What can we do to help?

The spate of kidnappings for ransom across the country is a cause for concern. While the outcome can be unpredictable and can range from the loss of life to the safe return of the abducted victim; It is imperative that we gain some understanding of the psychological trauma involved for victims and their friends or families. This is an important starting point for all of us so that we are better equipped to help and support once they are safely released. We will then address issues related to bereavement as a result of kidnapping or crime.

What is psychological trauma?

Trauma derives from the Greek word for “wound”. Psychological trauma occurs when we are exposed to exceptionally stressful events that shake our sense of security and make you feel helpless in a dangerous or life-threatening situation. Therefore, such situations result in a psychological wound or injury as a result of traumatic experiences that involve a threat to our life or safety. It is often accompanied by difficulty coping or functioning normally after a particularly traumatic event or experience. Everyone reacts differently, but the majority of those who experience a potentially traumatic event will recover well — with the support of family and friends — and have no long-term problems.

What are the psychological effects of kidnapping?

The diverse range of emotional responses following kidnapping tends to vary from person to person. But they can be roughly divided into two categories:

ONE). Emotional Responses: These include feelings of confusion and disbelief with questions such as “why did this happen to me?”. Shock, denial, anger, fear, guilt – “maybe this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t traveled that day or if I had left the day before?” Others experience shame, sadness, hopelessness, social withdrawal from society, feel betrayed and have trouble trusting people again.

b). Physical Symptoms: May include difficulty falling asleep or recurring nightmares, fatigue and tiredness, muscle tension, nervousness and jumping easily at loud or sudden noises, racing heart and numbness.

All of these symptoms often last for a few days and then subside, but some of these symptoms can last for several months and then gradually fade over time. Cues and reminders of such traumatic experiences can trigger memories that can come back and distress you. But here, too, the intensity decreases over time.

Given the foregoing, how exactly should families, society and government deal with the emotional and psychological responses to the nightmare of kidnapping?


Reduce Publicity and Improve Privacy: When someone who has been kidnapped eventually returns home safely, our community instinct is for all well-wishers, family and friends to flock to the place and rejoice with the family. Some would say let’s throw a party and celebrate this win and homecoming. But these steps are not advisable. And should at least be restricted if it cannot be eliminated; and certainly not in this climate of Covid-19.

Such individuals need time alone and with loved ones to process the normal grief response and gradually come to terms with what they have just gone through. They need to gradually readjust to normal life and be grounded again. They can hardly do that when the house is completely occupied by visitors and well-wishers.

Ensure Comprehensive Medical Examination: Imprisonment comes with health challenges. From malnutrition to possible infections, a comprehensive physical exam is crucial.

Psychological therapies: The range of adverse and often traumatic experiences that victims have endured are likely to leave emotional scars that can run deep. The least of these emotional scars is a reluctance to ever trust anyone again. They may also be going through emotional turmoil – anxiety, depression; as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as recurring nightmares, being easily startled and anxious, avoiding any memory of where and what they went through, memory flashbacks, etc

Family members can also be wracked with guilt and a sense of failure for being helpless and unable to protect their loved ones from such negative experiences. Children, siblings, other family members and friends, colleagues, neighbors – all of these categories can also have concerns and be unsure how to react or behave. Therefore, the entire family and loved ones may need psychological help to deal with all their insecurities and worries.

Social Rehabilitation: A change of environment with loved ones can be helpful so that they can connect and benefit from the support and unconditional love of those close to them.

Government: The safety of life and property of all citizens is a fundamental responsibility of government that cannot be evaded. Citizens cannot afford to live in daily fear and anxiety over this threat.

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