Understanding Your Reactions
In the weeks and months after a murder, you may experience some reactions to this traumatic event.
Considering what has happened to you, these reactions are normal, healthy and understandable.
DISBELIEF AND SHOCK
When a friend or relative is murdered, you can experience a number of reactions. Everyone is different of course, and these reactions vary considerably depending on how close a friend you were, how often you saw them and numerous other factors.
Most people however do experience some similar reactions. Firstly, there is strong sense of disbelief. "This can’t be true. There must be some sort of mistake". The truth is so bad that it seems almost unbelievable.
A sense of shock sometimes follows. You think that you should feel something but nothing seems to be happening. It’s almost like your feelings have shut down. This shock can come and go and the length of time varies from person to person.
SORROW AND GRIEF
After you recover from the initial shock, a deep sense of sadness often sets in. It engulfs you like a fog and it is hard to see through the pain. At this time you may get very teary and cry often. It is very important to remember that tears are very healing, they actually contain chemicals which when released and allowed to flow actually reduce the stress and pain. It is no wonder that people often say they feel better after a good cry.
At this time you may also move between feeling numb, getting very upset and extremely angry.
The only way known to release the pain is to talk about what has happened and your experience of the loss and the subsequent pain. There is very little benefit in maintaining a “stiff upper lip”. A wise person once said “Don’t you think they are worth every tear you shed?”
ANGER AND VENGEANCE
Anger is a very understandable reaction when your friend or relative has been brutally murdered.
A deep longing for justice can become your total focus. You may have a deep sense of anger towards the people who have committed such an awful act.
It is very important to release this anger appropriately.
Don’t bottle the anger inside.
This can cause long term health problems and jeopardise relationships. When the anger is suppressed it can resurface in another way at another time. It could emerge during a conversation with a partner or friend. This can be very damaging to a relationship.
Find someone to talk with about your anger.
Regular vigorous exercise may help. This addresses the build up of adrenalin. Do this at least three times a week. This will reduce the tension levels and will help you relax.
Fatigue – feeling exhausted or generally tired and unwell.
Sleep problems such as – insomnia, disturbed sleep or nightmares.
Underactivity or lethargy – “can’t be bothered”.
Hyperactivity or feeling unable to stop and relax.
Health problems such as frequent colds, headaches, general aches and pains, digestive problems.
Loss of appetite, or conversely comfort eating. Exaggerated startle reactions, such as sensitivity to sudden noises or movements.
THOUGHT PATTERN REACTIONS
Difficulty with concentration.
Flashbacks to the scene of the murder.
Memory disturbance, particularly of short-term memory.
Difficulty making decisions.
Following trauma, we are more vulnerable to accidents and illness as our concentration and immune system are impaired.
It is important to take extra care when driving or doing other hazardous activities Try to have adequate sleep and exercise, physical activity is a good stress reliever.
Try to eat well, but if you can’t face eating much ensure you drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids and try taking multi-vitamin/mineral supplements.
Avoid excessive use of stimulants such as cigarettes, coffee and sugar, as these will only add to emotional arousal.
Conversely, try to avoid depressants such as alcohol or sleeping tablets, as these are harmful to the body and of course, do not help the grieving process. However, seek medical advice when taking medication.
The most important thing to remember is that what you are feeling now is absolutely normal – you are not going crazy.
The process can seem long and lonely.
Many people find someone whom they can confide in, for example, a relative or friend.
Doctors or the local community health centre may be able to help in this way, or refer bereaved people to a specialist grief counsellor.
Some people find the experience of another person who has been through a similar situation invaluable, and so contact a support group.
The HVSG can put you in contact with another family member who can support you.
- Inability to attach importance to anything other than the murder.
- Fear, of something specific, or more generally.
- Guilt, self-blame for some aspect of the death, thoughts of “if only”.
- Emotional numbing, inability to feel clear-cut emotions.
- Over-sensitivity, becoming upset or angry more easily than usual.
- Anger, with the offender, police, another family member, self.
- Irritability, ‘snappiness’ or short-tempered. Frustration, feeling overwhelmed by practicalities.
- Thoughts of revenge.
- Anxiety, worries about the future.
- Depression, extreme sadness, the feeling of loss.
- Feelings of helplessness, the feeling of loss of control over your life.
Recognise that you have been through a highly stressful experience and give yourself permission to feel sad, angry or whatever you feel.
Denying these feelings may delay the recovery process. Remember – you have lost a loved one in terrible circumstances, you have every right to feel terrible.
Allow others to help out in practical or supportive ways. Most people will want to help but may not know what to do or say.
Well-meaning people may offer unhelpful or insensitive advice, try to understand they want to help but may need some pointing in the right direction.
Some people block out thoughts of the murder or avoid reminders of it. Others need to talk about it, perhaps many times over. Neither reaction is “wrong”. Often denial is a response that protects you in the short term when you are unable to deal with too many things at once.
Others in our group have found that, when you are ready to think and talk about things, it can help you come to terms with the experience gradually and begin to heal.
Talking to someone not directly involved, such as a counsellor, can be helpful.
SUPPORT FROM HVSG
There are many things you can do to help alleviate some of the emotional pain associated with this traumatic experience and it is important to talk to a counsellor or other supportive person about this.
There are some general principles that may help you through this difficult time.