We have been looking at how we can apply knowledge and principles of trauma in order to help children and adults recover. Many of you who are trying to be more trauma-aware, sensitive and competent in helping trauma victims may not be using trauma sensitive language. Unfortunately, we constantly hear non-trauma sensitive language from families and friends who may think they are helping their relative or child.
Speaking to a victim about trauma requires substantial thought and intention
We recognize that most people are well-meaning in what they say to someone who has been traumatized. However, we also must admit that some of the ways that people communicate to trauma victims is not trauma sensitive by any stretch of the imagination.
I thought I would publish some examples of types of statements that we should avoid when speaking with someone who has experienced trauma. Hopefully, these rather obvious examples will help you who are attempting to assist trauma victims with recovery.
Non-trauma sensitive statements that we should avoid:
- Oh, I don’t think you should feel that way. You should be thankful for all that didn’t happen; why do you always focus on the negative anyway?
- You’re making this all about you instead of the person who was actually hurt.
- If you don’t get a handle on your feelings, you’re going to lose all your friends.
- You’ll never succeed in life if you don’t change these behaviors.
- You must be getting something out of behaving this way.
- I am sure if you tried a little harder, you could get better control over yourself.
- This has gone on long enough. If you don’t stop talking about this, I won’t be spending much time with you.
- I think most people would have resolved this by now. Clearly you aren’t motivated enough to make the changes you need to make and move on with your life.
- Come on, I’m sure if you just give this a little time, you’ll feel better. After all, time heals all wounds.
- I had an old friend who had the same thing happen to him and after a few sessions of therapy, he saw things in a whole different way and is back to his old self. You don’t need more than one or two therapy sessions to fix what’s wrong with you.
- How often do you feel like this? I can’t believe it’s all you think about. When’s the last time you thought about something happy?
Beware of subtly disapproving implied messages
While most of the examples above are pretty blatant, there can be subtle statements or questions we need to be aware of that damage the safety of the relationship with the trauma victim. These damaging forms of communication imply rather than directly state messages of disapproval, contempt, shame and/or unwillingness to continue interacting unless the person changes to be more acceptable in the eyes of the speaker.
Safety is essential to recovery for the trauma victim. So, it is very important that we maintain awareness and sensitivity to trauma victims especially in how we communicate with them about their traumatic experiences or consequences.
We must keep those trauma victims safe as we try to help them. We must be very intentional that we do not cause further damage to them in our relationship with them.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network