By Jan Hittelman
Being victimized is a traumatic experience that for some remains a challenge for the rest of their lives. It can also be a lifelong struggle for their friends and family. On a recent trip to Europe with my own family I was reminded of this as we were the victims of theft on multiple occasions. While it was very frustrating to have our money, credit cards and passport stolen, we were fortunate that none of us were physically harmed. We were very emotionally impacted and embittered by our experiences. It will certainly take us a while to fully recover from feelings of being violated and a nagging sense of helplessness that we didn’t do more to possibly prevent it. As we experienced, it is very common for victims to blame themselves and in hindsight consider a variety of things that they should have done differently. There is also a shift of looking at people more critically, being less trustful of others and being more suspicious. But our situation wasn’t really that catastrophic; passports, credit cards, and money are replaceable. For those who are the victims of more serious acts of violence and/or abuse the healing process can be far more challenging.
There are several steps one can take to help in the healing process, these include:
• Talk about it with someone you trust. This can be a friend or family member, or coworker. Keeping these feelings buried always results in additional problems like social withdrawal, depression and anxiety.
• Give it some time. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but can certainly help.
• Resist blaming yourself. Bad things happen and it is the fault of the perpetrator, not your own.
• Learn to trust again. While some people do horrible things, most people have good intentions and are trustworthy. Try not to generalize feelings to those who are deserving of your trust.
• Seek professional help when necessary. If problems persist, particularly with recurrent disturbing memories of the incident, consider seeing a counselor with expertise in treating trauma. There are a variety of techniques (e.g. EMDR, Brain Spotting) that are research proven and effective in addressing these issues.
There are also funds available through the justice system to provide victim assistance to help pay for counseling and other needs for crime victims.
As with physical injuries, we need time to heal from these traumatic events. With the right response, we can work towards recovering from these experiences so that they don’t continue to victimize us further.