Some Things to Do if You or Your Child is Experiencing Helplessness
Helplessness is a state of mind; not a reality. There are always people available to help us. Not everyone, however, is helpful because they may lack experience with our particular situation to know what can help. We need to see as many people as necessary until we find that one person or persons who really connects with us and can provide that help.
Reaching out for help, especially following a trauma, is not easy. A trauma is so terrifying that your instincts want to avoid any memory of it. Avoidance, however, usually allows that experience to take control of our lives, our behavior and our emotional state. When this happens the helplessness turns to hopelessness. The hopelessness leads to depression which we all know is quite serious and difficult to overcome. Our problem is now compounded. Even if depression is relieved through medication and counseling it still leaves us with the original stressor - the trauma and the hopelessness it induces.
Sometimes while asking for help we suffer additional trauma from others who minimize our reactions or discount our reactions with statements like, it could have been a lot worse, or get over it (see secondary wounding). Trauma specialists do, however, know what a trauma can do to otherwise normal, stable people. Helplessness is a very normal reaction but one we don’t want you to experience more than what is normal. Let’s talk about ways to help.
How to Relieve Helplessness
- Acknowledge that helplessness is a normal reaction to trauma simply because we are faced with something we never anticipated and could never be fully prepared to manage.
- Acknowledge that helplessness is often caused by a lack of information and knowledge about what trauma is, and what is normal following a trauma.
- Acknowledge that it may take several tries to find the answers that work best for your specific situation.
- Identify who or what causes you to feel the most helpless. List these.
- Identify an action plan beginning with the easiest things you can do to feel not as helpless. Initiate these actions immediately.
- Identify ways to be good to yourself, especially the little ways such as giving yourself ten or fifteen minutes in the morning by yourself to quietly sip coffee and read the paper undisturbed, or take a short walk, or prepare your favorite breakfast. Initiate these activities at least twice a week.
- Establish a routine and follow it consistently. This affords you a sense of safety and well being until you get your bearings back.
- Do not be forced into making any major decisions you do not want to make. When feeling helpless your view of life is distorted, your decisions may be distorted also. If it is impossible to avoid major decisions, talk with your most trusted friends, ask them for feedback on your situation before you make a final decision.
- Read all you can about survivors; those who have been exposed to severe trauma and have overcome it. We recommend reading Brave Bart to young children who have been traumatized.