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Communication with survivors of an armed conflict

Source: Text: @Margola Sularczyk


Communicating with survivors of armed conflict 

  1. The first thing to keep in mind when communicating with any survivor of war is the concept of shock. Shock is a state of inaction and immunity to external circumstances, and is often noticed in veterans with PTSD, as well as in survivors of armed conflict. This state can last for up to three months, and often is accompanied by feelings of fear, anxiety, disorientation and confusion. Someone in shock can completely forget about basic concepts, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping. Parents experiencing PTSD often exhibit this behavior through their children; forgetting about themselves, they only think about the needs of their child, making sure that it is dressed, goes to bed at the right time, and eats enough. Someone in shock also rarely is able to process complicated information, and may exhibit signs of aggressive, erratic, emotional or unpredictable behavior, even with appropriate support and help.

  2. This state is also somewhat similar to grief. This grief is not only related to loved ones, but also to everything which the person held dear - he has lost his past, present, and future.

  3. One of the most important things to do with someone in shock is to set them up in a routine: tell your guest where the toilet is, how to charge their phone, how to make some coffee or tea, how to turn on the heating, etc.

  4. Keep in mind that complete adaptation, after any kind of traumatic event, usually takes at least three to five years.


Supporting survivors of armed conflict

  1. Take care of their basic needs - warm food and clothes, hygiene, give them both a place and the opportunity to rest.

  2. Try to avoid excessively coming back to the events they just escaped. Due to the traumatic nature of recent events, it is best to leave such conversations to professionally trained psychiatrists and therapists.

  3. The more people there are who are willing to help and communicate with your guests, the better; this gives them a sense of relief, safety, and inclusion in society.

  4. If you find that your guest is often confused, anxious, or panicking, try to bring his attention back on the present moment - remind them that they are in safety, that people are ready to come and help, that there is no more need to feel threatened.

  5. Pay attention to the comfort of your guest.

  6. Be very careful with physical contact - only initiate very light touches.



A child’s reaction to stress may be even more intense than that of an adult. They may completely close themselves off, making it hard for you to even minimally communicate with them. It is absolutely imperative to be very patient and kind in such situations. Do not force the child into anything, and give him or her the time required to process their pain. Try to bring their attention back to the present moment; play with them, entertain them.


If they cry, be sure to be next to them and provide them with the necessary support, reminding them of the present moment. Do not forget to let yourself cry, as well.

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