Supporting a loved one suffering from the effects of their trauma can be a struggle. Maybe you’ve been confused or irritated by their behaviors or fears. Perhaps you’ve just been feeling very powerless and you don’t know how to help – so you’ve been avoiding them altogether.
Our Atlanta trauma therapists have compiled these tips for you, to help you better understand the needs and experience of your loved one.
Your Loved One Is Not Trying to Get Attention
When someone experiences trauma and is confronted with a reminder of the trauma (called a trigger), they may act in ways that don’t make sense to you. They may run out of a restaurant abruptly, or cower from you when you have never hurt or threatened them, or be suspicious of your motives when you’ve always acted in a trustworthy manner.
None of this is attention-seeking. Their fight-or-flight system is overriding their access to logic and is purely focused on survival. Although they may act in ways that seem big or “over-the-top” to you, they are truly trying to find safety.
Your Loved One is Not Choosing This
Seeing someone you love in constant suffering is awful, and can be a little frustrating. You want them to stop hurting. You might be wondering why they are not just moving forward, or why the past is still impacting the present.
It’s helpful to remember that your loved one also wants to stop hurting.
They are not choosing to stay “stuck in the past” and they cannot choose to “get over it.”
Traumatic experiences are actually held in the body and brain long after the event is over. When trauma happens, the brain cannot tell the difference between the past trauma and the present safety, so anything perceived as a reminder of past trauma is experienced as though it is happening now.
This is why a combat veteran might have a reaction to fireworks, or a victim of stalking may start to panic when the phone rings – even if the perpetrator is in prison.
Their brain and body have to learn that they aren’t currently in danger. This process takes time. Watching your loved one fight through triggers can be distressing to you. If you notice that you might need some support, your needs are also valid. An Atlanta trauma therapist can help you process and make sense of your experience.
How You Can Offer Support
Supporting a loved one with trauma can feel overwhelming, because often you don’t know where to start or what they need.
Often, they don’t know where to start or what they need.
Our Atlanta trauma therapists understand that you may need some help in knowing what to do. Here are some tips:
- Believe your loved one
- Educate yourself about trauma
- Encourage them to seek professional help
- Ask them if touch is helpful or harmful
- Know that you’re not going to fix it
- Use non-confrontational phrases like, “Help me understand.”
- Know your limits. Help them develop a team of people who can work together to share support roles
- Try to be patient, even when you don’t understand
- Pursue your own support through a licensed counselor
Your Loved One is Overwhelmed
When your loved one is triggered, they are overwhelmed and may not have the mental space to tell you what to do. However, you can proactively research what might be helpful to them. When they’re not in a crisis, you can ask them what it looks like when they get triggered, what kinds of things are helpful, and what they may need from you.
Even if they’re unsure in the moment, it might open a door for better connection and helping them get their needs met later.
Loving someone through trauma recovery can be challenging, especially if you don’t understand the actions, behaviors, and fears that they have. If you feel like you can use support as you care for your loved one, please contact an Atlanta trauma therapist today.