How Stress and Trauma Impact Support People

“Recognizing that it is a part of the work to be affected is the most important coping skill that you can give to yourself. It’s okay to feel outraged, horrified, shocked, saddened, exhausted or vulnerable.”

-Caring For Yourself is a Radical Act,

Authored by Farrah Khan

Signs of Distress in Support People

How we are impacted by supporting others can depend on a variety of factors including: individual character traits, personal history, current circumstances, and our experiences with systemic oppression. It can also depend on the environment in which we work as well as the larger community, political and/or economic contexts.

People experience stress and trauma in different ways, in our body and minds, and in our behaviours and relationships. We may show just one or two signs, or many signs at once.

Body and Mind Signs


Difficulty managing emotions.


Loss of meaning/value in life.

Sensitivity to violence.

Chronic exhaustion and physical ailments.

Feelings of fear, anger or rage.

Feeling numb, powerless, hopeless and/or helpless.

Felling that you can never do enough.

Behavioural and Relationship Signs


Withdrawing socially.

Avoiding strong emotions.

Relationship problems (feeling disconnected, sexual difficulties, increased conflict).

Unclear work/home boundaries.

Repeated unwanted thoughts or images of the sexual violence/trauma.

Inability to listen and/or empathize.

Reflection Activity:

After reviewing the signs of stress above, see if you can add some to the list in your notes.   Once you have made some notes, click the “Full List” button for an expanded list of signs to compare to what you thought of.  If you are not registered, simply review the list for more signs.

You can access all your course notes from the Course Dashboard once logged in at anytime.  For more information on how to use the Take Notes feature, visit the Course Tutorial page. (The Notes feature is only available to registered users)

The Causes

These symptoms may be the result of:

  • Long-term, cumulative stress that feels inescapable.
  • Working within institutions and systems that make it difficult for victims/survivors to get the support they need and prevent support people and advocates from doing what they think is right.
  • Listening empathetically to stories of trauma, suffering and violence.

Systemic Causes of Distress

Professional helpers can feel anguish that their workplaces have insufficient resources and staffing levels or policies that are barriers for the people they serve.  They may also recognize that the systems, institutions, and groups that respond to victims/survivors of sexualized violence reproduce forms of oppression.  These feelings and realizations can conflict with deeply held morals and cause or heighten feelings of powerlessness or hopelessness.