Caring for Trauma Survivors and Caring for Yourself in...

We hope abuse and trauma never happen to ourselves or someone we love. When your sister, long-time friend, or neighbor tells you something you never expected, it can be confusing, upsetting, and scary.

What if they only want you to know? What if they are still in danger? Could they have been lying to you?

When someone discloses something like suicidal thoughts or depressive symptoms after assault, it can feel like only a trained therapist would know the right things to say or do. Referring him or her to a professional may be a great first step.

However, we as friends and family play an absolutely critical role in letting our loved ones know they still have a place outside of their counselor'€™s office. We are the ones who live with them every day, who love them with everything we have and hate to see them hurt. We are the ones who know secrets that others would never imagine. We are the ones who show them that they belong with us.

I didn’t know what to do when Elise came to me so I reached out to Cissy White, a writer and trauma survivor, “What is MOST healing is relationships and joy and ANYTHING and EVERYTHING that soothes the body and makes it safe.'€ Laugh together, go for a run, bake, or paint your nails! These moments are critical even if it doesn'€™t feel like you are doing enough. It may not be a satisfying answer but if you are trying to be a friend to your survivor friend, you are doing so much already! Another tip is to practice listening without becoming alarmed or scared. When friends can openly talk about any part of life, it lets them know they are not rejected because of what happened to them.

I want you to hear this: you do not need to have gone through everything your friend has been through to support him or her. You may not know what those experiences were like, but that’s not what you are saying. You are saying that you love her and want her to feel safe.

I love the phrase, '€œexquisite empathy'€ because it reminds us that we are made to feel deeply. Trauma is something to weep over so weep if you need to! Play sad songs, break out the ice cream, and just cry because trauma is sad and never should have happened. It is easy to shut down our hearts over time but sit in the sadness so that you can fully live in the moments of joy and freedom!

It is okay to feel affected when you care for a trauma survivor. When we discover horrible things, it should be difficult to place that within our previous, more pleasant, understanding of the world. Research about secondary trauma describes short term effects like feeling anxious, difficulty sleeping or becoming jumpy. Longer term, we may have confusion about our own identity, feel helpless, or become withdrawn. Like trauma survivors, our bodies and mind need to know we are safe, loved, and can trust others.

Your life is necessary and I know you have already changed the lives of those you love. There is a reason to hope for healing, reconciliation, and peace because God promises that the Kingdom of Heaven is now. You, reader, have already helped.

Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score. New York City: Viking, 2014.

White, Cissy. Email Interview. September 2016.

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