Someone who has been through a traumatic event may benefit from receiving both personal and professional support. This personal support entails knowing what to say and what to avoid saying in order to avoid negatively impacting the trauma survivor. Here are some things that should never be said to trauma survivors. Many of these statements do comes from a place of trying to make the survivor feel better, but it’s also important to consider the impact & implications of what you say.
- How is that a big deal? That happens to everyone. – Even if something is relatively common, it can still be traumatic. Something can be deeply traumatic for one person, and a mild inconvenience for another: trauma occurs when your nervous system’s ability to cope gets overwhelmed. The extent of this ability to cope varies between individuals, which means that trauma is a very subjective thing.
- You’re being ungrateful. Just focus on the positive. – Being traumatised has nothing to do with negativity, positivity, or gratitude. Especially in the early stages of recovery, a survivor might be unable to access gratitude or optimism due to the impacts of the trauma. While gratitude and optimism can be great tools, shaming people for being impacted by their trauma helps no one. It’s important to feel & process uncomfortable emotions instead of bypassing them with fake positivity. Pretending that things don’t hurt won’t make them hurt less.
- Everything happens for a reason – If this statement gives you comfort and aligns with your worldview, that’s great – but it’s also important to know that claiming that everything happens for a reason can be deeply hurtful to hear as a survivor. This statement implies that there’s reason for why someone had to experience something horrible, and that this horrible events was also somehow positive and necessary. It’s up to the survivor to choose whether or not they want to attach meaning to their trauma.
- Step being so dramatic. It’s time to move on. – This statement is often said in response to a trauma survivor getting triggered, and especially when the traumatic event occurred a long time ago. Trauma recovery does not follow a specific timeline, and it’s not always linear. It’s normal to have triggers, even if you’re working hard for your recovery. When a survivor gets triggered, they’re not being “dramatic” – they’re in a deep state of internal distress. it’s not about “not moving on” – it’s about the very real impacts of trauma.
- Well why didn’t you…..? – This statement often turns into victim-blaming – suggesting that by behaving differently the person wouldn’t have been traumatised, or that the survivor did something that somehow justifies the occurrence of the traumatic event. We can’t always prevent bad things from happening, no matter what we do. Blame the person who did the terrible thing, not the victim/survivor for how they responded. The survivor did the best they could with the information they had at that time, and blaming someone for their trauma is deeply hurtful, insensitive and inaccurate.
- You trauma made you stronger – Post-traumatic growth can happen: we learn, we grow, and we may see things in a different light as we recover. However, this statement both frames the trauma as a positive thing instead of the life-shattering experience it is, and it dismisses the role of the survivor in their own growth. The survivor made themselves stronger despite the trauma. Give them credit for the work they’ve done.
Things to say to a trauma survivor instead:
- That must’ve been horrible.
- Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m always here for you.
- I’m so sorry that happened to you.
- How would you like me to support you?
- Would you like to talk about it? You don’t have to if you don’t want to/
- Your feelings make complete sense”
- It wasn’t your fault.
Feel free to share your own experiences. This is a safe space. What would you add? How would you like people to respond instead?