The Power of Acceptance
A bad thing happens. Fill in the blank on the specifics - maybe something happened to you, or maybe you were there for someone who has experienced a harsh event. What do we do to lessen the likelihood of the impact? Acceptance of what is - rather than encouraging how we think a reaction or response should be - is a powerful place to start. Acceptance of, affirming, and validating experiences are components of healing.
The first step in helping someone who is deeply disturbed by something is to actually assess yourself - how calm are you? You can assess this by taking a deep breath in and while you exhale slowly, notice your sensations. Your calm composure will be grounding and feel like safe space for someone impacted by trauma.
The second step is to name sensations - before trying to name emotions. Trauma has the potential to numb, to disconnect you from your body. This is particularly true if associated sensations or emotions feel overwhelming and we stuff them down; it turns out that you can't push down bad emotions without pushing down good ones too. Validating a person's physical responses normalizes them, whether it's crying or shaking or feeling a raw ache in the chest.
Trust in the body's innate desire to heal.
Sometimes a person can be so upset that they are restless - if this is the case using big muscles is a great way to regulate, to reconnect and bring the thinking brain back online. Go for a walk! Or move in whatever way feels right.
Giving permission to rest is also important. Our society values work and productivity, and emotional trauma is invisible, unlike a broken bone, so trauma-impacted people may just keep pushing through, since others can't see their wound. All brokenness heals better with rest.
It is only once a person is calmer that the time to talk about emotions arrives. That might take a day or more. Checking in during this time is helpful, because loneliness often accompanies trauma. And when someone is ready, it is important to affirm whatever emotions arise, without judgment and with compassion. I like to listen and try to "catch" what the other person is feeling, then reflect it back to them. You don't need to speak the magic words to fix them - there are no magic words! And it is the experience of emotions that contributes to the healing. It might be helpful to remember a Rainer Maria Rilke quote here: let yourself feel everything: beauty and terror. Just keep going, no feeling lasts forever.
With time, this process can lessen the impact of a traumatic experience. Suffering is difficult enough without out being diminished or negated by a well-meaning person! Creating safe space for a person to experience what they need to allows the resilient human spirit to flourish.
May it be well with your soul.