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August 17, 2017
by Hilda Huj

Surviving a Crime - Coping 101

August 17, 2017 09:15 by Hilda Huj  [About the Author]

Crime does not choose who its next victim is. Anyone can be a victim of crime. Therefore, it is essential for all of us to know how to recognize the symptoms of trauma associated with crime and learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. Failure to do the latter may result in serious maladjustment, which can have a detrimental effect on our road to recovery from victimization.


Victim's Experience

As a victim of a crime, we can suffer from various short-term and long-term physical, financial, and psychological injuries. The physical injuries may be as apparent as cuts, bruises, or broken arms and legs. However, it is not uncommon to be fatigued, unable to sleep, or have increased or decreased appetite. The financial injuries happen when our money or jewelry is taken when our property is damaged when our medical insurances do not cover all expenses, and when we must pay funeral costs. The primary psychological injuries are considered to be mental harm, suffering, damage, impairment, or dysfunction caused to us as a direct result of a crime. Typically, a psychological injury may involve Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a concussion, chronic pain, or a disorder that involves mood or emotions (such as depression, anxiety, fear, or phobia, and adjustment disorder). These disorders may manifest separately or in combination.

In addition to the latter "primary" injuries, when we do not receive the appropriate support and intervention in the aftermath of the crime, we suffer "secondary" injuries. We may be hurt by a lack of understanding from friends, family, and the professionals we come in contact with - especially if some of them are putting the blame for the crime on us by suggesting that we should have been able to prevent or avoid being a victim.

First Response

Frequent responses to victimization include but are not limited to:

Shock and Numbness
The initial stage of crisis reaction includes shock and numbness. Faced with a situation beyond our control, we can experience shock and become disoriented for a while. In many cases, physical and psychological paralyzes occur whereby we are unable to make rational decisions. Therefore, we may lose control, feels vulnerable, lonely, and confused.

Denial, Disbelief, and Anger
When faced with a crime, we often reply to it with denial and disbelief. Some of us will reply the traumatic event by dreaming, having nightmares or even fantasizes about killing or causing bodily harm to the offender. We can even be angry at ourselves, as well as at our loved ones. During this period, we usually must contend with a variety of stressful emotions, such as fear, despair, self-pity, and even guilt and shame for our anger and hostility.

Development of Maladaptive Symptoms
Not everyone experiences the same type of symptoms after being a victim of a crime. However, it is beneficial to recognize the maladaptive symptoms as soon as they appear and deal with them appropriately. Therefore, the following is the list of most common reactions victims of crime have, after the initial crisis/ first response phase is over.

Physical Symptoms
-Physical tense muscles (aching shoulders, back, etc)
-Erratic breathing
-Sweaty palms
-Cold fingers
-Dry mouth
-Dizzy spells
-Chest palpitations
-High pitched voice
-Knot in stomach
-Frequency of urination
-Stiff jaw
-Restless (pacing)
-Shaky hand

Emotional Symptoms
-Irritability or anger outbursts
-States of anxiety
-Irrational fear or panic attacks
-Feeling of hopelessness
-Feeling of hostility, resentment or animosity
-Feeling of guilt – Increased moodiness
-Increased cynicism – crying or weeping
-Undue aggression – fear of criticism
-Feeling of depression
-Feeling of insecurity

Behavioral Symptoms
-Increased smoking or drinking alcohol
-Increased or decreased eating
-Increased or decreased sleeping
-Nail biting
-Hair pulling
-Social withdrawal
-Neglecting looks or hygiene
-Reckless driving
-Knee jiggling, finger tapping, grimacing or other mannerisms
-Non-stop talking
-Obsessive compulsive behaviors (checking locks, needless shopping or washing)
-Workaholism or absenteeism

Recovery of Deterioration

In order to recover from the trauma, we need to recognize that we are experiencing certain maladaptive symptoms and we need support in order to find adaptive ways of coping. However, we are all different and we will need a different amount of support. Some of us will recover in a few days or weeks. For some of us, the recovery process will be extremely difficult and it will take a few months or years - or an entire lifetime - to recover.

Sometimes, therapeutic supports seem to be essential for recovery. Therapists are trained professionals who have extensive knowledge and experience with people who experienced crime, and they are able to give us a better insight into our own experience. Therapy can provide us with a safe environment and coping mechanisms needed in order to adaptively process the trauma and heal from it.

If we have difficulties recovering and we do not receive appropriate support, we may be prone to developing a long-term reaction in form of a disorder such as acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or a mood disorder. However, more about these long-term reactions will be written in my next article. Please follow up next month, when I will talk about long-term psychological injuries related to the trauma of being a victim of a crime, as well as different therapeutic approaches that have been proven effective when it comes to healing from traumatic experiences.

In regard to this month’s article, it is important to point out that on our road to recovery we have to gain awareness of our cognitions, emotions, and behaviors, as well as different maladaptive symptoms we might be experiencing. Once we have that awareness, it is essential to find appropriate support as soon as possible. The longer we wait; the chances that maladaptive symptoms will develop into a long-term maladaptive reaction are higher. In addition, it seems that often the length of therapy is proportional to the duration of maladaptive symptoms. Therefore, it is recommended that we find appropriate support as soon as we notice problems and realize that we will not be able to deal with them in an adaptive way without any support.

National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from

About the Author

Hilda Huj Hilda Huj, B.A., M.A.

Hilda is a registered clinical counselling and forensic psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. She specializes in working with youth, adults and families that have been impacted by trauma. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in Psychology in Osijek, Croatia, and subsequently equated her academic credentials to Canadian standards. Currently, she volunteers with the Edmonton Police Services as a Victim Support Worker and also helps to promote Psychology by volunteering for the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta.

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