What can I do to help myself?
Ensuring physical, emotional and psychological safety is the first and most important step towards recovery and getting help.
It is vital to consider the safety of your current living environment. This may include the physical security of where you are staying, the neighbourhood, the ability to access support if needed and the relationships that you have with those around you.
If you do not currently feel safe, consider what steps you may be able to take towards ensuring your own safety. Crisis support hotlines, local support groups and community organisations can often provide helpful information about available support options including short-term accommodation or financial assistance.
Safety is not only physical. Feeling emotionally safe is also important. Visualizing yourself in a place where you feel physically and emotionally safe (e.g., a positive memory or a specific location) can be a helpful strategy, as well as engaging in positive self-affirmations (e.g., saying to yourself: "I can get through this") or using ‘grounding’ actions (e.g., snapping a rubber band on your wrist, splashing your face with cold water or noticing and labelling five things around you).
Your personal experiences are your own. It is your choice whether to keep them secret or to share them with people you trust such as your family members/friends/loved ones/professionals. For many survivors, however, disclosing their personal experience can be an important step in recovery.
What is Disclosure?
Disclosure means telling your personal experiences to somebody you trust and feel safe with. Telling a close friend, a family member, or a person from a support institution, care centre or telephone counseling helpline can be an important first step in getting help. By disclosing, you can discuss with the person what next steps you may want to take.
Disclosure is the first step towards getting protection and help. It may help you feel less alone, and provide some relief. First time disclosure is often difficult and may leave you feeling fear, shame, despair, anger or horror. However hard, it is often the first step on the path to getting help and recovery.
How to Disclose?
In order for disclosure to be helpful, it is important to consider what you will tell, and to whom. Writing down what you want to say can be helpful. It is also helpful to try to keep calm when you speak, for example, by taking some deep breaths.
Effect of your Disclosure on Other People
Disclosing your experience can be emotionally overwhelming for the listener, especially for a close friend or a family member. The person close to you may cry or get very angry at the perpetrator. Sometimes this is so difficult for this person that he or she simply cannot believe that this is possible. While difficult, it is important not to give up; disclosure is often the first step to getting help. If you are afraid of unpleasant reactions from your friends or family members, use a telephone helpline or first talk to a professional supporter.
Disclosing to an Official Person
Disclosing your experience to an official person (teacher, director, police officer, social worker, psychologist) may legally require them to take action against the offender. To do so, they may have to verify your story, so they may ask a lot of specific questions that may seem intrusive or be upsetting. You might experience feelings of fear, shame or anger, or you may even re-experience the event(s) (feel like they are happening again). Remember that in order to prosecute the offender and protect you, these persons have to follow standard procedures. The investigating officials are trained to work with people who survived similar experiences as you have.
What can you expect from disclosure?
You may expect different things depending on how and when you disclose your experience. A close friend or a family member can give you protection, emotional support, the opportunity to discuss actions to take and assist you in contacting the officials. Professionals can provide counseling, protection, advice or legal action.
Coping Day by Day
While every day may feel like a struggle, there are many things that you can do to help cope with daily activities.
Sleep is very important for your wellbeing. While many trauma survivors have difficulty sleeping, there are things you can try to reduce this. Practice moderate physical exercise a few hours before sleeping time. Try to have a light meal about two hours before going to bed, and avoid heavy meals and drinking liquids that contain caffeine. If you can, avoid discussing upsetting things shortly before sleeping. Where possible, try to go to sleep at more or less the same time, in the same place and ensure a quiet environment.
Regular and balanced eating is good for your wellbeing. Foods that are low in fats and sugars, and are easy to digest, are good for your health. Monitor your weight. Try to maintain regular meal times during the day, and avoid having a meal late at night or shortly before going to sleep. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume because alcohol can impair your judgment and reactions, and negatively affect your emotions and relationships with other people.
Healthy Daily Structure
Maintain regular daily activities such as getting up, going to work, meeting people, resting and doing leisure activities. Practice moderate physical exercise on a regular basis and eat regular meals. Make a list of things that give you pleasure and do at least one each day.
Caring about yourself is good for your body and the way you feel. Talk to your health care provider about any health concerns, avoid using drugs, and limit your consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Identify the people you trust and consider talking to them about your worries and dilemmas. Seek their advice and try to maintain regular contact with these people. Be open minded about meeting new and interesting people.
Think about the activities you enjoy doing or the places where you feel relaxed and safe. Make a list of your skills, people that care about you, your achievements and other assets that are your ‘resources’.
Falling Back into Bad Feelings
The negative feelings you experienced right after the event(s) may return. This is a normal part of the process of coping. When this happens you might choose to distract yourself or do something which helps you relax, e.g. talking with a friend, moderate physical exercise, or listening to your favorite music.
Consider writing a diary of pleasant situations and experiences with people to help you become aware of the different resources you have access to. Writing about feelings can help you express and organize them.
What can I do to get help from others?
It may be hard to talk to other people about the things that have happened. Try to find people you can trust, such as your life partner, parents, peers or friends. You do not need to tell them everything, but you may find it helpful to explain that you are experiencing some difficulties. Doing so may help you to feel less alone.
It may also be helpful to call a telephone counselling service or to contact a mental health professional for support or treatment. Consider asking your doctor to refer you to a local mental health practitioner who specializes in working with trauma, abuse or PTSD. If you are experiencing significant distress, please contact a local crisis counseling hotline or emergency response number.
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ISTSS Global Collaboration Project for Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma