I have been working with victims of trauma for several years, and recently have gotten questions from friends and colleagues about how to help people who are affected by the events in Aurora this past week. When we face situations for which there are no easy answers, we often feel at a loss to help others when they need it most. And many people who were not directly involved in this event by losing a friend or family member or knowing someone who was injured will have reactions to this tragic event.
Everyone responds to traumatizing situations differently. Some people throw themselves into work or a cause, others cry a lot or get angry, others pull inward and don’t say anything, and still others act as if they aren’t affected at all. There is no right or wrong way to respond, though it’s sometimes difficult to understand friends and family members who react so differently than you do. Children will ask questions that you don’t know the answers to, and friends will want to tell you their experiences over and over again. The news cycles information constantly, and it’s hard to turn it off because there may be new information that will help you come to a better understanding. It can be overwhelming. It’s important to be available to your friends and family, but it is also challenging, and you must meet your own needs as well.
It is also common when a tragedy occurs that some people don’t respond right away because they are in a state of shock or disbelief, but then they break down days or weeks after the event. Other people in their lives may have resumed some new sense of normalcy while their world is falling apart. People involved in previous traumas or who were greatly affected by past tragedies may be extremely affected by new information, too. For example, someone who lost a loved one on 9/11 may have a strong reaction to the events in Aurora, even though they are far removed from it.
So how do we respond to our friends and co-workers and family members in a way that is helpful and appropriate? This is a tricky question, and I don’t have any easy answers. First, figure out how much time and energy you can spend helping others and stick to it. When you need a break, tell them you can’t talk about that now and come back to it later when you can. Second, figure out what your own needs are and how to meet them and then do it. Do you need to run and be alone for a while? Do you need to talk to a friend or a therapist? We can’t help others if we are struggling too much with ourselves. Third, watch for signs that a friend or family member needs help that you can’t provide, and find a professional who can. A therapist, psychologist, or social worker is a great resource in such a situation, and many offer a free consultation session so that you can determine if it’s the right fit for your needs. The Red Cross, Denver Therapists Network, Aurora Mental Health and others are providing services to people affected by this particular situation; however, there may be resources in your area that can point you in the right direction, too. And feel free to contact Mantis Counseling and Coaching Services, LLC if you need more information.