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Help a Friend


It can be incredibly difficult to know how to respond to learning that a friend or partner has experienced a traumatic event. Please use the following resources to learn how to be a supportive friend or partner.

Common Reactions to Trauma

Survivors of traumatic events may exhibit a range of emotional, physical, and mental reactions - or may have no reaction at all. It is imperative to understand that each person will respond and react to the trauma in a different way. As a friend or partner, you are a good judge of what emotions and behaviors are common for your friend or partner. If your friend or partner begins to act in an atypical manner for no apparent reason, do not be afraid to ask directly what is wrong. You may be the first person to respond to your friend or partner.

Regardless of how long ago the traumatic event occurred, your friend or partner may experience some or all of the following:

• Fear • Anger • Sadness • Rage • Guilt • Embarrassment • Depression • Helplessness • Isolation • Tension • Anxiety • Numbness • Confusion •

• Denial • Hyper-vigilance • Inability to concentrate • Intrusive memories of the trauma • Change in eating and sleeping habits • 

• Increased alcohol consumption or use of substances • Avoidance of loved ones or activities that were enjoyable prior to the trauma •

• Lack of trust • Need to regain control • Nightmares or flashbacks of the incident • Insomnia • Increase or decrease in sexual activity • 

• Low self-esteem • Extreme paranoia • Suicidal thoughts • The need to escape or forget • Eating disorders • Nausea • Diarrhea •

• Muscle-tension • Trouble breathing • Gynecological problems • Andrological Problems • Headaches • Panic attacks • 

Helpful Strategies

There is no prescribed method of healing following a traumatic event because each person's experience will vary. Healing takes time and begins with compassionate support from friends and loved ones. Some strategies that you may find useful in helping your friend or partner recover from the trauma they have expereinced are:

  • Believe your friend or partner - Studies have shown that the reaction of the first person to whom an individual discloses their story, whether positive or negative, will affect the way in which healing occurs. Believing your friend without question or hesitation is the most important thing you can do for them.
  • Listen non-judgmentally - It is a natural response to analyze and question when someone tells us a story. However, active listening skills teach us to talk less and listen more. Never question an individual's actions, details of the trauma, or why your friend or partner feels the way they do.
  • Assure your friend or partner that they are not alone - Survivors of traumatic events often feel isolated, scared, and powerless. You can be the most helpful just by being there. Your presence can reassure them and allow them to work out their feelings in a safe environment.
  • Empower your friend or partner - Because traumatic events often take away an individual’s power, it is important not to compound this experience by putting pressure on your friend or partner to do things that he or she is not yet ready to do. Remember, it is always up to the individual to make choices that will affect the healing process. Providing your friend or partner with resources and options will help them regain the control that was lost.
  • Offer to accompany them wherever they need to go - Health Center, Police Station, Office of Dean of Students, the Women's Center, or the Title IX Office.
  • Offer to help them find resources - Direct them to the Title IX Website where a list of resources are available.

Helpful Phrases

Below are helpful phrases that you can use to empower and encourage your friend or partner to epxress their preferences:

  • What do you want to do?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Tell me more about _______.
  • What have you tried so far?
  • What does that mean to you?
  • What do you think about that?
  • What is it that bothers you about that?
  • Do you want to _______?
  • What would you like?
  • What would you like to see happen?

Actions and Phrases to Avoid

The following actions or phrases should be avoided when helping an individual deal with a traumatic event:

  • No more violence! We often want to respond to violence with aggressive action. This is not helpful for your friend or partner who has been traumatized - it could make things worse.
  • Avoid phrases like: "You shouldn't...", "You ought to...", or "You're wrong.
  • Interpreting, analyzing, and diagnosing: "You're doing that because..."
  • Warning, ordering, or threatening: "If you don't do _____, you'll regret it."
  • Criticizing or blaming: "This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't..."
  • Interrogating or cross-examining: "When did it happen?" "Where did it happen?" "Why did you do that?"
  • Advising or offering-solutions: "I think you should..."
  • Giving too positive evaluations: "I'm sure you'll be fine." "It will all work out."
  • Distracting or diverting: "It isn't that bad." "Let's talk about something more pleasant.

Taking Care of Yourself While Helping a Friend

Having a friend or partner experience a traumatic event can be a very upsetting experience. It is important that you take care of yourself as you support your friend or partner. Supportive services are available to students through CAPS and the Women's Center. Supportive services are available to employees through FEAP and the University Ombuds.

My Friend Has Been Accused of Misconduct

If a friend, partner, or someone you know is accused of a form of misconduct, it is likely that you have questions and may be struggling to understand what has happened. You may experience emotions such as helplessness, anger, confusion, or betrayal. If your friend or partner has told you that they have been accused of misconduct, they may be turning to you for help and support. Here are a few ways you can help your friend or partner through this experience:

  • Direct them to resources - There are individuals on Grounds who are able to talk with a person who has been accused of misconduct. These professionals can help that person understand what may happen next. Helping your friend or partner access these resources is a step you can take to provide support in what may be a confusing and emotional time for both of you.
  • Recommend that they seek counseling to deal with the emotions they may be experiencing - It may also be helpful for you to seek counseling to help you process any emotions and trauma you may be experiencing as a result of this situation. Counseling services are available to students through CAPS. Counseling services are available to employees through FEAP.
  • Get educated regarding the different forms of misconduct The information on this website can answer some of the questions you may have.
  • Be available to listen in a non-judgmental manner - They may not feel comfortable talking about the matter, but let your friend or partner know you will listen.
  • Do not use judgment as to whether or not misconduct has occurred - Determining if a violation took place is the responsibility of the legal system or campus administrators.
  • Do not take action - Violence or retaliation is not the answer to helping your friend or partner. Remember, harassing or threatening behaviors are not helpful and could undermine and proceedings taking place.
  • Encourage your friend or partner to express their preferences  by using phrases like:
    • ​What do you want to do?
    • How do you feel about that?
    • Tell me more about _______.
    • What have you tried so far?
    • What does that mean to you?
    • What do you think about that?
    • What is it that bothers you about that?
    • Do you want to _______?
    • What would you like?
    • What would you like to see happen?

Content used with permission from Indiana State University