How to Regain Your Trust in Others After Being Held Hostage
Criminal opportunists are attracted by wealth and will go to extreme lengths to take it, including kidnapping. If you or a loved one have been held for ransom, rebuilding your life will take time, but it is possible.
There are few events as traumatic as a kidnapping. Even if you survive the ordeal, the experience leaves deep scars that will take time to heal for both the victim and their loved ones. While kidnappings of ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individuals are rare, and the media frenzy around them has reduced, they are still a threat.
At Paracelsus Recovery, we have experience helping survivors to heal after the complex trauma of a kidnap. Here, our experts discuss how to rediscover your stolen sense of safety.
What is the Psychological Impact of Being Kidnapped?
During a kidnapping your brain releases large amounts of fight-or-flight hormone to help you focus on surviving the intense psychological and physical pain you are suffering. This puts huge stress on your body.
When a hostage is freed, you experience a surge of elation and joyful disbelief. But once that initial relief fades, readjusting to normal life can be equally as difficult as abruptly leaving it.
In the weeks and months following a traumatic experience like this, it is normal to experience a range of complicated emotions as you process what you went through. These emotions may include intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, panic attacks, denial, impaired memory, feeling confused, guilty, angry, helpless, on edge, withdrawn and so on.
While these symptoms are very difficult to manage, with adequate support and treatment, they will pass. However, what often remains shaken is your inner sense of safety.
What is an Inner Sense of Safety?
To live and function in society, we need a basic sense of safety. This ingrained faith in others allows us to, for example, sit calmly in a café. But if you go through a traumatic event, you lose it. As a result, your brain is perpetually on the lookout for danger. When a traumatised person sits in that same café, their head will jolt when the door opens and their heart will pound. How can they be sure whoever comes in won’t try to hurt them? Just as their kidnapper did.
When we experience something traumatic, our brains will replay the emotions and feelings associated with the event to make sure we are never put in such a vulnerable position again. This is known as hyper vigilance. However, despite our mind’s best efforts, we can never be wholly sure that we are safe, because our sense of certainty has been disrupted. That means to live our lives to the fullest, we must take leaps of faith in others every day.
Any experience which invades your sense of personal safety can be considered traumatic and could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, life-threatening and repetitive events (such as spending days or months held hostage) will be even more intense, often leading to complex PTSD.
What is Complex-PTSD?
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder in which symptoms of traumatic stress remain unchanged or worsen over time. To be diagnosed with PTSD, signs of traumatic stress must recur for more than one month. Complex-PTSD is a severe form of PTSD which requires more intensive and extensive treatment.
Symptoms of C-PTSD include:
- Flashbacks or nightmares
- Engaging in risky behaviour
- Irrational feelings of shame or guilt (feeling as though the kidnapping was somehow your fault)
- Feeling tense, easily startled or highly irritable
- Periods of losing concentration and dissociating from those around you
- Withdrawing from family members (usually those the kidnappers reached out to for the ransom and were therefore involved)
- Increasingly negative thoughts about yourself
If you recognise any of these symptoms and have experienced a traumatic event such as a kidnapping, seek help as soon as possible. Also bear in mind that while being held hostage is at the extreme end of trauma, receiving threatening letters, being stalked and having obsessive fans can challenge your sense of safety and trigger stress responses that sow the seeds for C-PTSD.
How Can I Rebuild a Sense of Safety?
It is possible to gradually recover your sense of safety, here are three strategies to try:
1. Stick to a Routine
To cope with the shock and terror of a kidnapping, focus on creating small rituals each day that your brain can rely on. This will help you feel more in control. This doesn’t mean you need to plan out your whole day, just include one or two guaranteed actions, such as writing down how you are feeling or going for a walk. Or even simpler tasks like brushing your teeth.
2. Listen to Your Body
In the early months of your recovery, focus on your body. Try to give it whatever it needs, which will most likely be rest. If you are struggling to figure out what your body is saying, meditation or yoga can help strengthen the mind-body connection.
3. Reach out for Support (Ideally, from Strangers)
Reach out and embrace all the connections you can. Ideally, try to make friends with someone new to help combat your sense of distrust in others.
Finally, above all else, seek professional help as soon as possible. Complex PTSD can severely impact your relationships, state of mind, and day-to-day life. It also often causes mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. It is not uncommon to seek treatment for these issues, only to realise they were rooted in C-PTSD.
At Paracelsus Recovery, our team of psychotherapists and specialists have extensive experience helping hostage survivors heal from C-PTSD. We can help you deal with the traumatic experience, recalibrate your brain’s fight or flight response and, if necessary, help you find healthy ways of dealing with the pain if you have been self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
We work exclusively with UHNW individuals whose mental health challenges often go unnoticed due to the misconception that financial security ensures mental stability. We have seen first-hand how experiences of kidnapping impact your sense of safety and wellbeing. In itself, the fear of abduction or stalking among UHNW individuals can trigger issues such as anxiety or depression. If you are struggling with these concerns, you are not alone.
We only treat one client at a time and provide the strictest confidentiality. Our international team of highly qualified professionals will be available to give you around-the-clock support, seven days a week. We recognise that the pandemic has been a difficult time for many UHNW people, and we are here to help.