Ask Dr. Debra
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Dear Dr. Debra,
A few days ago, my husband, children, and I were
driving home when we were run off the road by what appeared to be
two drunks. Turns out they were high on PCP. As they got out of
their car, I called 911. My husband (foolishly) got out of the car,
locking us in. I was scared to death. The men attacked my husband,
hitting and choking him. I couldnít stand to watch, so I locked the
kids in, grabbed one of the men by the balls and started punching
and kicking him. One took off, but the other started knocking me
upside the head. My husband went crazy when he saw me attacked,
literally ripping the shirt off the guy. They rolled across the
hood of the car, and his head bounced on the concrete. The guy
wouldnít stop choking him, so I tried to pry the manís fingers off
my husbandís throat. I also hit him in the head. Then the cops
showed up, knocked the man to the ground, and used a Taser on him.
I, of course, ran to comfort my hysterical children. My husband
ended up in the hospital, but heís going to be okay. We are all
traumatized. Is there anything you can suggest to help?
A traumatized mother
What a horrible experience! I admire your bravery in
going to your husbandís rescue. Thank goodness neither one of you
were seriously injured. However, the emotional damage can linger
for a long time.
As both a trauma specialist and a second-degree
blackbelt, I will address your question from both perspectives.
I recommend that your family receive counseling right
away from someone who specializes in trauma. Trauma counseling is
best done within 24-72 hours after the incident, but can occur any
time. The damaging effects of a traumatic incident are stronger
when you feel your life and/or loved ones are threatened, and that
was certainly your situation.
After your traumatic experience, you and your family
members may have different emotional or physical symptoms. These
may happen immediately after the event, or days, weeks, or even
months later. Be aware that these reactions are a normal response
to a stressful incident far beyond what anyone should have to cope
with in life.
The following are some common symptoms following a
traumatic incident: fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, sadness,
numbness, feelings of being overwhelmed, and irritability
(especially for men). Mentally, you might find yourself having
difficulty concentrating or making decisions. You might make a lot
of mistakes or feel forgetful. You may have trouble sleeping or
find youíre sleeping too much. You may have flashbacks or
nightmares about the event.
Try to stay involved in your regular life, but make
sure you have time to rest and relax. Keeping to your normal
routine helps you (and your family) feel your life has some sense of
order. Reach out to your extended family and friends. Talk about
what happened. Make sure you all eat well and get enough rest.
Avoid excess alcohol consumption. Vigorous cardio activity is
important. Take a brisk walk, run, swim, or bike ride. These
activities discharge the energy in the muscles activated by the
Pay close attention to any behavioral changes in your
children, and ask their teachers to monitor them. Allow the
children to talk about the event as much as they want. Encourage
them to draw pictures about what they saw and experienced.
Sign the whole family up for martial arts lessons.
This will give everyone a feeling of empowerment and a physical way
for everyone to release the trauma in their bodies. You also will
have more practical ways to fight in the future, if you ever need
them. Martial arts classes are a wonderful way to get in shape,
learn important defensive skills, and build self-esteem.
When you check out a studio, make sure they have a
family atmosphere. In my dojo, we teach the kids life skills such
as respect, cooperation, doing well in school, citizenship, and
leadership. For all students, adults or children, the goal is to be
the best person you can, not to be able to beat up someone, although
thatís taught, too. But only as a last resort.
Be patient and give each other a lot of love.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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