Ep. 171: How to Support Someone After a Crisis

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I recently attended a fundraiser course on Emotional First Aid, which was given to those who donated to the Maui relief fund, by Melissa Tiers and Simone Seol. And what they covered was so valuable that I want to share it with you here – plus give you info on how to get the full training yourself if you’re into it..


What I cover not only includes tools that can be applied for immediate relief, but also includes what NOT to do, because often – even with good intention – we can cause more harm when we intervene unskillfully.


Melissa, who has experience using these tools after 9/11 in New York as well, says that so many therapists went down to help people process through their shock and trauma. And unfortunately, what the research showed was that when we process this way in the first 24-48 hours, we can create a situation in which people are prone to suffer from PTSD.


So one guideline is that in the first 24 hours, don’t “make” someone debrief or retell the story. This is because it can set in motion a thought loop or plants the memory in a certain way when it’s still so fresh (more on that later).


Another concept we cover is the Ring Theory. This is the idea that the person who directly experiences the disaster is at the center. Outside of them are these concentric “rings.” The next ring would be someone closest to them. Like an intimate partner or a family member. And the next ring out would be a close friend. Then acquaintances. Then onlookers and strangers and so on.


The main mantra with this theory is: Comfort in. Dump out


In other words, offer comfort and support to the person closer to the center than you,and refrain from looking to people closer to the center than us to help us process our own challenges and struggles. If we need to do that, we can vent or cry or scream to those on the outer rings of the circle from us.


So if we’re talking to someone in the center or a more inward ring, we can ask ourselves, am I offering help and support? If not, I need to take that somewhere else… outward.


Now, people process disasters differently. Some people may hide. Or flee and not deal with it. And others might just go go go and they’re energized by the process, doing whatever they can, compartmentalizing to make it through, just to get shit done.


Of course, that can’t be sustained long-term, right? It’s exhausting to be constantly problem solving and fixing. 


So we can meet them where they are and find out how they’re processing and what is important for them at that moment – and keep an eye out to care for those firing on all cylinders to make sure they can recover. 


Let’s revisit the when of helping people process a disaster or crisis. 


When someone is ready to share (and don’t ASK them to share – it’s only if they want to talk about it) we can actually effect huge changes by considering our language.


For example, we can use a technique of asking them to tell it in past tense to help self-soothe and dislodge trauma from the brain. This has a similar effect to telling it like they’re watching a moving, in a movie screen that’s “over there,” allowing them to safely dissociate from the event. This helps to create distance between what happened in the past and that person in the present moment.


We kind of do this more skillful dissociation naturally when we say things like, “then what happened was… there was a fire over there and we ran.” Compared to “we’re running” or “you’re hitting me.” Do you see the difference?


There are so many other tools I discuss in the full Episode, so be sure to listen to get all that goodness, but I do want to touch on one more thing: Havening. Have you heard about this?


It works a bit like EFT and it’s simple to do.


Basically, when trauma happens, the limbic system turns on and the amygdala gets fired up so that it remembers what happened so that it never happens again. In that moment, this wild chemical cocktail of hormones is released, and it acts like a sticky glue on the receptors for the trauma, which makes it harder to move through and let go.


Havening creates different brainwave states and a different chemical cocktail, soothings the system enough that it kind of dissolves the glue and allows the traumatized brain to move on from that overactive and over-vigilant reaction and more easily let go.


One great way to do this is to cross your arms over your chest like you’re giving yourself a hug. Start with your hands on your shoulders in this position, then slide them down the arms, past the elbows, caressing the hands as they pass one another. Then bring your hands to your face and gently caress downwards.


This is a very mammalian caring response – like a mama cat soothing kittens, or a lioness licking her cubs. So we find it soothing too. And it allows the person telling the story to focus on something other than just the story they’re telling.


Now, before I close this episode out, I want to touch on a couple specific things that I believe we can all do to help support Maui during this time of crisis and not be asshole tourists. There are a lot of people who are wondering when and how  it would be responsible and respectful to return to the island:


// Ask questions and do your own research before you go, and see what feels right for you. Be sure to consider the opinions of Native Hawaiians, whose land was illegally taken from them and who now gave many challenges as a result of colonization and extractive tourism.


// If, after this, you dedide to go, DON’t go to Lahaina


// Consider joining a mālama program – mālama means to care for, to give back, and these are vacations where you also give back to the land and the people.


// Please be respectful of the Native Hawaiian culture and customs. Be aware of your water and plastic use and how it impacts the environment and people. Be aware the people around you may still be in mourning. Don’t flaunt consumerism and wealth in the faces of those who often can’t afford to buy land where their own family lived for generations.


// Remember that you are a guest on unceded native land. Be humble, kind, caring. And give back, mālama ‘aina.


Sending love to you, Maui.

In this episode, you will learn:

// Ways we can all help one another heal from disaster or crisis if any kind

// What NOT to do when helping others process their trauma… and why

// When and how to help others process a crisis

// How we can continue to support and donate to Maul – and what can be done if you decide to go back when invited 



// You can donate to the Hawai’i Community Foundation that spreads out the funds to different organizations: https://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/


// Simone Seol and Melissa Tiers free training: This is the link to their Maui Fundraiser, where you can receive a replay of the full training I’m referring to here for free if you give. A$5 donation which goes directly to a non-profit on Maui. It also has video so you can see some of these techniques in action.


// Episode 164: Stopping Anxiety in its Tracks – learn additional techniques not reviewed in this podcast


// Introduction to Havening video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmrvGEJuCxY


// The Worst is Over: What to say when every moment counts (book) 

// Mālama programs (there are many more that what’s covered here!)