I have been writing about trauma and working through a significant amount of research regarding its impact on children and adults. As I bring this subject to a close, I want to spend the next few posts writing about how we can help those who have been victims of trauma and its effects.
Personal safety for trauma victims
As we have discussed previously, trauma victims are individuals who have experienced what we describe as an “emotional concussion.” One consequence for a trauma victim is a brain imprint of the original trauma. Unfortunately, the brain imprint can be triggered by a variety of stimuli the victim senses in his/her external world. These triggers, in turn, impel the victim’s brain again into a state that can cause either hyper-arousal or dissociation.
Either of these brain states can leave the individual fearful, anxious or terrified—even if the trigger doesn’t appear to be a real threat. If a victim of trauma has ever shared with you what he or she is feeling, you may have a sense of how the victim is struggling to handle life’s circumstances with some semblance of normalcy.
Design a personal safety plan to reflect specific triggers
It is paramount that trauma victims feel safe. We recommend that victims design a Personal Safety Plan that reflects personal sensitivities to the triggers that surround him/her. This usually takes some time, and maybe the help of others, who will be sensitive and help the individual through this process. For example, some people who have been traumatized may struggle significantly being in public settings or large crowds, driving a car, or similar situations where they may perceive a threat and being thrown into acute alert.
As we help traumatized individuals in our families and communities, it may be good to have a few suggestions regarding sensitivities. Here are some ways we can help trauma victims create personal safety, particularly if they are in unfamiliar settings.
- Know where exits are
- Sit near a door
- Look around to be sure other people seem safe
- Think about ways to protect him/her if something scary or dangerous happens
- Refuse to speak
- Be prepared to leave the room
- Picture a safe and peaceful spot he/she really likes
- Sit near someone he/she feels safe being close to, someone who might protect him/her
- Self-talk: think about what he/she is saying to himself/herself and correct overreactive and untrue thoughts
- Consider if he/she is overreacting because of something that happened another time and place; change those thoughts to be more realistic
- Tell someone he/she trusts if he/she starts to feel unsafe
- Distract with doodling, taking notes, studying things in the room, thinking about dinner, tapping a pen or foot softly, sucking on a piece of hard candy
- Breathe deeply
- Relax his/her body
- Pray for self and for others
- Close his/her eyes for a few minutes
- Zone out and decide to not pay attention
Safety is a personal thing
Of course, safety for each victim is very personal. It may be helpful for the individual to discuss personal triggers with someone who is trauma-sensitive (such as a therapist) to assist in devising a safety plan. Or the victim may involve people closest to him/her to assist in implementing a plan on a long-term basis. As we care for traumatized children or adults, we can be a great source of support as we journey with them through their healing and recovery from trauma.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Some information is taken from Applying Trauma Principles, Diane Wagenhals, 2010. Licensed materials. All rights reserved.