Witnessing or knowing someone who has experienced a traumatic or distressing event while diving can be challenging. This page is designed to provide some guidance on how you, as a friend and fellow diver, can help them navigate through this tough time. Remember, everyone's experience and response to trauma is unique, so while these suggestions can be a good starting point, they may need to be tailored to your buddy's particular needs.
Letting someone know that they're not alone can be incredibly comforting. Saying "I'm here" communicates your presence and willingness to support them. Your stable presence reassures your buddy that they have someone they can rely on, a safe space where they can express their feelings without judgment. Simply letting someone know that you are here with them allows their body to begin moving from survival into recovery. Said genuinely, it is powerful in aiding healing.
"You are okay now!"
After a traumatic experience, the mind might continue to respond as if the threat is still present. Gentle reminders of their current safety can help to gradually counteract this reaction. Reminding your buddy of their current safety can be an important part of their recovery process. The phrase "You are okay now" can provide a sense of comfort and help to ground them in the present. It emphasizes the distinction between the distressing event and the safety of the current moment. Remember, the intention behind saying "You are okay now" is not to dismiss their feelings or experiences, but to reassure and provide comfort.
"Tell Me More"
Encouraging them to share their story can be therapeutic and allows them to process their experience. When you say, "Tell me more," you're showing genuine interest and patience. It's important not to pressure them into sharing; they should only share what they're comfortable with, at their own pace. Use this one with caution! Consider your own current capacity, are you able to hear what they say? Do you have the time available? If not, be kind and set a boundary, perhaps suggesting when would be a good time, or link to someone who is better able to listen. Also be aware that when someone talks about what happened, this can trigger reliving of the event, which risks making things worse. If you notice anything like this, focus instead on safety in the present. Consider discussing professional support for the person to process the event in a safe way.
"What Do You Need?"
This question demonstrates that you're there to help in whatever way they might need. It could be providing practical help, like dealing with diving gear, or emotional support. Remember, it's okay if they don't know the answer to this question right away.
"How Can I Help?"
Similar to "What do you need?", "How can I help?" indicates your readiness to provide assistance. The phrasing is important because it empowers the individual to express their needs rather than making assumptions about what they might need. Often, after a distressing event, people cam feel powerless and out of control. A question like this can help re-orientate them to actions that are within their power.
"You could have died" - While you may be intending to help the person by pointing out how lucky they were, this sort of phrase can get lodged in a person's mind and create issues later.
"At least you're alive." - While it might be tempting to emphasize the positive, such comments can seem dismissive of the very real emotional and psychological distress the person is feeling.
"It could have been worse." - Similar to the previous point, this phrase can downplay the severity of their experience and might make them feel like their emotions are not valid.
"Why didn't you…" - Starting a sentence this way can feel accusatory. It can imply they were at fault or could have prevented the incident, which can contribute to feelings of guilt or shame.
"I know exactly how you feel." - Even if you have experienced a similar situation, remember that everyone's experience and reaction to trauma is unique. Instead of assuming, try asking them about their feelings.
"It happened for a reason." - This can come across as dismissive and it's not generally helpful. Not everything happens for a discernible or meaningful reason, and such comments can minimize the person's pain and distress.
"You should…" - Prescriptive statements can add to the person's stress, making them feel like they're not handling their trauma correctly. Instead, try asking how you can help or what they need.l
"Just get over it." - This phrase can be hurtful as it trivializes the individual's experience and feelings. Recovery from trauma takes time and is a personal journey.
"You'll feel better soon." - Healing takes time, and everyone's timeline is different. This kind of phrase might put unnecessary pressure on them to recover quickly.
At times, your buddy may not want to talk, and that's okay. Respect their silence. Listening is just as important, if not more so, than saying the right thing. Be present and attentive. Show empathy and understanding, even in silence.
Your Buddy's Boundaries
Everyone processes traumatic events differently, and it's crucial to respect your buddy's personal boundaries. They may need space or choose to deal with their feelings independently. When they're ready to talk or seek support, you can be there for them. Remember, the pace of recovery can greatly vary from person to person, so let them lead the way in their healing process.
As a supportive friend, it's important to recognize and respect your own boundaries as well. You should avoid taking on too much emotional burden and strive to maintain a balance in your own life. Recognize the signs of emotional fatigue and stress in yourself, such as feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried about your buddy. Don't hesitate to step back and take care of your own emotional well-being when needed. Consider seeking support for yourself. It won't help your buddy to be worrying about you too!
The Friend and Professional Divide
While being a friend and listening ear is invaluable, there's a significant difference between providing friendly support and professional therapy. As a friend, you provide comfort, companionship, and understanding. A professional, like a psychologist or a counselor, has the training to help people navigate through their feelings and process traumatic experiences in a more structured way.
It might be time to suggest seeking professional help if your buddy shows signs of severe or lasting distress, such as persistent anxiety, flashbacks, or changes in personality. Another indication is if the person's ability to function in daily life is significantly impacted. Remember, suggesting professional help is not a sign of your failure, but rather a recognition of the seriousness of trauma and the importance of professional care when needed.