Secondary or vicarious trauma is well recognised as a risk for people in the helping professionals who work with survivors. However, family members, partners and people who have a significant relationship with a survivor of complex trauma can also experience secondary trauma.
If you are supporting a survivor who you care about, you may hear disturbing stories of their traumatic experiences. At times, hearing these stories may overwhelm you. This can make you feel the sorts of feelings the survivor you are supporting is feeling. You may even find that you lose your faith in the world and challenge your own beliefs. This may mean that you are experiencing secondary trauma. The more you are exposed to traumatic material, the greater the risk you have of experiencing secondary trauma.
Compassion fatigue is another real risk of caring. It is the emotional and physical fatigue that you can experience when you support a survivor. This happens because you have compassion for them. This is different to secondary trauma. It does not usually cause trauma-related symptoms or you to change your world view.