to the need of the hour and leave their personal agendas behind, it will be very difficult to move forward and ensure a society safe for all.
However, that doesn’t mean we should give up. No. Prioritise your mental health and come back stronger! Stand up for the weak and destitute and keep chanting till your voices are heard!
**Resources: Choosing Therapy, Administration for Children & Families and The Light Programm.