There are numerous emotional reactions that a person who suffers a traumatic event may experience. The emotional reactions can last from hours to weeks and certain emotions can be repeated and appear very confusing.
- Shock Stage:
This stage usually happens first and can last a few hours or longer. During this time, you may feel immobile, and things may not seem real or may feel as if they are happening to someone else. You may have difficulty remembering how to do things or concentrating on a minor job. You may deny that the trauma occurred and “force” yourself to act normal.
- Impact Stage:
This follows the shock stage and can last for a few days or even weeks. The first sign is usually a sense of anxiety or nervousness which you cannot identify, but may cause you to feel uptight, jittery or scared. Anger can also occur—anger toward the person who caused the trauma, the people who were there and didn’t help, the police, or friends who don’t understand. Intense anger or rage and thoughts of revenge can arise. Frequently, victims of trauma begin to second-guess their behavior during the event. They may think, “What if I had done this or that?” “What ifs” tend to confuse us about what really happened and can lead to feelings of guilt, helplessness, anger and sadness. Self-doubts can lead to depression, which involves feelings of worthlessness or guilt. In addition, sudden crying spells, feeling helpless and sleeping problems may frequently occur. Some people feel like they are on a roller coaster and go from being very angry to very sad in a matter of minutes.
- Resolution Stage:
This stage may last from weeks to months. An important step is recognizing that you probably did the right thing during the trauma and the responsibility for the trauma is not yours. You can learn that it is normal human behavior to be frightened, angry and sad when experiencing trauma, and that it’s okay to feel that way. Talking about your feelings and stopping self-blaming thoughts are also very helpful in accepting and growing from the unfortunate event.
You will always remember the trauma. Sometimes people or things that remind you of the trauma can trigger a flood of the feelings described above. Talk about these feelings with friends, family or people who were there during the trauma. Sharing your thoughts will ease your feelings of helplessness and confusion.
Stress after a trauma is common. If you have a medical condition and it appears to be getting worse, contact your family physician or local health clinic for assistance.
The following information sheets (in Adobe) provide helpful suggestions for victims.