13 Little Ways You Can Help Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma (2023)

13 Little Ways You Can Help Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma (1)

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It can be hard to watch a friend or loved one deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault or physical trauma and not know how to help them or what to say. But that doesn’t mean it’s better to disappear. Your support is imperative: Research shows that leaning on loved ones can have a multitude of benefits for trauma survivors, such as helping them to adjust back into normal life following their incident.

“Being there for your loved one will not take the pain away, but it can help by giving them emotional support, which has been shown to be helpful in trauma recovery,” said Jacquelyn Strait, a licensed psychologist at Winding Way Therapy in Friendswood, Texas.


Experts note that it’s especially important to be available for a friend or loved one during periods where their trauma may resurface. Triggers can include the anniversary of an incident, such as the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, seeing someone that resembles their attacker, or a sexual assault case that’s all over the news.

“The political madness of sexual trauma, assaults, Me Too movements ― all of it is messy and it makes me uneasy and angry,” said Sarah Renee Langley, a licensed professional counselor and sexual assault survivor, who noted that she herself has benefited from the support of friends and family recently when she’s been feeling triggered.

Below are just a few ways you can help someone who has experienced trauma:

1. Realize that a trauma can resurface again and again.

In June 2017, Matt Mika was coaching the congressional GOP baseball team when a gunman opened fire, causing him nearly fatal injuries. Though he’s over a year out from the incident, the 40-year-old director of government relations for Tyson Foods said that it’s important for people to know feelings associated with the event can quickly resurface and survivors may therefore need support even years after an event.

“My parents’ neighbors were having a new roof put in, and that really unsettled me. Anything that sounds like that rifle shot or that gunshot can really unsettle me,” Mika said.


Brandy Diaz, a sexual assault survivor, added that news stories can also prompt memories of past traumas, like the coverage of Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony, in which she discussed her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.

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2. Know that little gestures go a long way.

You don’t have to make a grand gesture in order to make a difference. Sarah Sauer, a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting, noted that things like a heartfelt note, a meal or offering to do a fun activity helped her feel loved and supported.

“Sometimes the best healing can come from a neighbor who happens to be walking to the mailbox but genuinely asks how you’re doing and gives you their time to listen,” Sauer, 35, said.

Even if you don’t know the person extremely well, showing that you are thinking of them goes a long way. Sauer said some of the kindest forms of support she received came from people she hardly knew, like parents of her kids’ classmates at school or members of her church.

3. Reach out on social media.

“As superficial as this may sound, the outpouring of love, support and encouragement on Facebook was really comforting,” said Jennifer Birn, 42, who also survived the Vegas shooting.


“Most people don’t have the privilege of seeing how their friends and colleagues would react if something terrible happened to them, but surviving a trauma, you do, and people say things often not thought or said until it’s too late,” Birn added.

13 Little Ways You Can Help Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma (2)

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4. Ask before you hug someone.

It may be human nature to want to wrap your arms around a loved one who has just been through a trauma, but that may not be the best thing for them in the moment.

“Especially right after the incident, you have to careful about physical touch,” said Mika, who explained that following the attack, he appreciated visits by friends and family but shied away physical contact until he acclimated back into his routine. “It took me a while, even with my girlfriend who has been a saint throughout all this. I didn’t immediately want to sleep in the same bed.”

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5. Don’t blame the victim.

When speaking with someone about their assault, it’s important to do so in a way that doesn’t make the survivor feel like the incident was their fault or that they could have done something differently to prevent it.


David Spiegel, associate chair of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of the Stanford Center on Stress and Health, said to refrain from questions like, “Why did you let this happen to you?” or “Couldn’t you have avoided it or fought him off?”

As a general rule of thumb, Spiegel said, “Anything that blames the victim just reinforces inappropriate guilt.”

6. Help them relax.

“After someone experiences trauma and is dealing with stress, they need to relearn how to relax,” Langley said. This could mean helping a bookworm to rediscover their love of reading, taking a music fan to a concert or making them a playlist of their favorite artist’s music.”

“Whatever it is that your loved one generally enjoys doing, you should encourage that ― and even better if you join your loved one in doing the things they want to do so that they have good company,” she said.

7. Suggest a support group.

“There is no replacement for connections with other people who have been through a similar struggle,” said Sal Raichbach, a licensed counselor at Ambrosia Treatment Center, which has locations across the country.


Raichbach noted that there are many trauma-specific support groups that are free of charge and even meetings that are specific to certain types of trauma, like childhood abuse and sexual assault.

“The more you can relate to the people in the group, the better chance they will have at recovering from their traumatic episode and building a support network,” Raichbach explained.

As an extra step of support, Langley recommended asking if your friend would like you to accompany them.

13 Little Ways You Can Help Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma (3)
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8. Give them space.

“It’s tough to find a balance, but you want to give a trauma victim their space without distancing yourself,” Raichbach said.


The best thing you can do is let your friend know that you care and are available should they need it, he added. That way, they don’t feel obligated to stick with plans if they aren’t feeling up to spending time together. And whatever you do, don’t force people to “get over it.”

“Don’t tell people to ‘forget it.’ They can’t. Show them that you understand how deeply the trauma affected them and that you want to help and care about them with what they went through,” Spiegel said.

9. Educate yourself.

The symptoms of trauma can be confusing to someone who has not experienced them firsthand. To gain understanding, try reading up on the subject.

“The more trauma-informed you can be in supporting others, the more they are able to relax and remember they are safe and supported,” said Lisa Olivera, a therapist in Oakland, California.

10. Don’t force them to talk about it.

Mark G. Agresti, a psychiatrist in Palm Beach, Florida, said that a person experiencing trauma has to take the lead in telling you what they want you to know.


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“You can listen, but don’t ask too many probing questions, as that could be threatening and very unsettling for that person,” Agresti said. “Traumatized individuals are only able to reveal what happened to them when they are ready and no sooner.” Attempts to “force it out of someone” can often re-traumatize the person and it is therefore not helpful, he added.

13 Little Ways You Can Help Someone Who Has Experienced Trauma (4)

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11. Be patient.

Strait said that as part of a support system, you may find yourself the target of an angry outburst or find your loved one withdrawing from you.

“Be compassionate and understand that they have strong emotions to work through. Do not take it personally,” she said.

12. Accompany them to the scene of the crime (if they’re ready for that).

It can be therapeutic for a trauma survivor to face the scene of the incident, especially alongside a friend who is there to support them through the process.


“Take them back to the place where the trauma occurred to create a new memory there and face down fear. My friend Mimi did this for me,” Birn said. “She had me come back to Vegas over my birthday and coordinated a weekend, off the strip, that was so fun, relaxing and different than one I’d associate with Vegas or the festival, and it felt good to go back and not be scared.”

13. Watch out for warning signs.

“Trauma, when it has affected any aspect of someone’s life, is something to be concerned about,” said Doug Miller, a licensed clinical psychologist and forensic trauma expert.

As a result, the survivor is at a greater risk for suicide, depression and addictions, particularly as the severity of their trauma symptoms increase. Miller said that “periods of acute increases in any symptoms are times of increased concern.” He suggested keeping an eye on your friend and getting familiar with the signs of suicidal thoughts.

Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.


How can I help my 13 year old with trauma? ›

Give them plenty of love and reassurance. Remember, your teenager is the same person they were before the event, even if they seem different. If asked, gently let the young person know that they are having a 'normal' reaction to a frightening experience and that in time these very strong reactions will subside.

What are your suggestions for helping children who have experienced trauma? ›

Take their reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic event, and reassure them that what happened was not their fault. Help your child learn to relax. Encourage your child to practice slow breathing, listen to calming music, or say positive things (“I am safe now.”).

How can we support individuals to cope with and manage the impact of trauma? ›

Do your best to eat nutritious meals, get regular physical activity, and get a good night's sleep. And seek out other healthy coping strategies such as art, music, meditation, relaxation, and spending time in nature. Be patient. Remember that it's normal to have a strong reaction to a distressing event.

What is the best way to treat trauma? ›

The gold standard for treating PTSD symptoms is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy. EMDR and EFT have also shown promise in helping people recover from PTSD.

How do you help someone with post trauma? ›

Tips for Helping Someone With PTSD
  1. Educate Yourself on PTSD. This condition tends to be misunderstood, and there's often a stigma attached to it. ...
  2. Be Supportive. ...
  3. Be Patient (Don't Pressure Them) ...
  4. Listen. ...
  5. Don't Judge. ...
  6. Show Respect. ...
  7. Learn About Their Triggers. ...
  8. Encourage Them to Seek Treatment.
May 26, 2022

How do you heal deep childhood trauma? ›

7 Ways to Heal Your Childhood Trauma
  1. Acknowledge and recognize the trauma for what it is. ...
  2. Reclaim control. ...
  3. Seek support and don't isolate yourself. ...
  4. Take care of your health. ...
  5. Learn the true meaning of acceptance and letting go. ...
  6. Replace bad habits with good ones. ...
  7. Be patient with yourself.
Jul 17, 2009

How do you break the cycle of childhood trauma? ›

Is it possible to break the cycle? A trauma cycle is when someone experiences trauma and then creates a similar experience for children in their care. It's also known as intergenerational trauma.
How to break the cycle
  1. Acknowledge the trauma. ...
  2. Consider reaching out to a professional. ...
  3. Try connecting with supportive people.
Jun 17, 2022

How do you heal inner childhood trauma? ›

Here are some ways that you can start the healing process:
  1. Listen to yourself. When you get upset, frustrated, or feel emotional pain, what kinds of things are happening around you? ...
  2. Meditate. ...
  3. Build a new set of caregivers. ...
  4. Try inner child therapy. ...
  5. Reimagine your childhood. ...
  6. Talk to your loved ones. ...
  7. Remember how to play.
Mar 15, 2022

What is the most effective therapy for childhood trauma? ›

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)

CPT is often a first choice when treating PTSD, especially when addressing the long-term effects of childhood traumas in adults. For PTSD, the American Psychiatric Association recommends treatment over 12 sessions.

What are the 6 trauma responses? ›

In the most extreme situations, you might have lapses of memory or “lost time.” Schauer & Elbert (2010) refer to the stages of trauma responses as the 6 “F”s: Freeze, Flight, Fight, Fright, Flag, and Faint.

What are 3 healthy ways to cope with a traumatic event? ›

Find ways to relax and be kind to yourself. Turn to family, friends, and clergy person for support, and talk about your experiences and feelings with them. Participate in leisure and recreational activities. Recognize that you cannot control everything.

How do you help someone who is triggered? ›

Encourage them to set boundaries. They do not have to stay in triggering situations, especially not when the trigger is mistreatment from someone else. Tell them it's ok to be upset and to bring attention to what happened.

What are the 4 tips for healing from trauma? ›

Ways to Heal from Emotional Trauma
  • Movement and Exercise. As trauma disrupts your body's natural equilibrium, exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system. ...
  • Connect with Others. ...
  • Ask for Support. ...
  • Volunteer.

What are the 4 stages of trauma recovery? ›

The Stages of Trauma and Healing
  • Stabilization and Safety. Following the traumatic event, you may find yourself withdrawing from others. ...
  • Mourning and Remembrance. During this stage, you'll begin to create your own answers to the question, “What does this all mean?” ...
  • Integration and Reconnection.

How do I let go of trauma without therapy? ›

Some strategies to help improve your mental health and well-being after trauma include:
  1. Stay connected to your support system.
  2. Find healthy activities that help with self-expression.
  3. Move your body in gentle ways like stretching, yoga, or walking.
  4. Eat balanced meals.
  5. Keep a regular sleep routine.
Jan 26, 2022

How do you help someone with trauma flashbacks? ›

Tips on helping someone who is experiencing a flashback
  1. try to stay calm.
  2. gently tell them that they are having a flashback.
  3. avoid making any sudden movements.
  4. encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply.
  5. encourage them to describe their surroundings.

How do people recover from trauma? ›

Self-Care and Recovery After Trauma
  1. Surviving a Traumatic Experience. 1/15. ...
  2. Don't Isolate Yourself. 2/15. ...
  3. Seek Professional Help. 3/15. ...
  4. Join a Support Group. 4/15. ...
  5. Face It (Don't Avoid It) 5/15. ...
  6. Exercise. 6/15. ...
  7. 7/15.
  8. Listen to Your Body. 8/15.

How can you help a friend who is suffering from PTSD? ›

Help remind them of their surroundings (for example, ask them to look around the room and describe out loud what they see). Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths (hyperventilating will increase feelings of panic). Avoid sudden movements or anything that might startle them. Ask before you touch them.

What can unhealed trauma look like? ›

Cognitive Signs of Unhealed Trauma

You may experience nightmares or flashbacks that take you back to the traumatic event. Furthermore, you may struggle with mood swings, as well as disorientation and confusion, which can make it challenging to perform daily tasks.

What does unresolved childhood trauma look like in adults? ›

Other manifestations of childhood trauma in adulthood include difficulties with social interaction, multiple health problems, low self-esteem and a lack of direction. Adults with unresolved childhood trauma are more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and self-harm.

What triggers childhood trauma? ›

Traumatic events may include:
  • Neglect and psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.
  • Natural disasters, terrorism, and community and school violence.
  • Witnessing or experiencing intimate partner violence.
  • Commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Serious accidents, life-threatening illness, or sudden or violent loss of a loved one.
Apr 21, 2022

Is childhood trauma reversible? ›

A groundswell of other researchers, brain scientists and mental health professionals say damage from ACEs is reversible and people of all ages — particularly those ages 0 to 3 — can recover.

What is a trauma loop? ›

Trauma loops, also known as limbic trauma loops, are defined as the body's response to traumatic situations through stress responses that are generally more exaggerated due to the extent of the previous event.

How do you heal yourself mentally? ›

  1. Value yourself: Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. ...
  2. Take care of your body: Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. ...
  3. Surround yourself with good people: ...
  4. Give yourself: ...
  5. Learn how to deal with stress: ...
  6. Quiet your mind: ...
  7. Set realistic goals: ...
  8. Break up the monotony:

How do I start healing myself? ›

Self-Healing Activities
  1. Try positive visualization. Visualizing yourself in a relaxing, positive space can help soothe your body and ease your mind.
  2. Listen to soothing music. ...
  3. Cut out unhealthy foods. ...
  4. Start a gratitude journal. ...
  5. Try gardening.

What age is your inner child? ›

But who is this second self and what do they want? They are in fact what's known as the 'inner child', that younger part of you that is still five years old (or seven, or nine). And whether you realise it or not your relationship with them can have a huge impact on your life.

What type of counseling is best for trauma? ›

Here's an overview of different types of evidence-based therapies often used for individuals who have experienced trauma.
  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) ...
  2. Exposure Therapy. ...
  3. Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) ...
  4. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. ...
  5. Psychodynamic Trauma Therapy.
Apr 21, 2021

What is the best form of therapy for anxiety and trauma? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of anxiety treatment therapy that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. This can be an effective treatment for anxiety and trauma, as it can help to reduce symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, avoidance, and hyperarousal.

What are the 3 R's of trauma? ›

The three R's – Reaching the traumatised brain. Dr Bruce Perry a pioneering neuroscientist in the field of trauma has shown us to help a vulnerable child to learn, think and reflect, we need to intervene in a simple sequence.

What are the 5 F's of trauma? ›

The freeze, flop, friend, fight or flight reactions are immediate, automatic and instinctive responses to fear. Understanding them a little might help you make sense of your experiences and feelings.

What are the 7 stages of trauma? ›

First, we will explore the 7-stages of trauma bonding.
  • Love Bombing. At the start of the relationship, did they shower you with excess love, appreciation and gifts? ...
  • Trust and Dependency. ...
  • Criticism. ...
  • Gaslighting. ...
  • Resigning to Control. ...
  • Loss of Self. ...
  • Addiction. ...
  • Stop the Secret Self Blame.
Dec 13, 2021

What are the 5 types of coping strategies? ›

There are five main types of coping skills: problem-focused strategies, emotion-focused strategies, meaning making, social support, and religious coping.

What is a healthy response to trauma? ›

Relax – use relaxation techniques such as yoga, breathing or meditation, or do things you enjoy, such as listening to music or gardening. Express your feelings as they arise – talk to someone about your feelings or write them down. When the trauma brings up memories or feelings, try to confront them.

What not to say to someone with trauma? ›

Things Never to Say to Trauma Survivors
  • It's Time to Move On.
  • It could not have been that bad.
  • Stop Being Negative.
  • If You Continue Dwelling On It, Then You'll Never Move On.
  • Do You Think You'll Ever Stop Being Depressed?
  • You're a Survivor, So Quit Being a Victim.
  • It Could Always Be Worse.

How do you respond to a trauma trigger? ›

Deep breathing can help calm your body's stress response when you encounter a triggering situation. Expressive writing can help you process the feelings, thoughts, emotions, and memories that contribute to PTSD symptoms. Grounding techniques can keep you focused on the present moment instead of on your triggers.

What not to say when someone is triggered? ›

Just listen. – Don't defend, blame or criticize them! In the presence of anyone who is triggered, if you come at them with any kind of attack they are going to get defensive and walls will go up. Tread lightly not to take care of them but to RESPECT their process and take care of YOURSELF.

What are the three stages of trauma? ›

The 3 Phases of Trauma Recovery
  • Phase 1: Safety and Stability. Your care team will discuss with you what your ongoing needs will look like after you're discharged. ...
  • Phase 2: Remembering and Grieving. ...
  • Phase 3: Restoring Relationships.
Aug 30, 2019

What do you say when someone opens up about trauma? ›

Focus on non-judgmental, compassionate responses which help reduce shame. You might say “I'm so sorry you had to experience that,” or “you didn't deserve that, and you deserve support now,” or “I want you to know you're not alone,” or “you did what you have to do to survive.”

What not to say to someone going through traumatic event? ›

Making the trauma survivor feel guilty about the situation is not a good way to support them. This statement can make them feel guilty about having the feelings and thoughts that they do. Don't force them to put a timeline on their grief or to push through the processing stages until they're ready.

What are the 6 strategies of dealing with trauma? ›

Strategies To Overcome Trauma
  • Identify your trauma. Know what causes your distressing feelings. ...
  • Stop overthinking. You have to stop predicting or thinking about what will happen next. ...
  • Be patient. Healing from a major trauma takes time. ...
  • Do not isolate yourself. ...
  • Take care of your health. ...
  • Seek professional help.
Mar 20, 2021

How do people heal from trauma? ›

Therapy is one way, but not the only way to heal from trauma as there are a variety of ways to heal such as: relationships and connection, re-connecting to our culture and ancestral customs, having a practice such as yoga and/or meditation, expression such as art, dance, and writing, and more.

What is the first step to healing trauma? ›

Seek safety. The first step in addressing trauma is to create safety, on multiple levels. Physically, find a place to ground yourself and feel protected from harm. Then look for ways to actively nurture yourself.

What are the 10 types of trauma? ›

The 10 ACEs of Trauma
  • Physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Emotional abuse.
  • Physical neglect.
  • Emotional neglect.
  • Mental illness.
  • Divorce.
  • Substance abuse.
Dec 28, 2022

What are the 5 reactions to trauma? ›

The freeze, flop, friend, fight or flight reactions are immediate, automatic and instinctive responses to fear. Understanding them a little might help you make sense of your experiences and feelings.

How do you comfort someone through text trauma? ›

16 Texts To Send When You Need to Cheer Someone Up
  1. You have always supported me through difficult times. ...
  2. I can understand the feeling of hardship taking over you during this time. ...
  3. I am so sorry for your situation. ...
  4. Work got to me, and I felt low last week.
Mar 15, 2022

What is trauma dumping? ›

Trauma dumping: With trauma dumping, you overshare difficult or intimate personal information without the other person's consent or during inappropriate times. You don't consider how your words impact the listener, and you're not open to advice or solutions.

Why do clients smile when talking about trauma? ›

Smiling when discussing trauma is a way to minimize the traumatic experience. It communicates the notion that what happened “wasn't so bad.” This is a common strategy that trauma survivors use in an attempt to maintain a connection to caretakers who were their perpetrators.


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