Helping others is something we all do to one degree or another. We all can have a deep capacity to support our loved ones if we nurture those skills. If you know someone who has experienced some form of trauma, they may need your help.
Here are seven ways to support a loved one who has experienced trauma:
1. Take time to listen to them, and allow them to put their experience into words
If they want to talk about what happened, it can be a way for them to take control and ownership over their own story.
Showing up for your loved one without judgment is an important way to foster the beginning of their healing.
2. Believe them – without explaining away, or rationalizing, their trauma
Many victims get blamed for their own experiences of harm when what they need most is acceptance. The horrible realities that cause trauma can be hard to believe.
To be able to sit with those difficult feelings it helps to start with radical acceptance of the truth the survivor speaks.
3. Help them sit with their feelings, rather than push them away
A person with trauma may have heightened feelings. They will likely scare them – and may scare you. Feelings are not things, and they are not who we are.
Listening to their feelings non-judgmentally and not rushing to solutions will help them move through their emotions.
4. Engage with them the same way as you always have
Remember they are still the loved one you’ve always known. In many ways, trauma changes people, but the core of a person experiencing trauma is the same, even though trauma can obscure this.
Help your loved one feel like their old self again by doing the same things you’ve done before.
5. Know where they can turn if they need immediate help
If you suspect your loved one is in need of immediate assistance, there are resources available that can help them.
Here are a few resources that are free and available nationwide:
General suicide prevention resources
- National suicide prevention hotline: (1-800-273-8255) for confidential support and crisis prevention
Resources for the LGBT+ Community
- Trevor Project: (1-866-488-7386) for LGBT+ youth suicidality
- Trans Lifeline: (1-877-565-8860) for trans and gender-nonconforming suicidality
- AVP: (212-714-1141) to report a hate crime or for local resources
Sexual assault hotline
- RAINN: (800.656.HOPE) for those affected by sexual violence
- Crisis Text Line: (Text CONNECT to 741741) if you are in the midst of a PTSD flashback
There may also be resources specific to your area, so consider doing research for local hotlines.
6. Connect them with additional resources, like therapists and therapy group
For many, just knowing where they can turn in times of isolation, panic, or depression can be a huge weight off their shoulders.
Helping your friend get connected with professional resources and appropriate communities is a way to foster their healing in the long-term. Consider doing the following:
- Help them find a therapist, ideally a practitioner who specializes in trauma-informed care. (On Zencare, you can find therapists for trauma in NYC, Providence, Chicago, and Boston.)
- Help them locate a therapy group for survivors of similar trauma. You can search for different therapy groups on Zencare in NYC, Providence, Chicago, and Boston.
- Help them find supportive online communities where they can open up anonymously, without fear of judgment.
7. Take care of yourself, too!
Support for others takes more out of us than we realize. Your internal resources aren’t a finite resource, but they do need to be nurtured.
Whatever you normally do to take care of yourself – yoga, meditation, exercise, therapy - do more of it when you’re supporting a loved one surviving trauma. That way, you can show up for them with the support they need.
At the end of the day, the support and care needed looks different for everyone. The above are just starting points – you’ll likely need to strike your own balance between providing support, validation, and love, and don't be afraid to keep offering help to a friend in need.
And know that, although your loved one may not always be able to show it (or even aware of it themselves), your support and mere presence is often crucial to their recovery.