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Coping With Trauma

Starting Point provides services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The agency’s outreach model is one of intention and impact. When there is a specific need, the agency endorses a focused intention, such as providing guidance for managing trauma, as they did Monday, Dec 5, at the Whitney Center in Jackson after a tragic loss. In return, the Outreach team relies on the community to assess the impact and provide feedback. This feedback is used to determine further assistance or if a different focus is necessary.

In Jackson, advocates met with groups and individuals to process and chart a course of action together for continued care. Other recent tragedies contributed to the community’s trauma, causing accumulated stress, which advocates were sensitive to just as they are with individual victims who have compounded trauma.

After the initial meeting with the Jackson community, it was determined that a multifaceted approach with continued services is required.

Starting Point has been asked to return to the Whitney Center for a second time for further support. Some were interested in forming ongoing support groups and holding a book discussion specific to concerns. In addition, Starting Point will offer volunteer training in January to provide individuals with an outlet for change.

Starting Point will continue to respond for as long as needed.

In recognizing that domestic violence affects us all, we thought it might be helpful to share the following points mentioned at the December 5 meeting with our readers. We hope you will share your thoughts and concerns with us at community@startingpointnh.org so that we can continue providing ongoing support.

  • The circumstances of one’s death do not define a life. As we move through the trauma, we must remember to release the victim from those circumstances and hold on to all they were in life.
  • After a domestic violence homicide, there are many questions about “why” and “how”. These questions are not helpful to the family and friends of the victim and are often unanswerable. Still, they persist, even ruminate for many of us. It may be useful to remind ourselves and our children that there are many mysteries in the world, some are painful, and some beautiful. All of them require a sense of wonder.
  • People who experience domestic violence are often courageous, independent, and capable, and often do not share their situation or seek help.
  • Only one person is to blame for the harm done. When there is violence in a small community where most everyone either knows or knows of the victim and their family, it is overwhelming and becomes connected to the larger “evil’ in the world. It is helpful to remember the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, who encouraged parents to remind children that one very bad person was responsible for the harm but so many more good people came to help and offer their love.
  • Trauma is not a catchphrase; it is a real condition that happens when a horrific event alters brain chemistry. Secondary trauma is just as real. Trauma must be managed so that it does not interfere with everyday life.
  • Grief is not something one passes through. Grief, like love, is meaningful and ever-changing. Everyone needs a safety plan for times when grief feels overwhelming, a list of whom to call, a day off, a reminder of the joys in life, and a reminder that our loved ones remain present with us always.

Although specific to helping children, the following tips for talking to youngsters after a traumatic event can help us all. Some of the below information reiterates those above with points more specific to their needs.

  • Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they see in the news and hear from friends or overhear from adults. Check-in regularly to ask if they are troubled by anything they have overheard.
  • Talk to them about how dangerous rumors can be for their own well-being and for the people whom the rumors are about. Remind them that to the best of your ability, you will provide the true details of what has happened.
  • Do not be afraid to admit that you cannot answer all of their questions.
  • Answer questions at an appropriate developmental level. Set a time limit for explanation and check in to see if your child is ready to move on from the discussion. Don’t over-process. Don’t skip over feelings and concerns.
  • Before answering questions, take the time to listen fully to the question. Pay close attention to the way in which the child is asking. Some children are tentative about asking a direct question and may skirt around their real concern. Sometimes, it is best to answer a question with a clarifying question, probing further to find out what they are truly seeking.
  • Provide ongoing opportunities for children to talk. They probably will have more questions as time goes on.
  • Typically, one person is to blame for the harm, but try not to focus on blame. Remind your children and, more importantly, show them that there are more good people than bad. Help them identify good things, such as heroic actions and communities who unite and share support. Highlight the small acts of everyday kindness.
  • Be careful not to take on a sense of culpability. The energy spent wishing we could have foreseen the danger can translate into helplessness. In situations of domestic violence, most victims are private about what they are experiencing, and it is a shock to even those very close to them to learn about the abuse the victim was dealing with.
  • In situations of homicide, the process can take months to years in court. Share with your child, at a developmentally appropriate level, the procedures, and limitations of the legal system.
  • Help establish safety plans. Both emotional and physical safety plans can instill a sense of control over situations that feel out of our control.
  • The snowball effect, a sense that everything is wrong/bad/scary, is important to pay attention to. It may be a sign of feeling overwhelmed and may lead to situational depression.
  • Social media and television can be triggering without warning. This may be a good time to replace some television and social media habits with new activities. Social media has become a large part of our lives. It may be impossible to eliminate, but monitoring, redirecting, or downsizing our use may be helpful.
  • Help children understand that there are no bad emotions and that a wide range of reactions is normal. Encourage them to express their feelings to adults who can help them understand the sometimes persistent and troubling thoughts.
  • When tragedy occurs near a holiday such as Christmas, it might be best to tone down the festivities. False cheer is painful for all and confusing for children. Discuss with them that there will be other Christmases to go all out on and that you can all look forward to that day. Decide together what traditions are most important and focus on those. Allow your presence to be your present.

Domestic violence does not make sense, we are all affected by the trauma it causes. The best we can do is share our stories, concerns, and hopes. One way to reduce the incidence of domestic violence is to know one another and form supportive systems.

Anyone experiencing the trauma caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking can call and talk with an advocate 24/7 at 1-800-336-3795, including family and friends of a victim and community members who are struggling.

Starting Point’s services are free and confidential.

Raetha Stoddard is the Outreach and Prevention Specialist for Starting Point. She has been with the agency for more than 40 years, first as a volunteer’s daughter, then as a volunteer herself, and for the past 7 years as a staff member.





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