- Help my loved one
How to Help a Loved One with Trauma
September 6, 2022
It can be challenging to step in and help a loved one affected by trauma, especially if you feel anxious about potentially worsening an already distressing situation. Although it may seem easier to keep to yourself during this time, reaching out to your friend in need will always do more good than harm. Social support helps those in a vulnerable position feel loved and understood, especially after the traumatic experience they just endured. Research has shown that social support significantly mediated the development of PTSD in trauma survivors when compared to those who felt little to no social support. The first step to helping a loved one with trauma is educating yourself about ways to lend a hand without exacerbating the issue. Keep reading to learn about trauma and ways you can help!
What is Trauma?
“Trauma” is a response to a deeply distressing event that overwhelms your ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, and diminishes your ability to feel a full range of emotions. Trauma can affect anyone at any time, regardless of race, age, sexuality, socio-economic status, or other traits.
However, research has attested to trauma being more prevalent in some communities than others. For example, adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, often precursors to trauma, are more likely to be experienced by marginalized communities than privileged ones.
Everyone reacts differently to potentially traumatic events—two people could experience the same distressing event and leave with completely different reactions. It all depends on the person’s ability to cope effectively with their trauma, which has much to do with their available resources and vulnerability to these possibly traumatic situations.
For example, an individual living in an unsafe area is more likely to experience a violent, traumatic event than someone living in a safe neighborhood.
Likewise, those fortunate to have a support system and access to therapy are more likely to recover effectively from a traumatic event than those who cannot access or afford these resources. Trauma affects and is affected by essentially all variables in a person’s life.
Symptoms of Trauma
Just as trauma affects many people, it also presents itself differently. Common symptoms of trauma may include:
- Experiencing guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Feeling numb.
Some people may cope with their trauma by ignoring it completely and being in denial, while others may ruminate on the event and experience flashbacks. It all depends on the individual and their circumstances.
How do you help a loved one with trauma?
Now that you know the trauma basics, you can create a plan for helping your loved one who is experiencing trauma.
Be patient with your loved one and offer a listening ear without interfering with comments or anecdotes to fill silences—talking about difficult events takes time! “Active listening” effectively lets the person know you are staying present in the conversation and taking in what they say. It involves having open body language, making eye contact, nodding, and repeating what they are expressing so they know they are being understood. Using these active listening tactics will create a trusting and comfortable environment for your loved ones to share how they are feeling.
Be mindful of triggers
A “trauma trigger” is anything that reminds someone of a traumatic event. It can send them into a spiral of anxiety and fear, like what they may have felt during their traumatic experience. Even the most minor things can be significant triggers for some people and cause them to spiral in their trauma. To reduce this risk, pay attention to what you are saying or doing, and weigh in on if it may be triggering to your loved one. For example, if your loved one experienced a traumatic event regarding a shooting, it may not be appropriate to watch a war movie with them. Some triggers, however, are less clear. For example, if a person experiences a traumatic event outside in the rain, simply going out during a rainstorm may be triggering. If you are unsure, the best way to ensure you are mindful of their triggers is to ask them! You may find out that something you thought was triggering to them is not triggering at all or that something you least expected is triggering for them.
Respect their autonomy
It is human nature to want to fix the problems of the ones we love and care about so that they don’t have to endure any suffering or negativity. However, we must remember that the person experiencing trauma knows what is best for them before anyone else. Instead of giving them unsolicited advice or signing up for group therapy without consulting them first, take a step back. Your support’s purpose is simply to be there for them in this time of need and to help in practical ways. You’ll only know what works for your loved ones if you ask them. A simple “Is there anything I can do to help you?” goes a long way. Keep in mind that they may not necessarily need much from you. Your loved one may just need a listening ear or some help with household chores to help them feel less anxious.
Help find resources
If your loved one is open to you finding some resources for them, taking this off their plate will be extremely helpful! Many therapy options help with trauma, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Group Therapy. If they are interested in starting therapy, you can save them some hassle by gathering the contact information of offices near them.
Check in with yourself
During this time, check in with yourself and gauge your feelings. Are you overwhelmed, anxious, or triggered? Then it may be time to step back and prioritize your own well-being.
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