Traumatic events—no matter what they are, like a severe burn, a near-death experience, or living in a pandemic—can significantly affect mental and physical health. It is nearly impossible to predict what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reactions will look like after a person has a traumatic experience. What’s important to remember is that healing looks different for everyone, and that’s okay.

Survivors who experience PTSD will have varying symptoms, but one of the most common ones is isolation after trauma.

Phases of Trauma Recovery

Trauma recovery has three phases. Recovery phases don’t aim to help survivors forget their trauma, but they help people live their lives without being held back from memories of trauma.

Phase 1: Safety and Stability. This phase is dedicated to helping survivors feel safe by themselves and in their relationships. It is in this phase where survivors most often withdraw from friends and family as they work through the initial shock of trauma.

Phase 2: Remembering and Grieving. After a survivor finds safety and stability, they will begin identifying triggers from their trauma and may start medication or seek counseling to help their recovery. At this time, they begin talking more openly about their trauma as they accept what has happened.

This phase involves survivors exploring their feelings, grieving, and coping with losses they may have experienced. Patience and consistency are key during this phase while they discuss their trauma in a safe environment.

Phase 3: Restoring Relationships. At this stage, survivors adjust to life post-trauma where their trauma is no longer an overwhelming barrier in their lives. Survivors will be ready to take the next steps in their recovery journey to continue healing and come to terms with their trauma. For many, this means rebuilding the important relationships in a survivor’s life.

Why People Withdraw (Phase 1)

So why do survivors withdraw and isolate themselves after experiencing trauma during phase 1? That could be for a number of reasons. After experiencing a traumatic event, survivors are faced with the challenge of creating a new “norm.” During the first initial phase of recovery, speaking out about trauma is difficult. It can be emotionally overwhelming and very triggering for survivors.

Many people feel as though talking about their trauma will make them a burden to other people. That’s why, while being flooded with painful memories and learning how to cope, many survivors will self-isolate and withdraw from friends and family members.

How to Overcome Isolation

Isolation after trauma is normal for survivors to experience while they work through recovery. Some of the best ways to overcome isolation include meditating, being patient with oneself, being open to vulnerability, and slowly talking about the trauma to friends, family, or in counseling.

The most important thing for survivors to know is that there is no “right” or fast way to recover from trauma. It takes time. The road to the third phase of recovery is not a straight path. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with time and patience, it will come.

If you are a survivor, know that you are not alone, and there are many resources available to help you recover and combat isolation after experiencing trauma. The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is here to help your journey whenever you’re ready.