Trauma strikes when you least expect it, and knowing how to help a friend may be difficult. Here are some tips to help ease the situation and give support.
A Friend In Need Help Is On The Way
By Judy Strong
Imagine picking up the phone and hearing your best friend’s voice, anxious and fearful, spilling out a story of trauma and crisis. There’s been an accident. Your friend has lost a loved one and she/he can’t think straight. Her recounting of the event rushes at you in a jumble of words and sobs. You can barely make sense of it.
If this has ever happened to you, you’re suddenly gripped with panic. Your friend’s confused and frightened state of mind alarm you as you struggle to grasp what has happened. How are you to help someone who is panicky and out of control?
There are some basic steps you can take as you try to understand what you’re hearing. Three words will guide you in the process of giving help to this dear friend.
Calm, Clear, Confidence
• Calm yourself. Taking charge of the situation requires a cool head. Your friend needs you to lead. Get a grip on your emotions, take a deep breath, and focus. Put yourself in charge of the situation and slow down. Though this may be a close friend, try to see the situation objectively. You need to be a model of quiet stability, and a pillar of strength. Your friend needs you – she/he called you – and trusts you with this crisis. Handle it with care and calmness.
• Calm your friend. Use soothing, repetitive phrases, such as “Slow down. Take a breath. Help is on the way.” While you’re talking, grab pencil and paper so you can jot down relevant information. You may need to calm and soothe until the words and sobs become more even and understandable. Shock affects the whole person – emotionally, physically, cognitively – so effective assurance takes a little time. Expect a bumpy road, and listen for signs of relief, as you both get your emotions under control. A steadier voice, more logical sentences, and softer sighs are good indicators.
• Clear directions are necessary as you gently, but firmly lead your friend to a state of rational thinking. Clear understanding of the facts is necessary to help and support your friend .Give feedback as the story is retold, acknowledging what is clear and what is not. Someone in a crisis talks about the incident, not their feelings. They may repeat the circumstances several times, but change the sequence of events or the facts of what took place. The immediate need of a traumatized person is someone to listen, because what has happened is so unbelievable. In fact, they won’t begin to believe it until they’ve said it many times. Listen carefully, recording the specifics, so you have resources for following up. Clear notes will be what you rely on throughout this process. The basic pieces of information are the “who, what, where, when, and how.” Whatever your friend mentions is important and you can explore it later. This may be time-consuming, but it gives the person in crisis a chance to really calm down and focus on the facts.
• Confidence comes from you, the friend, who gives assurance that help is truly on the way. When you are satisfied that you understand the situation, tell your stricken friend what you are going to do and how you will accomplish it. You may want to write it down. A plan imparts confidence to others. You may have to rethink some things, but initially it imparts a sense of security and a feeling of connectedness. People in crisis are gripped with an intense feeling of being alone, and when that feeling is relieved, they begin to think more clearly. Rational decisions can be made, emotional upheaval lessens, and fear is alleviated. When the world around us is chaotic, there’s a sense of more impending doom that feeds on itself. Confidence is built on connections to our support system, and trust in the wisdom of both friends and professionals who give the help we need.
When someone we care about calls with devastating news, our heart goes out to them. A little knowledge will assure that you can truly say, “Help is on the way.”