Dealing with a traumatic experience can be difficult for the person who experienced the trauma as well as for those close to them. Family members and friends want to help, but often feel they don’t know where to begin. Here are a few practical suggestions for family members and friends of those who have gone through a traumatic experience:
- Be a sympathetic listener
If your loved one wants to talk about the traumatic experience, listen and let them know that you are there to listen. Support from family and friends has a huge impact on your loved one’s ability to deal with trauma, and this is where you can be the most helpful. Quite often in the aftermath of a traumatic event a person will want to tell his/her story repeatedly. It is very important that they be able to do so, even if you already know all of the details of the event.A person repeatedly recounting his/her traumatic experience is one of the most important ways in which trauma survivors begin to understand what they have gone through. On the other hand, if a person does not want to talk, give them the space to do so in their own time. Pressure may just aggravate feelings of anger and helplessness. In this situation, just let your loved one know that you are willing to listen when he/she is ready to talk.
2. Try to provide a safe environment and routine
If possible, try to provide a safe, quiet environment with regular healthy meals and sufficient physical exercise. Returning to their regular routine, including work and school, is very important in the recovery process.
3. Avoid being judgmental
It is important to be patient and not get angry with trauma survivors, and refrain from blaming them for what happened to them. You need to understand that feelings of anger, anxiety or depression are uncontrollable, so there is no point in blaming trauma survivors, particularly when the situation is so difficult for them. Try to be understanding and supportive. However, if the person who experienced the trauma is exhibiting behavior that is violent towards others or him/herself it is important to turn for professional help.
4. Pay attention to abnormal behaviors
For example, note signs of drug or alcohol abuse or talk of suicide or suicidal behavior. In any of these instances, seek professional help immediately.
5. Monitor distress levels
Various symptoms such as fears, nightmares, thoughts about the traumatic event and complaints of physical pain are normal symptoms that appear in the weeks following the trauma. However, if these symptoms continue for more than a few weeks following the traumatic event and begin to get worse, or interfere with everyday functioning, suggest that your loved one seek professional help.
6. Become experts in trauma
One of the tools that can help you deal with trauma is learning about typical trauma responses and trajectories. The more you know about trauma and its aftermath the more effective you will be in helping your loved one cope in the weeks and months following a traumatic event.