Communicating With A Trauma Survivor Requires Empathy

Stacy Ann
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My heart was pounding and I could feel myself shutting down completely. My partner was becoming frustrated due to my lack of response in the middle of our conversation but I couldn’t seem to get a grasp of my emotions.

Okay, I can feel my heart racing…

I’m getting angry and defensive for no reason…

I feel like I’m in flight or fight mode….

I plastered a fake smile on my face and nodded to whatever he was saying until he left the room.

Lately, I’ve gotten better at monitoring my own thoughts and feelings even as the trauma is rising.

But even though I know what’s happening there are times when I still find myself reacting almost as if someone else has taken over my body and then I’m left with the wreckage of my words and my actions.

The reality is that my partner and I have been together for years and we still are learning how to communicate with each other. I still have to reiterate certain things that explain my reactions to things due to my volatile past.

I would recommend the following methods if you are communicating with someone that suffers from past traumas.

#1. Remind them that they are safe

Survivors of trauma often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder especially in the first year or so and even the seemingly smallest of triggers can take them back to a past experience.

There was a moment at the beginning of my relationship where I had been out with my friends. My partner picked me up and I genuinely don’t know what happened but I began freaking out and even called him by a different name.

At that moment I truly thought that I was back in a previous traumatic experience and it took his constant reassurance that I was in a safe place to bring me back to that moment.

Simply reminding trauma survivors that they are safe can help them realize that they are not in any danger.

#2. Be mindful of the language you are using

When you are in the moment or after you are reliving trauma the last thing you need is someone calling you “crazy, irrational, ridiculous, etc.”

The aftermath of the trauma episode can actually be one of the worst parts and it’s normally when I feel the most shame.

“Nevertheless, the fear following a trauma can be as bad or worse than the emotions we felt at the time of the trauma, and almost certainly lasts longer.”

If you are dealing with a loved one that has trauma I would just advise you to be kind, patient, and gentle. As someone who often feels “crazy” in those moments, I can tell you firsthand that it means so much to not have my loved ones reiterate the fearful thoughts flying through my head.

#3. Reiterate that their trauma doesn’t define them

Recently I was in a session with my therapist following an episode I had which left me very shaken.

After I described what had happened she stared at me and then gently said, “Carrie… you know that you are not your trauma right?”

It was something that I already knew but desperately needed to hear as a reminder.

The reality is that trauma is trauma. I live with my trauma and I have to work through my trauma but I am NOT my trauma. It doesn’t define who I am or mean that I am undeserving of happiness.

Hearing that trauma doesn’t define them is often exactly what a survivor needs to hear.

#4. Ensure that your partner feels like they have control

There were so many moments in my life where I felt like I had no power over my situations.

Because of this, I often can feel myself panicking and even going into a rage if I feel like I am having my control ripped away from me.

“Trauma is about getting hurt when you had no power or control over the situation, and it is immensely activating when the trauma survivor experiences that powerlessness again.”

My partner happens to be someone who likes to be in control and it’s been a learning experience for him when it comes to our relationship. He has learned that in order for me to feel good, I need to feel like I have control and a say in our decisions.

#5. Give them supportive space when needed

As a trauma survivor, I struggle to regulate my emotions. This usually means that when I’m in the midst of a melt-down, I need space to process my feelings.

However, I need to be able to exist in that space without feeling like my partner is abandoning me due to my belief that at that moment I am unlovable.

It sounds tricky but for me, I just need my partner to tell me that he loves me, he is going to give me some space, and that he will be here when I’m ready.

It sounds so simple but it genuinely means the world to me to know that even in those moments when I am at my lowest, he is there.

Communicating with a survivor of trauma isn’t easy. I know that at times my words and actions can defy logic and seem to come out of nowhere. That makes having a partner who was willing to take the time to understand my trauma so incredibly special.

Remember that someone’s trauma doesn’t define them and taking the time to learn how to have conscious communication will make the world of difference.


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I am a writer & relationship consultant that primarily deals with narcissism, overcoming abuse & trauma, and self-love. Contact me @ Blog: Instagram: carrie_wynnmusings


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