Teachers and Leaders, Incorporate Emotional Resources
If you work as an educator and your first experience of a traumatic event was as a child, you are not alone. This is one of the many reasons why educators become violent, aggressive and apathetic towards their students in front of all of the children watching them. This response, or “secondary traumatic stress”, is so common among teachers and leaders because they have suffered this trauma many times in their lives.
Understanding the effects Secondary Traumatic Stress
Secondary trauma occurs when a trauma is experienced at a later age as an adult, but is not being experienced by the primary victim as a child. This also includes one’s fear of the consequences of having experienced the trauma at an earlier age, of losing your childhood or living with it every day. Secondary trauma often occurs when a severe traumatic event happens or can happen within a short time period.
While secondary trauma in children is experienced regularly, the emotional reaction can be minimized by parents, caregivers, loved ones and treatment services. In adults, secondary trauma cannot be minimized as it is a more dramatic emotional reaction. Adults have more control over their physiological response and they respond by staying very silent and emotionally numb. For example, an adult who has been abused will feel bruised and bruised physically for some time after being abused as their body’s internal battle to survive is raging through the brain. Even though adult victims’ symptoms of secondary trauma can be minimized, there is no treatment available to help them overcome it. However, it is still important for teachers and leaders to understand what it is that triggers secondary traumatic stress to all of those in their lives.
For teachers and leaders, secondary trauma is usually triggered by a series of events: witnessing trauma in front of their students, experiencing feeling or being threatened, or receiving strong emotional reactions to situations which trigger these feelings. At its worst, secondary trauma leads to two main symptoms:
1. Aggression (Physical or Emotional)
2. Feeling helpless and angry
When primary victims are not experiencing Secondary Traumatic Stress, they do not feel targeted, targeted for revenge or learn avoidance skills to cope with it. The targets have made it so hard to keep the victim safe that children who do not understand the messages they are delivering to them fear that they will get hurt or even die when their names are called. Adult secondary victims may not know how to protect themselves or have the skills to prevent their primary victim from being punished. The victims are most often not involved in the primary victim’s decision-making. In addition, schools have multiple stakeholders.
How to Work Through Secondary Traumatic Stress
Primary victims do not really feel any of these emotions as they have learned to compartmentalize them. Instead, secondary victims may feel helpless and confused. Teachers and leaders need to approach secondary victims as they would primary victims. Furthermore, teachers should begin to ask their victims questions to better understand them and their experience. Elementary school teachers and principals, in particular, who will be working with the teacher or students directly should use their assertiveness skills and maintain eye contact. Managers are often afraid to challenge and to look for a solution and should consider working with a behavior analyst who specializes in first responders.