Building resilience after trauma: Verbal First Aid

I realize lately that my ability to bounce back from trauma and loss is slowing down.

I am discovering that what you say to yourself makes a big difference on how you recover from trauma, loss and setbacks.

I don’t think it would come to anyone’s surprise that I don’t know how to talk to myself.  I have been through quite a lot of significant, traumatic events and losses going all the way back to childhood.  The amount and nature of the trauma and losses isn’t a problem.  What’s more of a problem, at least lately, is trying to not let these losses knock me on my ass.

Apparently little sis is doing just fine because she posted on facebook that she’s in the market for a new car because they’ve outgrown the one she has.

I was thinking about this.  I know all kinds of negative things to say to myself.  And I’ve learned to stop saying negative things.  However, I don’t know what to say to myself after difficult things happen to make anything better.

Sometimes, when I would ask my mother for help throughout the years (as as recently as two years ago), I would get a particularly vexing answer, “Well, Casey, what do you want me to TELL you?”

And in my mind, I’m thinking, “I don’t know, but something that would make me feel better or some sort of option to solve this problem”.

When I consult my husband from time to time he has said the same maddening thing, “Well, Casey, what do you want me to TELL you?”

I’ve consulted friends via email, who said something slightly different.  They tell me, “Well, Casey, you are a smart woman, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

But as I am finding out, that’s not a very helpful answer.

I had a dear friend, now deceased, who had as a mantra “This too shall pass”, and I’m in complete agreement with her.

But I think what really has been bothering me is “what do I DO until it does pass?  what else can I say to myself to make myself feel better.”

When I was growing up in my dysfunctional family I was told (among other nasty things)

“You are book-smart but common sense dumb”


“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground”  (which REALLY bothered me because it seemed very icky and very demeaning.  Of course I would know the different between my ass and a hole in the ground.  Why wouldn’t I?)


“If your head wasn’t attached, you’d lose it, too”

I’m reading the Adult Child of Alcoholics Red Book.   While I already knew my family did their best to erode any sense of value and self worth I had, and that I need to re-parent myself (which I have known for quite some time), I’m still not at the part yet where they tell me how to do that.  Assuming that they do that.

In myself, unless I am doing art, there’s only silence or criticism.   When I make art, nice things come to me.

But when I’m struggling, especially like I had been this week, it’s harder for nice things to come to me.

Apparently my sister is “over” the death of her ex-husband already.  She posted on facebook that she’s “In the market for a new car- we’ve outgrown the Chrysler 300…. And it’s time to move on. Anyone have suggestions? Looking for a SUV with a third row (not huge though) or possibly a mini van.”

She got about 20 responses.  Apparently everyone is ready to move on from the unpleasantness of last week.

I know life goes on.  I get it.  But it has only been a week.  I am still stunned and my sister doesn’t seem to care whatsoever anymore.

I was touched by something a friend of mine shared on my timeline, saying he thinks of me every time he sees it in his news feed.

It was this quote:

“You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe is why you are in so much pain.”

But I can’t take much more of this pain.

It’s not just how much it hurts, but how much Life it is stealing from me.  I can’t stop the trauma and losses.  I can’t stop it from changing me.  But I have to let it stop stealing my Life and my energy.

And I realized that I don’t know how to talk to myself to make things better.

I have this book on my shelf I’d bought a couple of years ago and forgotten about.  It’s called, Verbal First Aid: Help Your Kids Heal from Fear and Pain and Come Out Strong, by Judith Simon Prager, Ph.D. and Judith Acosta, LISW, CHT.

I don’t have time to go into the details of it, but I can give a short summary of it from the back of the book

Words as Medicine
What to say to your children to get them through the bumps, bruises, and crises of childhood.

Falling off a bike, having a bad dream, getting stitches…sometimes a kiss isn’t enough to make it all better. But what you say to your child in those first moments of pain or fear could make all the difference.

Using techniques the authors have taught to doctors, nurses, and first responders, Verbal First Aid(tm) explains how words can be used to promote healing from burns, bruises, nightmares, asthma attacks, and more. It provides scripts and tips on how to short-circuit traumatic memories, sometimes just by speaking a sentence or two.

This revolutionary book gives parents the responses they need to immediately stabilize their children’s emotions. And these methods will build a foundation of confidence and inner strength that will help kids heal at the deepest level, and weather whatever hardships and difficulties they encounter throughout life.

An American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ text book states that, “During periods of stress, words that seem immaterial or are uttered in jest might become fixed in the patient’s mind and cause untold harm.”

On the other hand, this suggestibility can work in favor of those who arrive on the scene to help. In such instances, this altered state might be called “the healing zone,” where suggestions for recovery may be given to the body.

I didn’t even know that this was so valuable that it’s been written about at EMSWorld in a series of articles called:

Verbal First Aid: What You Say Can Be As Important As What You Do – part I:

Here’s one great quote from the first part of the article:

People in fear, panic, pain, shock, or crisis are in an “altered state of consciousness.” It’s as if they are in a trance. You’ve probably seen it in the faraway look in accident victims’ eyes, in their rapid breathing, in their garbled speech or even in their total stillness.

When people are in such a state, their autonomic nervous system (ANS) is open to suggestion. The ANS runs vital functions from breathing to bleeding, from pulse and heart rate to inflammatory response and the perception of pain. Therefore, every word said to a victim in that state becomes like a hypnotic suggestion, for good and often unintentionally, for ill.

And a great quote from the third part of the article

Verbal First Aid: What You Say Can Be As Important as What You Do part 3:

When the right words are said to a child at times of crisis, it can turn a scare into a comfort, a hurt into a healing, and a potential trauma into a memory of rescue and courage.

Build Trust So Suggestions Are Accepted

When you show you understand, have compassion, and can hear and not dismiss the victim’s fears, at least at first, you gain rapport. You’re believable. And when you’re believable, your suggestions will be accepted.

So, with that, I think it’s time to study ways about how to talk to myself/my Inner Child  that will increase my resiliency to these traumas and losses and how to talk to my daughters that will help increase my daughters resiliency to theirs.

If I’m going to continue to be there for people, witnessing things in the ways I have been, then I think it’s time I really focus on this skill.

I really do believe what we say to ourselves and our children, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to dealing with stressful life events and I’m thinking that it’s important for me to learn how.


About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in A Lamp In the Darkness, Acute Response to Stress, anxiety, Authentic Personality, Compassion, Complex-PTSD, Death, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Self-Regulation, Grief and Loss, Healing, PTSD, Trauma, trauma recovery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Building resilience after trauma: Verbal First Aid

  1. Thanks for sharing that link, words are so important

    • Casey says:

      You are welcome. I’d like to do a series of posts on that idea.

      How we respond to trauma – what we tell others or ourselves about what happens to us is much more important that what happens to us. It’s a skill I would like to learn and it doesn’t seem to be all that hard, once you have some fundamental ideas.

      Our bodies are designed to help us heal. We don’t always know that and our minds respond to both direct and indirect suggestions.

      I think it’s a valuable book to have.

      • I could not agree more! I have seen the power of words throughout my life, and the impact a few words can have, good or bad. I struggle with this myself, I am terrible at calming my children when they get hurt, my mind races and I have no idea what to say and usually make it worse before I figure it out. I would love to get better at that.

        I also agree that our bodies are more equipped to heal ourselves than we could ever imagine. Way too complicated for a doctor to ever completely understand, in my opinion. And the importance of what we say to ourselves I have already demonstrated through my own progress the past few years.

        Very interesting topic!

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