A lot of people have trauma and may not know it. Writer and counselor Aundi Kolber describes it as having little “t” trauma and big “T” trauma. The little “t” trauma refers to the grief we experience when we lose someone or something we love, and the big “T” referring to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And with the tough past year and a half that all of us have had, we shouldn’t be surprised if we or someone we love is experiencing some form of trauma, both big and little.
If you have a loved one recovering or healing from trauma, here are some ways you can extend them some encouragement and support.
Empower and encourage them to get professional help
The world has taken great strides towards destigmatizing mental health issues, but we still have a long way to go. Hustle culture and “being strong” are still incredibly praised in our culture, making it difficult for people to accept when they might need help.
If you know someone going through a lot of grief and PTSD in their life, encourage them to get therapy or counseling treatment. They still need healthy and loving relationships, but there is only so much family members and friends can do to provide the help they need.
Mental health professionals spent years studying the most effective treatment plans for those suffering, and only they are qualified to provide practical help to those who need it. As lay caregivers, we need to accept when a situation is beyond our ability to help. Healthy relationships and professional support can work hand-in-hand in assisting sufferers in stepping out of the darkness.
Here are some tips for talking to your loved one about trying therapy:
- Make good listening a habit. Ask them about their thoughts on seeking professional help for their struggles, and gently encourage them to open up about why they might be hesitating.
- Don’t be pushy. Those suffering from trauma tend to have experience with abuse and having their agency and freedom taken from them, and as caregivers, one of the best things we can do for them is to give them their freedom back. Forcing them to get help when they’re not yet ready can be more harmful than helpful.
- Tell them that you will go with them to their first session and that if it doesn’t work out the first time, it doesn’t mean they have to give up on the endeavor. More often than not, finding a therapist or counselor with whom you have a good rapport takes time and a few tries.
Be a safe person for them
Those recovering from trauma experienced terrible things, like relational breakdowns, abusive relationships, losses, massive disasters, and other painful circumstances. Going through traumatic experiences can rob people of their feelings of safety, even long after the danger is gone.
Psychologist Bessel Van der Kolk says in his book The Body Keeps the Score that social support is one of the most powerful shields against being overwhelmed by trauma and stress. If relationships break people, it’s also through relationships that they can find healing and recovery.
Being a safe person means not judging or condemning them for all the ways they have been broken down by trauma. It means being a good listener, one that will validate the pain they went through. Being a safe person means not enabling harmful behavior and gently leading them back towards the path of healing and safety.
Be present for the long haul
Trauma recovery does not happen overnight. You can’t heal in three months what broke down over thirty years. Because trauma is deeply ingrained in a sufferer’s body and brain, most people trying to recover from it might feel deep levels of shame about their history and how they responded to the pain they went through.
This means that those caring for them must stay the course no matter how long and difficult it gets because it’s the only way those in recovery will know they are truly worth the fight towards recovery. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect; it just means you need to be faithful and ready to stand in solidarity with your loved one.
Arm yourself with information
Last but not least, you and your loved one will benefit greatly if you do some reading on the subject. Read up on trauma-informed approaches to healing and recovery, and gain access to helpful resources that can help you contextualize your loved one’s situation. This may seem like a lot of work, but our loved one is always worth it.