Vicarious trauma

When the World’s Weight Becomes Too Heavy to Bear.

Karina Parikh

In a world where news travels faster than ever, news and media coverage of catastrophic events like natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and violent crimes are continuously bombarding us. While it is important for the public to be aware of these tragedies, continuous ongoing exposure to such trauma can harm our mental and emotional health.

As we know, Empathy is an essential human quality and a positive trait that enables us to comprehend and relate to people on an emotional level. It gives us the ability to experience and connect to the feelings of those around us, which may be both a blessing and a curse. While empathy can enable us to form lasting bonds with others, it can also lead to vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma sometimes referred to as secondary trauma, is what happens when someone sustains trauma through being exposed to another person’s traumatic experience, it can develop from repeated exposure to stressful situations, having a cumulative effect on the person’s psychological health.
Nowadays, because of 24-hour news and media coverage Secondary trauma is not only limited to specific professions, such as therapists and first-hand responders. Anyone with the access of internet and social media can have a high chance of going through vicarious empathy.

We all experienced vicarious empathy in the month of February when a fatal earthquake struck Turkey and Syria, trembling the ground, and profoundly changing daily lives. Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the ongoing conflict between Russia-Ukraine continues to ravage the lives of innocent civilians, leaving them to face daily struggles and an uncertain future. And also, the debate around gun licensing in the USA rages on, with some demanding stricter regulation and others defending the Second Amendment act. In India, the mining project all over Uttarakhand has led to the news of what media refers as “SINKING HIMALAYAN TOWN,” “JOSHIMATH SINKING” which caused several cracks and buildings temples collapsing in the middle of the night in Chamoli district which forced the locals to evacuate and leave their hometown. These events broadcasted through various media channels, have left an indelible mark on us, causing a ripple of vicarious empathy for those who affected.

As a result, considering these kinds of news and dire circumstances, people frequently ask themselves, “What can I do about it?”, “How can I make sure I take care of myself and my loved ones?”

The truth is all we can do at this point is wonder how situations are so out of control. Even if you may not be in any of these situations, you are likely going through vicarious trauma because you are constantly surrounded by emotions and questions that may be too much to handle, and are probably not even aware of it.

The constant coverage of these events can take a toll on our mental health, leading to symptoms like:

– Intrusive thoughts or images related to the traumatic event
– Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
– Burnout and constant headaches
– Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected
– Avoidance of anything related to the traumatic event
– Increased anxiety or depression
– Hypervigilance or feeling constantly on edge

It’s also crucial to understand that vicarious trauma is a real and legitimate experience and that we don’t have to go through it alone. We can do various things to manage the psychological effects of vicarious trauma, including:
Self-care: This includes getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in activities that bring us joy and relaxation.
Boundaries: Setting healthy boundaries around our exposure to the news or social media can help us avoid becoming overwhelmed by traumatic events.
Seeking support: Talking to friends, family, or a mental health professional.
Engaging in activism: Taking action to support those affected by traumatic events can help us feel like we are making a positive impact.
It is also important to note that not everyone who empathizes with others will experience vicarious trauma. Some people are more resilient and better able to manage the emotional burden of empathy.

As a famous Persian poet Rumi, once said, “The wound is the point where the light enters you.”

Although the suffering caused by vicarious trauma can seem overwhelming, it’s crucial to keep in mind that recovery is possible. By taking care of ourselves and each other, we may find the strength to move forward and create a greater future.

Matejko, S. (2022, March 10). Vicarious trauma: Causes, symptoms, and how to Cope. Psych Central. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from\
Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 4). Vicarious traumatization. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from