Vicarious Trauma and Compounded Grief

You’re not alone if you’ve not been feeling yourself lately.
You’re not alone if you’re feeling sad. You’re not alone if things are feeling heavy.
We’re hearing about terrible things happening in our country and around the world.
It just feels like it’s too much. War, violence, shootings.
Even if you haven’t been personally affected, there are explanations why these horrible events may be hitting you hard.
Don’t judge yourself for feeling sad if you haven’t been personally affected.
Don’t judge yourself if you have difficulty getting out of bed thinking you don’t “deserve” to be sad because you were not personally affected.
When we hear about or witness the suffering of others, it can take an emotional toll.
When it does, that’s vicarious trauma. Simply put, you can feel traumatized, even when something did not happen to you. You take on the emotional experience of the person who experienced the trauma. Highly empathic people are particularly susceptible to vicarious trauma.
Vicarious trauma is powerful – Do not minimize your feelings because you were not “there” during a tragedy.
In addition, if you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, hearing about the horrible things going on in the world can intensify your grief. Once again, this can happen even when you have not been personally affected by recent tragedies in the news.
This is called compounded grief.
Compounded grief can happen when you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, and then you experience an additional loss, natural disaster, or something terrible happens in the world. This “grief overload” or pile on effect can occur even if your dear loved one passed away a decade ago, and even if you’ve done your “grief work” and experienced much healing.
Grief is trauma. Trauma marks a stamp on our hearts. While that ink may fade over the years, the feelings may resurface from time to time.
Trauma has a funny way of making feelings from years ago feel like yesterday. So share your feelings with a trusted friend, or journal. I have yet to meet someone personally or professionally who healed by stuffing their thoughts or feelings.
If you’re experiencing vicarious trauma or compounded grief, allow yourself to feel. Don’t judge yourself for the way you’re feeling. Have compassion for yourself.
You’re not being “too sensitive.”
You’re being human.
An empathic, caring human.
Have compassion for yourself, and understand that these are common psychological experiences. That’s why they have names – vicarious trauma and compounded grief.
If this is you, take care of yourself.
  • Allow yourself to feel.
  • Talk with a trusted friend.
  • Process and express your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend. Journal.
  • Limit your exposure to the news.
  • Take action and help others in ways that feel good for you.


Then when you’re ready, engage in an activity that elevates your mood and energy. Do what works for you – listen to music, dance, spend time in nature, exercise.


To help during these difficult times of vicarious trauma and compounded grief, I developed
5 Daily Exercises in Gratitude to Heal Grief. You may click HERE to download your copy.