It can be incredibly difficult to watch someone you care about go through the aftermath of a traumatic event. They may seem more shut down, distant, or quiet. You may feel like you want to help but not know what to do or say. This article will cover some ways that you can help support a loved one who has experienced trauma.
What can I do?
There are many ways that you can offer support to a loved one who is feeling distress after a traumatic event.
Make time to be with the person
The first way to support someone who has gone through trauma is through your relationship with them. Positive healthy relationships with other people can be the most healing. One way to support someone who is dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event, is to simply make time to be with the person. They can be sitting quietly with the person, going for a walk, or sharing a meal. The act alone of spending time with the person can be helpful.
“Your connectedness to other people is so key to buffering any current stressor—and to healing from past trauma. Being with people who are present, supportive, and nurturing. Belonging.” – Bruce Perry
Many emotions can stem from distress after a traumatic event. Someone may react to triggers in anger, irritability, sadness, or fear. It is important to be aware of what a person’s triggers may be and to not personalize their reactions. Being nonjudgmental towards the persons feelings, needs, and reactions is extremely important.
Just listen… this is one of the most important ways you can support someone through the aftermath of a traumatic event. Sometimes someone just needs you to listen while they talk, without giving advice or feedback. Practice active listening: maintain eye contact, have open body language, and paraphrase back what you are hearing the person say. Do not force someone to talk about their trauma, but be there to listen if they need to.
Understanding their needs
No one person is the same. And this is especially true for their reactions/feelings in the aftermath of a trauma. It can be helpful to ask someone what support looks like for them. This gives them some control over what their support can look like.
It is very important that if what they need is time alone that you respect this boundary, unless of course there is any concern for someone’s safety.
Routine after trauma can be helpful. You can help to encourage someone to develop a routine throughout their day and help them figure out what this may look like. If someone is having a hard time getting tasks done, you can offer to help with certain tasks as a form of support. This can be going to the stores for them, picking up or watching kids, cooking meals, etc.
Spend time doing activities
If someone is feeling up to it, try to get them out of the house. Going for walks can be self-regulation and beneficial in healing. It can provide some safety for the person to know they have someone else with them.
If someone is up for it having low key social events that promote connectivity with loved ones and laughter.
There is often a misconception that PTSD or Acute stress disorder only occurs in those who were in war. This is not true. Educating yourself through accredited websites or sources on what the reactions to a trauma can look like can be extremely beneficial.
If your cup runs empty, then you have nothing else to give, not even to yourself. It is important to take care of you while supporting a loved one. Whether this is talking to someone else about how you are feeling, working out, yoga, meditation, baths, journaling, etc.
Remember: Your words matter:
Helpful things to say:
- I am here for you.
- Thank you for trusting me to talk about this
- I believe you
- How can I help?
- How can I support you?
Things not to say:
- It wasn’t that bad
- Its time to get over it
- Its time to move on
- Are you sure that really happened?
- It could have been worse
- You shouldn’t have dressed like that
- I know how you feel…this is what happened to me
- It could have been worse, you got so lucky.
I understand asking for help is scary and uncertain. You’re justified to feel all the feels. So we’ll start easy… Book your FREE 15-minute consultation. No pressure. No sales. Just a kind exploration to determine if we might be a good fit for each other.
Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.