Trauma is the body’s natural response towards any distressing event, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. If a friend or family member is going through trauma, of course, you want to help them overcome it and be better. But the process of recovery is not often linear and you’ll have to accept that there will be many obstacles and roadblocks before your loved one can really move on.
Still, your loved one is going to need the support of their friends and family now more than ever, and leaving them alone with their thoughts is one of the worst things you can do. But you don’t want to be pushy or dismissive of their feelings either. Here are some ways to find that balance and care for a person with trauma at home that’ll actually help them and make them feel safe and seen.
Let them feel their emotions
Oftentimes, people’s first response when someone is going through a tough time, regardless of how tough it really is, is to tell them to “look on the bright side” or “be positive.” While they undoubtedly only mean well, this kind of “comforting” only succeeds in being dismissive of the person’s actual feelings and ultimately teaches them not to show their sadness or negative feelings to anyone, for fear that they’re being a downer or are unwanted because of these sad feelings.
When dealing with a person who’s been through a lot, you want to validate their feelings as much as possible and assure them that it’s fine to be sad. It’s fine to be angry or frustrated and it’s fine if they don’t feel okay.
Our emotions are not something that we can always control or keep ourselves from feeling. We may be able to hide it, some better than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we stop feeling them altogether. No amount of telling someone to “just be happy” is going to actually make them feel better if there’s nothing to be happy about. Let them feel whatever emotions they’re feeling, good or bad, and let them process or go through it in their own time.
Listen to them
A person who’s been through a traumatic experience may or may not want to talk about it, but sometimes it can be helpful to talk about the issue instead of skirting around it. Just don’t force it out of them and let them decide when they want to talk about it and to whom. Don’t feel too hurt if they’d rather not talk to you. The truth is, they’re probably embarrassed to talk about it with someone they know, or the experience is too painful for them to share. Respect their boundaries and their feelings but assure them that you’re there to listen if they ever need it.
If they do go to you for comfort and a listening ear, don’t just hear what they’re saying but actively listen. It’s very important that you listen to what they say and believe them instead of casting doubt on their story. Most trauma survivors, especially women who were sexually assaulted or abused, don’t come forward with their stories until much later due to the stigma, victim-blaming, and shame surrounding the experience. Don’t be one of those people. As much as possible, listen with a non-judgmental approach and don’t ever make them feel as if they’re somehow to blame for it.
Do various activities with them
One recommended way to cope with trauma is to do activities and things that they love doing; anything to distract them from any harmful thoughts. Some survivors might want to do things on their own and that’s completely okay. But sometimes, it’s best if they had someone else to do it with them. Sometimes they might even need someone else to give them the push for them. Invite them to go running or take a walk with you. Introduce them to a new hobby, such as knitting or gardening, or just sit down and watch their favorite TV show or movie with them.
It helps to make them feel less alone and shows them that you’re there for them every step of the way. It’s one way to remain involved in their life and shows that you care about their recovery and their well-being.
Find professional help if they need it
Sometimes, the space and care that you give your loved one might not always be enough. The impartial and professional help of a practicing medical official could make all the difference on the road to recovery. While some trauma survivors are fine not seeking professional help, if your loved one ever expresses a desire to or if it becomes clear that they need it, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
Going to therapy can actually be helpful, as it gives them the chance to talk about their trauma in a safe and completely judgment-free zone. If your loved one is suffering from physical trauma, finding the right rehabilitation therapy, such as a car accident chiropractor or a physical therapist, becomes a must.
Just make sure not to force them if they don’t want to. Therapy only works if both parties put in the work, after all, and an unwilling patient who’s not ready to put in the work is guaranteed not to be effective.
Give them time
You can’t expect your loved one to be better after only a few weeks or months. Some could take years to get over their trauma, while some never actually get over it at all. Recovery is not linear, meaning that it doesn’t just gradually get better every time. There’s always a risk of relapse and sometimes it feels like taking two steps forward then one step back. Rather than a steady incline, think of it as a graph with many ups and downs and no constant pattern.
At times when your loved one is suddenly back to feeling as bad as they did at the start, it’s important to give them time and space to recover. Recovery is different for every person. Everyone handles things differently. Some may take only a few months, while others could take upwards of a year. Whatever trajectory your loved one’s recovery is on, don’t be impatient and let them ride it out for as long as they have to.
Caring for someone with trauma is all about being empathetic and understanding. Just listening and being there for them can go a long way in their recovery and doubtless, they’ll thank you for staying with them once the ordeal has passed. Remember to be present, non-judgmental, and supportive of everything that you’re loved one is going through and slowly but surely help them to get back on their feet.