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Making Life Easier for a Trauma Survivor

Reviewed Feb 27, 2013

Summary

People who have been through a violent or frightening event need to feel safe and comforted. Here’s what spouses, partners, friends and families can do to help them.

Trauma comes in many forms, from war and violent crime to natural disasters. The emotional effects can be varied and sometimes hard to spot. The victims can be unhappy, withdrawn or angry. They can throw themselves into their work. Or they act as if nothing bad has happened. Whatever their actions, most have inner wounds that need to be healed. This takes time. Those close to the survivor can help them through it.

Recovery is best in a healthy setting. For many, healing begins at home. It’s key that their home feel safe for them. But for those whose trauma happened at home, it may need to be at some other comfortable location. Trauma survivors may seek help from doctors, support groups and other sources.

The survivors may be hurting on the inside no matter how they look. A trusting, sound connection is key with most relationships. It is even more so for the trauma survivor. Relationships that were one way before the harm may need to be rebuilt afterwards. It has been proven that with care and patience most people can and do get well.

Here are some ideas for you to help make life easier for your loved one:

Give a sense of safety. For a victim of a violent crime such as rape, the fear of being attacked again may take a lot of time to fade. And what once seemed safe enough no longer seems that way now. Simple changes go a long way to add to the sense of comfort. Make the home physically more secure. Alarm systems and stronger locks may need to be set up. Add motion lighting in entranceways and access areas.

It is also good for the survivors to know they are not alone. Reliable ways to communicate and seek help are important. If needed, they should always be able to reach help quickly. Cell phones, good neighbors, and knowing the name of a police officer who patrols the area add to a feeling of safety for most people. It might help to have someone stay with them if they will be alone for periods of time.

Lower the stress at home. You can do your best to provide a place that helps emotional stability. While people vary, nonstop noise, fights, and challenging responses may need to be minimized. Very often recovery is possible by a series of healthy habits. Good habit forming can happen in a low stress setting.

Support healthy habits. Healthy habits add a sense of normalcy to our day. It’s always good to eat right, workout and get plenty of sleep. But these activities are very important after a traumatic event. Exercise can give a sense of well-being that helps with emotional healing. The routines of making a meal and cleaning up help life slip back to normal at least for the time it takes to do these tasks.

Supporting good habits also means avoiding bad ones. Those can include drug use or drinking too much. It can make problems worse by triggering odd actions and causing low spirits, regret and helplessness. Those who live with survivors can help just by assisting them to make healthy choices.

Trauma victims often have trouble sleeping. They can have bad dreams and feel tired in the daytime. They may need a nightlight to feel safe. Moving furniture, painting the room or a wall can change the place from what it was when the harm happened and help the person move on. They may need to sleep in a different room than before. They may need to be encouraged not to eat or drink too much before bedtime to make sure sleep is good. Try to remove sources of stress, mainly around bedtime. If the TV news seems to upset them, keep it off.

Promote relaxation. One way to help a survivor avoid extra stress is to help them relax. There are many methods to try. These include deep breathing exercises and meditation. Also the survivor can try swimming, stretching and yoga. These can be guided by a teacher, coach, or audio device or completely silent. Listening to quiet music or spending time outdoors can have a calming result.

Some of these methods can be mixed, like listening to music while walking outdoors. You should be careful not to push these or any ideas too hard. The Veterans Administration’s National Center for PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) reminds us that at first survivors can be easily upset by activities, based on physical sensations which call for little contact with the outside world. With most any change it’s wise to begin slowly and go ahead a little bit at a time.

Listen and learn. It helps the survivor to get feelings out and share what they’re going through. Part of your role is just to listen. As the advocacy group Witness Justice points out, “Talking about the experience, when the survivor is ready, will help acknowledge and validate what has happened to him or her and can reduce stress and feelings of isolation.”

Learn as much as you can about trauma and the results of PTSD. The trauma survivor in your life may have this condition, so you may need to know how it can be treated. Even if the signs are milder, much of the self-help steps would work well. The more you know, the more you can help your loved one recover.

Resources

The most complete site for information on posttraumatic stress is the federal government’s National Center for PTSD. Two sites in particular have useful information for loved ones. They are “Family & Friends” at www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist-family-relationships.asp and “Self-help and Coping” at www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist-self-help-cope.asp.

For more on Sleep and Trauma from National Sleep Center, go to www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/trauma-and-sleep.

Witness Justice has information for victims of violent crime and their loved ones at www.witnessjustice.org/help/index.cfm. In particular, see the online brochure “Supporting the Survivor” at www.witnessjustice.org/health/supporting_survivor.pdf

By Tom Gray
Source: National Center for PTSD, www.ptsd.va.gov; National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org; Witness Justice, www.witnessjustice.org
Reviewed by Curtis Willey, Recovery and Wellness Coordinator, ValueOptions Inc.

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