Self-Care if You've Been Harmed

You deserve unconditional support and a space to be truly seen and heard free from judgment. Sometimes the people in our lives can’t or won’t show up for us in the ways we deserve or need, and that can be extremely difficult and disheartening. Whether you have the support you need in your life right now or not, we’re so glad you are here! You are worthy and you deserve to ask questions and explore what’s out there.

Keeping in mind that access to resources vary and that we all have control over some things and not others, here are some initial thoughts:

  • Remind yourself again and again (and again) that what happened isn’t your fault.
  • Explore positive affirmations and other ways to strengthen a loving inner voice.
  • Get to know yourself, listen to your instincts, and notice the things that are triggering so that you can be your own best advocate.
  • Acknowledge that healing is not a linear process. There may be days and time periods along the way that feel especially hard, or you worry you are “going backwards.” Be gentle to yourself during those times and remember that these emotions aren’t permanent. Self-compassion is key!
  • Build a support system or rely on one you already have. Check in with yourself to see if they leave you feeling better during or after an interaction. It’s okay to set boundaries with other people or situations that don’t contribute positively to your life.

Please read on, take care, and take action at your pace. If you want to process or talk through anything, let us know!

You don’t have to share details of your experience(s). Not everyone wants to or needs to recount their story of what happened or what they’ve been through. Depending on the person, timing, and setting, repeating things in detail might be re-traumatizing or feel like re-living the experience. Any level of disclosure should be freely offered if and when you feel the time is right.

But for some, it can be helpful to process an experience or to talk about the ways you are feeling! If you decide to talk about how you’re feeling or what happened (or some parts of it), know that it’s common for people to turn to a trusted friend, partner, family member, or other person they know first. Consider people who have shown you that they listen well and have empathy for others. People should accept all parts of you and value the uniqueness of who you are. Your multifaceted identity and the circumstances of the harm could influence how you respond and what’s important to you after violence.

You might consider connecting with a trained therapist, advocate, or crisis counselor. There are 24/7 support lines available to call if you need to talk with someone compassionate day or night. Feeling overwhelmed, “out of control,” or worried that you’re unable to keep yourself safe are indications that your emotional or psychological needs are urgent and need attending.

Also, if you are thinking about suicide, know that it’s not uncommon and it’s not shameful! No matter how you are feeling or where your thoughts have travelled, talking with someone who won’t judge you and can offer resources if needed is courageous. You are worthy of calling/texting and trained counselors are available and glad to talk with you anytime (Call the local support line at 785-841-2345. Or call 988 or text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US. )

See our page on local Resources or set up a meeting with us to learn more about options in our area.

Advocacy is free, confidential, and focused on nonjudgmental listening, answering questions, and helping connect you with resources as needed. Sometimes people talk with trained advocates if they have questions about what systems and options are available in their area after harm, or they want support that’s typically more flexible than therapy might be. Advocates can go with you to medical or personal appointments, interviews/reporting, filing paperwork, or any meetings where you’d like a supportive presence.

CARE Services staff at KU take an advocacy-based approach and we want to connect with you. It’s okay if you don’t know what to ask or where to start, as we offer a nonjudgmental space to explore all of this at your pace. If you prefer off-campus support, that’s okay too! Our community partners at The Care Center and The Willow are available 24/7 by phone.

Working with a therapist who has specialized training may help especially if you are experiencing post-traumatic symptoms that are negatively affecting your life in an ongoing way, such as your relationships or emotional landscape. A therapist can help you sort through things and offer helpful context. There are evidence-based trauma therapies out there that help people process/reprocess experiences or memories, enhance feelings of safety, and offer important insight someone might be overlooking on their own.

Some approaches focus on skill-building and emotional regulation to help someone cope and build a fulfilling life after trauma. Some may incorporate meditative exercises, mindfulness, or medication to help manage the body’s nervous system and alleviate related symptoms (e.g., anxiety, sleep disruptions, depression, etc.). No matter what, this is a personal decision that you can best make for yourself.

Reclaiming or repairing one’s relationship with their body and their space can be an important project of healing. Some people seek medical care, especially if there are injuries you’re concerned about, you want to collect forensic evidence, or you want to test for STIs or pregnancy.

Practices like trauma-sensitive bodywork, dance, exercise, and yoga are some ways people have incorporated movement or physical care into their life after trauma. Your body deserves compassion as well as your heart and mind. Eating enough (and in a balanced way), staying hydrated, laughing with a friend, and taking meds as prescribed are all examples of showing kindness to your body. Additionally, re-connecting with or beginning a spiritual practice can be another way to attend to certain needs, put your values in focus, and find purpose and/or community.

It's important to pay attention to and respond to your emotional needs. You deserve a safe, non-judgmental space to process and explore how you feel.

In addition to options for seeking support through an empathetic person in your life or a professional, you might be interested in other avenues for emotional release and expression, including creating or appreciating art and music, spending quality time in nature, and access the healing emotional regulation presence of animals.

Some people choose to make a change in their appearance or style, or engage in body modification practices. That might look like a new piercing, tattoo, or hair color/style.

Or sometimes a shift in your environment is called for – which might be accomplished by moving, rearranging furniture, or doing projects – if what’s in your space isn’t working for you anymore. What are some things you can control? Remember, it’s not one-size-fits all and you might try many things.

Social service, activism, and working towards systemic change are also ways to contribute to larger anti-violence movements. If someone is feeling grounded and ready, they might find meaning by offering support and insight to others going through their own traumatic situations.

Some might volunteer for a local organization, join a support group, create a new resource, or connect with others online. Other people find meaning by advocating for changes to laws and policies that harm survivors, particularly those who are more marginalized by or discriminated against in society and systems.

If you’re interested, explore what community means to you and find out which movements already exist that share your values. This could help channel your energy into a common cause wherever you are. Know that you aren’t alone and other people have travelled a similar path before you.

We hope these feel like a place to start! Combining what works for you has the potential to shift your inner and outer energy with time. It might help you more actively guide the direction and circumstances of your life in the present. But it’s not an exhaustive list and finding ways to serve your individual needs depends a lot on context. What’s ultimately useful could depend on a variety of factors and finding a good match to whatever the need is. Centering yourself and honoring what you need can especially powerful after a violent, unwanted experience or harmful circumstance where you didn’t have control over what happened.

Be patient with yourself and the process, as it may take some time, effort, and flexibility to figure out what works best along the way. You may be overwhelmed at times, but hopefully at other points you could experience moments of joy and connection.

If something listed here doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You put yourself first, you took some risks, and you can keep trying with something new -- and there’s a lot to be proud of in that! You don’t have to navigate things alone and there are people out there to listen and support you.

  • RAINN – Self Care After Trauma

  • The JED Foundation - How to Cope With Trauma & other resources about mental health

  • Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

  • It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn