How To Support A Loved One Who Has Experienced Trauma

Whether your loved one is a child or an adult, traumatic experiences have lasting effects that can interfere their everyday lives and those around them. Trauma impairs a person’s ability to reason and heightens the brain’s fear and stress responses. Seeing, hearing, or even smelling something can trigger the brain to associate it with a past traumatic experience. This can send a person into fight or flight mode, inducing panic attacks, causing extreme fear, or complete meltdowns suddenly and unexpectedly.

It can be difficult to watch this happen to a loved one. You may feel overwhelmed and affected by the difficult things they have had to experience and how they are handling them. People experiencing ongoing trauma need others’ love and support through their healing process. There is always hope in the long journey of healing from trauma.

In this article, we provide insight on how to be the trustworthy person who is there for your loved one facing trauma, led with love, understanding, and compassion.

Learning About Trauma

Trauma is very complex, and the healing process can be very difficult. However, learning about different aspects of trauma can help you understand what your loved one is going through, and helps equip you to support them even if you don’t play an active role in their everyday life.

Not knowing how to help someone can be very frustrating, and often demoralizing when you experience a change in your loved one’s personality, so equipping yourself with knowledge can help both of you during an outburst or difficult temporary moment.

Talking While Respecting Boundaries

Asking your loved one how they are can feel difficult when you know they are having a hard time, but it may be helpful for them to talk about their experience with you or someone else. If they are open to talking, without pushing or coaxing them, try to listen without interrupting or asking questions.

Stay calm, even if they become upset, and allow them to keep talking. Vocalize that you believe them, without explaining away or rationalizing their trauma, and reassure them that what happened was not their fault. It’s important to accept your loved one’s account of what their experience was.

If your loved one is not ready to talk, you can assure them that you will be ready to listen whenever they see fit and wish to speak. You can still help them by giving practical support, like offering to help around the house, providing errands, or just being near them.

Recognize Trauma Is Not Easily Overcome

Trauma has lasting psychological, emotional, social, and even spiritual effects on people. Being patient with your friend or family member is crucial, as well as learning to not take it personally when they withdraw or lash out towards you. Reestablishing trust may be necessary when another person has reacted negatively in the past to your loved one opening up to them about their trauma.

Helping Your Loved One Sit With Their Feelings

Survivors of abuse may have over heightened emotions at times. These intense feelings can be scary for them, as well as yourself. 

Though it may be easy to do, suggesting solutions or pointing out silver linings while someone is currently going through a hard time is generally unhelpful, even when you are coming from a place of love or with good intentions. These comments don’t grant enough time for one to process through these difficult emotions. There is no timeline for when they may feel better, or be completely healed from their traumatic experience.

Instead, you can simply reflect back and validate the difficulty of their personal experience, and help them move through their emotions at a comfortable speed for them.

Engage In Ways You Always Have

Despite the traumatic events, your loved one is still the same person you have always known and cared for. You may feel as though the person you’re living with is a stranger at times, but it is important to remind yourself that they are still who they are at the core, even though the symptoms might make it difficult to extend compassion and patience to them.

Trauma does change people, and it can alter how a person sees the world. This may lead to feeling as though the world is a dangerous place, where it is more difficult to trust others, or even oneself. With time and support from you and others close to them, they can learn to feel safe once again. Many experience post-traumatic growth after their trauma, and the feeling can be personally positive after their difficult experience.

Remember to just be yourself, and you can make them feel like their old self by continuing to do the same things you have always done. A semblance of normalcy for them can instill a sense of comfort when their mind feels like a place of chaos.

Help Your Loved One Connect With Additional Resources  

Understanding and being able to re-evaluate traumatic experiences with a trusted mental health professional can help a loved one move through their trauma, and regain their control over intrusive thoughts and feelings related to their trauma.

Stanley Wipfli is a licensed trauma based therapist located in downtown San Francisco, who specializes in therapy for trauma, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Stanley is trained in evidence-based therapy methods, and uses extensive experience and knowledge to provide the highest quality of care. 

For many, knowing where to turn when feeling isolated, panicked, or depressed can lift the burden off their shoulders. If you’re looking for a therapist for in-person therapy appointments in San Francisco, or remote sessions for anyone in California, contact Stanley Wipfli today for a free 15-minute consultation.