Which people are most affected by violence and trauma?
Many people are affected by violence. People who have been direct victims of violence as well as family friends and others connected to the victims may react to a violent event.
Whether violence happens to you, or to someone you know, it is normal to feel it personally. People who are direct victims of violence often have physical and emotional reactions that can last for a long time. But other people – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, emergency service personnel, witnesses to the violence, or those who have something in common with the victims – may also be affected by a particularly violent event.
Although each person reacts differently, according to their personality, past
experiences, and connection to the event, there are some common feelings and emotions that often occur in those who have been involved in or have heard about a violent event.
How do people react to violence or trauma? It depends on the individual – each person will be affected in their own, personal way. Some common reactions to violence and trauma are listed below. Each person may
have one or several of these reactions.
Difficulty Making Decisions
Losing Track of Time
Replaying the Event
Feeling Helpless or Powerless
Fear or Safety Concerns
Reliving Prior Trauma
Sweating, Rapid Pulse, Chest Pains
Back or Neck Pain
Being Easily Startled
Catching Colds or Flu
Loss of Faith
Withdrawal from Church
Lapses in Spiritual Practice
Withdrawing or Clinging to Others
Alienation from Friends, Family
Breakdown in Trust
Changes in Sexual Activity
Doubts About Relationships
Co-Workers Who “Don’t Understand”
False or Distorted Views of Others
Alternating Demanding or Distant with Others
What can you do to recover from trauma?
Different things work for different people. In the aftermath of violence and trauma, the most important things is to establish some kind of routine, even if it is temporary or it differs from your usual one. Listed below are some specific strategies that can help you deal with trauma and speed your recovery.
As best you can, try to eat regularly. If you eat sweets and drink soda or coffee, remember that sugar and caffeine can increase your stress level, so try to limit how much of those you use. Sometimes people under extreme stress use more alcohol than usual. These substances may postpone feelings or reactions but, in the long run, they actually make them worse. Use common sense about what you put into your body at this particularly stressful time.
Strategy: Rest and Relaxation
It is important to maintain a regular schedule that let you get enough sleep and includes relaxing, stress-reducing activities. If you know any formal relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, use them. Otherwise, use whatever strategies usually help you relax; listen to music, read, go to church or play with your pets or children.
Strategy: Physical Activity
Exercise is one of the best ways of reducing stress. Although it may be difficult to find the time, try to work it into your day. If you usually exercise, try working it back to your schedule. Walking is a great form of exercise that many people can do. You can also play with your children or your pets. It is fun and it is a way for everyone to manage stress and anxious feelings
Strategy: Social Contacts
Keeping in contact with family, friends, coworkers and others who have shared similar experiences is another good way to reduce stress. You may sometimes want to be by yourself and this is fine. But, try to keep in contact as much as possible – isolating yourself from those who know and care about you make matters worse. Children in particular, may need the attention and close physical contact of their parents and other caretakers.
Strategy: Support Systems
Talking about your reactions to violence may be difficult, but it does help. It is important that you chose people who listen to how you feel. Supportive listeners may be friends, family, clergy, teachers or self-help groups. They may also be professional counselors. Keep in mind that people benefit most from counseling when they seek it out themselves.
Strategy: Support Others
In addition to taking care of yourself, offering support to others can help you recover from the emotional impact of trauma. Many people find strength in participating in special events or community activities which honor victims or offer support to loved ones. Religious services, community discussion groups, public ceremonies and political activities are not for everyone. It is important that you become involved in such activities only when you chose to.
What can you expect in the course of recovery?
Recovery from the emotional impact of violence takes time and involves many different feelings. Sometimes these feelings change quickly or go from one extreme to the other. Be understanding of yourself and othersand recognize that everyone does not respond in the same way or at exactly the same times.
People often expect their reactions to disappear quickly, but this is usually not the case. Outside events (media coverage, court dates, holidays, etc.) may lengthen the recovery process. Keep in mind that you might have difficult feelings during these times. You will probably find that others are having similar reactions and talking to someone you trust may be helpful.
• Violence or trauma affects both direct victims and others who feel connected to the victims or the event.
• Each person will have a unique and personal reaction to violent and traumatic events
• Self-care is important. Different strategies of self-care will be effective for different people.
• The recovery process takes both time and adequate support
Prepared by the staff of the CCRT of the Victims of Violence program at Cambridge Health Alliance. The CCRT is partially supported by MOVA through the 1984 VOCA grant from OVC, OJP, U.S. DOJ.