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Loving a Survivor of Trauma: Pray, Embrace, Give Space

What about our family and friends? The people we love and live with. They are not always included in trauma treatment, but their intimate knowledge of us makes them an important tool in our healing. How can they support us in a way that is helpful, balanced and healthy?
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"Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone." -- Fred Rogers

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Wonderful Mr. Rogers. I never appreciated him and the depth of his wisdom until I became an adult. And he's so right. We must find the people we trust with that important talk.

For trauma survivors, we are often directed immediately following the trauma to counselors and therapists who are trained to help us deal with the trauma and find a way to move on with our lives.

But what about our family and friends? The people we love and live with. They are not always included in trauma treatment, but their intimate knowledge of us makes them an important tool in our healing. How can they support us in a way that is helpful, balanced and healthy?

If you live with a trauma survivor, you know there are ups and downs. Good days and bad days. Joyful days and self-destructive days. Trauma survivors, especially initially, are likely to experience flashbacks, have irrational reactions to certain places, feelings, smells or sounds, and have nightmares or trouble sleeping. Their moods may be unpredictable. They may push you away one moment, and demand your presence the next. They may become hyper-aware and anxious, or choose to numb that feeling with alcohol or drugs. I know because I have done all of these things. And when the people you live with ask you what's up, it can feel impossible to explain.

You see, we are on a path with no map. No one has ever walked this exact path before. People have walked similar paths, but our path is so personal it lives in the deepest part of ourselves. To share or explain it is daunting, as there truly are no words. We can feel the process, but cannot express it.

The path is similar to a board game. We are on the path, rolling the dice, moving forward, everything is going along as it "should" and then the boogeyman jumps out from a bush and we go back three moves. We can't control what makes the boogeyman appear. And neither can those who love us. As much as they may want to.

But know this. As time passes and healing happens, the boogeyman only sends you back two moves, then one. Then the day comes when he doesn't affect our progress at all.

But until then, what can our loved ones do?

  • Be there for us. If we push you away, don't take it personally. If we need you too much, set some boundaries. Work with us to find balance.

  • Listen if we want to talk about it. (If you think it's uncomfortable to listen to what happened to us, think what it was like to go through it.)
  • If we don't want to talk about it, don't try to force us. We will talk about it and need to talk about it, and it may not be with you. And again, don't take it personally.
  • Honor our progress. If you see us overcome a fear or get past something, please recognize it. We need to hear that.
  • Don't ignore self-destructive choices. Gently call attention to it and encourage us to find healthier paths.
  • Pray for our healing. When you're feeling helpless about how to help, just pray. Prayer is action.
  • Pray for our relationship to grow with this and become stronger and healthier.
  • All people want to know they are not alone in their struggle. All people want to be beloved and cherished. Join hands and hearts, and walk each other home in love and compassion.

    "Our brothers' needs become our own, because they are taking the journey with us as we go to God. Without us they would lose their way. Without them we could never find our own." -- A Course in Miracles