Part of what makes being a trauma survivor so difficult is that a lot of people in our lives don’t know how to support or help us and it’s difficult for us to explain how we’re feeling and what we’re going through. After trauma it often doesn’t feel safe to do these things or ask for support. Sometimes we don’t even know what kind of support we need. I’m a trauma survivor and I’m writing this blog post for those of you who have loved ones who have experienced trauma. Here’s an inside look into what it’s like to be a trauma survivor and how you can help those in your life who have experienced it.
Experiencing trauma can be extremely horrific and painful and life after the trauma has ended can be just as horrific and painful as the actual trauma. It’s like once it happens it stays with us forever, lives in us, affects us on a daily basis and it’s so hard to move on from. Many of us experience intense anxiety every minute of every day. We feel like the trauma is about to happen again, we are always hypervigilant and looking for danger everywhere, it never feels safe to relax or put our guard down. Even when we’re sleeping we can’t relax. Our bodies hold the memories of the trauma and the physical sensations of what happened and we’re constantly being filled with emotions and memories from the trauma. It’s so hard to connect to safety in the present because our brains are continuously screaming that we aren’t safe. It’s like our brains are trying to protect us and prepare us for future danger so they never let us rest or feel safe. There is always the feeling that something terrible is about to happen again. Being a trauma survivor is basically living in constant chaos and it feels like we have to fight so hard to just get through each day. It feels like we can’t even live our life or do what we want to do.
There are many ways you can help people in your life who have experienced trauma. One of the biggest things you can do is help them feel safe. Ask them what they need to feel safe and provide calm, quiet environments for them. Remind them that you care about them and that you want to hear what they have to say. We often feel embarrassed about what we need because it’s so different from what someone who hasn’t been through trauma needs. If they want to stay curled under the covers all day, let them. If they want to keep the blinds closed and lights off, let them. If they want lots of stuffed animals and comfort objects, let them. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything at all, just your presence is enough. Spend time with them even if it means sitting in silence together. Ask them what their triggers are and try to avoid doing those things. It’s really important that if you get angry or frustrated you don’t raise your voice because that can trigger a flashback. Help them find a therapist trained in trauma recovery and if they’re comfortable with it you can go to some sessions with them together and their therapist can help you find more ways to support them.
Your presence in their life can make a really big difference and be a very important part in their healing. The biggest ways you can help are by letting them know they aren’t alone, showing up for them when they need it, and providing a safe environment for them. Recovery can be difficult for the person going through it as well as their loved ones. Don’t give up and remember that recovery is possible. If you need support while you’re supporting your loved one I encourage you to download the WhiteFlag app. There are people there who will be able to understand what you’re going through. You’re not in this alone.
Get support. Give support. Download the app today.