Being a good support system for trauma survivors can be difficult. You may not know what to do or say when a loved one is going through a difficult and traumatic experience.
But sometimes, the things they say unintentionally do more harm than good.
Here are five things you should never say to a trauma survivor.
“Just let it go.”
This is probably the worst thing you could say to someone struggling with trauma. It implies that the survivor is choosing to hold onto the pain and that they could just let it go if they really wanted to. What the survivor needs is support and understanding, not judgment.
“It was a long time ago. Why can’t you just get over it?”
Again, this shows a lack of understanding of how trauma works. Trauma doesn’t just disappear because time has passed. It’s normal for survivors to struggle with memories and triggers long after the event has ended.
“I know how you feel.”
No, you don’t. Unless you have experienced something similar, you can’t possibly know how the survivor feels. What you can do is listen without judgment and offer your support.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This phrase is often used in an attempt to be inspirational, but it can actually have the opposite effect. It invalidates the person’s feelings and experiences and could make them feel like they need to be stronger than they are.
“It’s all in your head.”
This statement invalidates the person’s experience and trivializes their pain. It’s important to remember that just because something isn’t physical doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Trauma can cause changes in the brain that result in long-term mental and emotional effects.
Trauma survivors often feel misunderstood and alone. Their loved ones want to help but may not know how they can help them heal. You may not realize it, but the best thing you can do is to offer your support and listen without judgment.
If you’re not sure what to say, ask them what they need from you. Avoid saying things that imply that they are choosing to hold onto the pain or that they should be able to get over it. Remember, everyone heals in their own way and time.