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Recovering from the Emotional Trauma of a Violent Crime

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Being the victim of a violent crime can have a profound psychological impact on some people. That’s according to multiple studies from several esteemed organisations, including one from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It revealed that the trauma of being the victim of a crime can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a mental and behavioural disorder that can trigger a wide range of symptoms. The most common include fatigue, sleep disorders, fear of recurrence, and deep-seated depression.

PTSD can also give way to social isolation, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as a lack of relationships with others and little to no social support. Sadly, violent crime has psychologically upended the lives of many people in the US, according to studies from the CDC, NIH, and several other organisations.

The reality of crime in the United States

According to a study published by Statista, a trusted online market and consumer data platform, in 2022, an estimated 1.23 million violent crime cases were reported to the FBI. Of those, 21,156 involved murder and nonnegligent manslaughter. There were 33,632 violent crimes reported in the state of Florida that year. These numbers, however, were trumped by the number of property crimes reported in 2022, which was more than 6.51 million offenses. For reference, property crimes are offences involving burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, or arson, and they can be just as traumatic as other crimes for some people.

Types of trauma associated with violent crime

Coping with and overcoming crime victimisation is not easy, but it’s possible. The first step towards doing so, say most mental health professionals, entails understanding the type of trauma the event has introduced into one’s life. That’s because the emotional and psychological trauma that results from being the victim of a crime can come in several forms.

  • Acute trauma. This type of trauma is associated with time-limited events, such as sexual violence, physical assault, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks.
  • Complex trauma. This type of trauma is often associated with continuous or repeated traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse, being kidnapped or imprisoned, racism, and discrimination. The emotional struggle that comes with having to live in a neighbourhood overrun with poverty, violence, or both also falls under the umbrella of complex trauma.
  • Secondary trauma. Sometimes, being a witness to violent crime can be as traumatic as experiencing violent crime firsthand. That said, many people who witness violent crimes struggle with secondary trauma. Examples of secondary trauma include seeing or hearing about the abuse of a family member or friend. Reading or seeing news reports detailing violent crime can also trigger secondary trauma in some people.

Recovering from the emotional trauma brought on by violent crime

Practicing self-care can go a long way toward helping individuals recover and heal from the emotional trauma caused by witnessing or being the victim of a violent crime. Some of the most widely practiced forms of self-care include consuming healthy, nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, to cope with stress and anxiety is also an example of self-care. Allowing time to grieve or reflect is also helpful. Many people experience a plurality of emotions in the aftermath of a violent crime. Suppressing those emotions can impede recovery and healing.

The benefit of seeking support if you’re the victim of a violent crime

Being able to talk through one’s feelings after being involved in a violent crime can make recovering and moving on with one’s life significantly easier. That could mean opening up to friends and family or connecting with strangers who have gone through similar experiences via a professional support group, such as the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC).

Trauma-informed therapy

Trauma-informed therapy is a form of therapy administered by a licensed therapist that is especially beneficial for individuals struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD. And in extreme cases, it is worth considering. This psychological treatment modality is rooted in creating a safe and supportive environment for individuals to express themselves and eventually heal from past experiences, which involves making sure individuals feel comfortable discussing their trauma, teaching them how to better cope with flashbacks and other psychological symptoms, and, most importantly, allowing them to be active participants in their care.

In summary, crime victimisation is horrible, and it can cause indelible psychological trauma. Fortunately, there are ways to cope with and overcome such trauma and eventually put the pieces of one’s life back together.

Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle. 

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