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Trauma

Explains what trauma is and how it affects your mental health. Includes tips for helping yourself, what treatments are available and how to overcome barriers to getting support. Also has tips for supporting someone else who has gone through trauma.

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.

This page is for friends and family supporting someone who has experienced trauma.

It can be hard if someone you care about is struggling with the effects of trauma. Or if they're in a long term, traumatic situation. But there are things you can do that might help.

This page has some suggestions for ways you can support them while also looking after your own wellbeing:

Be a good listener

When someone experiences trauma, it's important that they know the people close to them are there to listen. You don't always need to be able to give advice or have the answers to everything. Just being a good listener is a big help.

These are some tips:

  • Give them time. Let them talk at their own pace – it's important not to pressure or rush them.
  • Focus on listening. Try to respect what they're choosing to share, rather than waiting for your chance to talk.
  • Accept their feelings. For example, allow them to be upset or angry about what's happened.
  • Don't blame them or criticise their reactions. You might wonder why they didn't do something differently. But they survived however they could at the time.
  • Use the same words they use. People vary in how they prefer to describe their experiences. For example, it's their choice whether to talk about being a 'victim' or 'survivor' of trauma.
  • Don't dismiss their experiences. For example, don't tell them not to worry about things or that they're lucky for getting through it. Usually this isn't helpful to hear. Try to remember that people can't choose what they find traumatic or how they're affected.
  • Only give advice if you're asked to. They might prefer to simply hear that you believe them and are there for them.
  • Allow them to express themselves how they need to. Some of us might find it easier to express ourselves through writing or creative outlets. Supporting these ways of expressing feelings is just as valid.

Accepting that I can show my vulnerability without fear of reprisal or punishment has been a big step... to do this I have had to explain to those closest to me how vulnerable I am... and many times when I appear to be the exact opposite.

If someone talks to you about trauma, they might seem unemotional or casual. This could be even if they're talking about stressful or upsetting events. They might even smile or laugh.

This can seem strange or confusing. But it's a normal reaction. These responses can be part of a coping mechanism or physical response. For more information, see our page on the effects of trauma.

Hearing about trauma can be really hard, whether or not someone shares specific details. For example, you might feel upset or angry about what they've told you.

Our useful contacts are here to support you too. And you can read more about looking after your own mental health further down this page.

Manage your expectations

We might have our own ideas about what is traumatic. Or how someone should react to trauma, and how long it should take to get over it. But everyone is unique in how they experience trauma. And there's no right way to manage it or right amount of time to process it. 

Experiencing effects at different times

Trauma doesn't affect everyone right away. Some of us may not feel it's impacting us until months or years later. We might feel like talking about it sometimes, but not at other times. This is perfectly normal.

Everyone works through trauma at their own speed. It's important to not have expectations about when someone should be 'better'. Or expect it to stop having an impact on their life.

It was only a few months into grief that I started apologising for it. My Facebook memories often start with ‘Sorry, I know people think I should be starting to feel better by now’ … but of course I wasn’t over my grief six months in

Changes to who they are

Experiencing trauma can change how someone thinks and feels, and their goals in life. It's important to understand that this change is normal. And not to pressure someone into returning to how they were before the trauma.

You might need to find new ways to spend time together. Or discover new, shared interests. Try not to think about this as 'losing' the person they were. We all change over time, and this could be a great way to try something new together.

A divorce after 27 years of marriage, being made homeless, having no money and being isolated, had made me into another person. Someone I didn’t recognise

Stigma and trauma

Some people feel unable to escape or talk about traumatic situations. This could be because of the stigma or beliefs of people around them. You may hold certain beliefs about what people should do in certain situations, such as beliefs about whether people should get divorced.

Everyone deserves to be free from harm and have a safe space to process their experiences. Try to think of someone's safety as the main priority and accept their needs. This is even if they don't make complete sense to you or match your beliefs.

Struggling with faith or spiritual beliefs

Trauma can lead some of us to struggle with our faith or spiritual beliefs. This could be the person who went through the trauma. Or you, if you're supporting that person. 

Someone you know may have experienced trauma within a religious or spiritual community. To leave a traumatic environment, they may have to do things that are considered against certain religious teachings or beliefs. But this doesn't make them a bad person. Or mean you can't support them.

If you're struggling with this, there are people you can talk to. This could be someone from within your religious community, or outside of it. Our useful contacts page has organisations you could contact. 

Try not to judge

It can be hard to understand why someone can't seem to 'move on' from trauma. Especially if you've not gone through trauma yourself. Or you feel differently about shared experiences.

It's understandable to wish things could improve. But it's important not to blame them or put pressure on them to get better without the time and support they need.

It's also important not to judge people if they don't react to trauma as strongly as you'd expect. Everyone has different reactions to trauma. And some of us may not be that affected by it.

Don't assume that someone needs professional help or certain types of support. And don't judge their reaction as them not having felt the impact of the trauma.

I wish there was more awareness of trauma and the way it affects a person's thought process and behaviour. [...] Self-preservation behaviours can be greatly misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Learn their triggers

It might help to ask if any situations or conversations might trigger flashbacks or difficult feelings. For example, they might feel distressed by loud noises or arguments.

Understanding their triggers could help you avoid these situations. Or help you support them when they do happen.

Tips on helping someone with flashbacks

Flashbacks are vivid experiences in which someone relives aspects of a traumatic event. It can be hard to know how to help during a flashback. But you don't need special training. It could help if you:

  • Try to stay calm
  • Gently tell them that they're having a flashback
  • Avoid making any sudden movements
  • Encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply
  • Encourage them to describe their surroundings
  • Reassure them that they're safe

Our pages on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) explain more about what flashbacks are. There are also tips for coping with flashbacks.

Offer practical support

Someone may need practical support following a traumatic event. Trauma can impact our ability to think clearly and organise. Doing things like cooking or cleaning can help. 

But it's important to make sure that the person you're supporting still has control. And has a say in what happens around them. Try not to take over.

If you're worried about someone, it's understandable to want to help them improve things. Or to feel frustrated if they disagree about what to do. But traumatic experiences usually involve being powerless or having control taken away from you.

If you pressure them or tell them what to do, this might add to their feelings of powerlessness. Instead, try to encourage and support them to make their own choices.

Accepting support from those closest to me has been tough [because] I always had to be the strong one.

Respect their privacy and boundaries

Don't share details of what they've gone through unless you have their permission. For example, they might not want you to tell mutual friends or family members about what has happened to them.

They might also not want to discuss their experience with you at all, even if you're close. Try not to take this personally. Reassure them that you're there if they need you.

This doesn't mean you need to keep everything to yourself and not get support. Our useful contacts for trauma and useful contacts for supporting someone else have some suggestions of where you can get help.

Help them set boundaries

Someone who has experienced certain forms of trauma might have difficulty saying 'no' to things they don't want to do. This might come from a time during the trauma when they needed to please people to say safe. Or they may feel they need to say 'yes' to everything to keep people close to them.

Reassure them that it's ok to say 'no' to things. Give them time to respond and process the request, rather than demanding an answer right away. Talk to them about what things they do and don't like doing. Allow them to help plan events with their needs in mind.

Engage in fun and relaxing activities

Someone recovering from trauma might have a lot of difficult things to manage. When you spend time with them, try to include activities that are enjoyable to do and separate from the trauma.

They might not always want to do this. You'll need to consider their boundaries. But finding ways to engage them in fun and relaxing activities can be very helpful.

My father and my mental health

" "

When my anxiety was really bad, or I was having panic attacks, my dad would always hug me and talk it all through to help me calm down. He always had a way to reassure me that nothing like that is going to ever happen to me again

Help them find support

If they want you to, you could help them find support. For example:

See our pages on helping someone else seek help for more suggestions, including what you can and can't do if someone doesn't want help.

If you believe someone is unsafe

Someone who's in a traumatic environment might not be able to leave it on their own. For example, they might not have the money to leave a home that is unsafe. Or they may be being forced to stay in unsafe relationships.

You might not always be able to help them get somewhere safe. Or they may choose to stay in situations for reasons you don't understand.

Try not to judge the decisions they are making. Reassure them that you're there to provide support.

If you believe that someone is at serious risk of harm, you can call 999. Or you could report it to your local authority's safeguarding team.

Look after your own mental health

It's important to remember that your mental health matters too. You can find lots of information and tips for looking after yourself in our pages on: 

Support options for you

A traumatic event can have a major impact not just on those who lived through it, but also on people around them. If you experience effects of trauma while supporting someone else (sometimes called secondary trauma), it might help to try some of the tips from our page on coping with trauma.

You might also want to talk to your GP about how you're feeling, and ask if they can offer you any treatment or support.

This information was published in December 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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