At a meeting this week, I was fascinated by the concept of Secondary Traumatic Stress. Secondary Traumatic Stress is when you become impacted by someone else’s trauma. This particularly tugged at my heart because I work with a lot of clients who have been impacted by sexual trauma and over time, it affects their partner’s sexual interactions with them. When you have a partner that has had some major sexual trauma, there are a few problems that can occur.
The first problem that can occur is the double-edged sword of having empathy. As people and as lovers and partners, we tend to have empathy for our partners who have had sexual trauma. We listen to their story/stories, we provide feedback, comfort, security and compassion. However, having empathy places us at risk for secondary traumatic stress. The stress of listening to the stories and relating can be problematic, but there are things that you can do to avoid it.
The first thing you can do is talk to your partner/lover/whoever about it. Telling their story is a necessary part of healing. The more they talk about their story, over time, the story loses power and the healing can begin. However, the longer they take to tell the story, the harder it is to get rid of the trauma that has happened. To avoid secondary traumatic stress, it’s important that your lover have other support systems and have other people to talk to about their trauma. In addition, you also need to have outlets where you can talk about their trauma to someone that you can trust. The more you get it off your chest, the less effect it will have on you.
Another skill to have is called “self-other awareness.” This is simply recognizing that you are not the person who went through the trauma and even though you can empathize with them, you have the ability to pull back and be aware of yourself in that situation. Although you should be present in the moment, if you think about it later, it might be helpful to think about how old you were when the trauma happened and try to think about the positive things that happened in your life at the time.
With the self-other awareness, it’s also great to have emotional regulation or modulation of your emotions. This is simply the ability to manage your emotions. When you’re able to recognize and manage your emotions, you are putting in the emotional work to decrease your likelihood of having secondary traumatic stress. Being able to ground yourself and get objective knowledge from peers about the trauma can essentially outsource the stress and again, the trauma then loses its power and hold on you.
Overall, it’s best to really engage in self-care when you are empathizing with a lover’s sexual trauma. Simply, do things for yourself that you like to do. Go to that spa and relax, go dancing, go create – go do anything that puts a smile on your face for yourself. Take the time to set boundaries and release the toxins of that negative trauma…
Cheers to your sexual success!!