February 13, 2005

About Shokooh

Broken into over the holidays

Dear Shokooh,

My house was broken into over the holidays. I came home and found the place torn apart -- they took everything of value and left the house in shambles. Every cabinet and drawer was opened, my clothes were in piles on the ground, windows were broken. I haven't felt the same since that night -- I'm having a lot of sleep problems; I have nightmares; I wake up at every little sound. Even during the day, I feel scared and jumpy. How can I put this behind me and move on?


Dear MG,

What a frightening experience you have been through. I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to come home and witness the aftermath of a robbery. Thieves do more than steal belongings -- they invade privacy, cross the boundary into another's personal space, and disrupt a sense of peace and comfort in one's own home.

The break-in occurred over the holidays, which means that you have been feeling this way for many weeks. I can imagine that you are exhausted and I hear that you want to feel better and move beyond this experience.

Let's start with the tactical things you can do -- these are simple, rational steps that are intended to help you re-establish comfort in your home and may help make you feel safer. Your local law enforcement agency can send an officer or representative to visit your home and give you tips on how to protect your home. I often recommend this to crime survivors as a way to take control in the immediate aftermath of their experience. An officer can walk the property with you and point out how you can improve the safety of your home. Oftentimes, survivors have found that adding lighting, getting a security system, improving their window locks, and changing door locks are relatively easy, low-cost ways of feeling better about the safety of their homes.

Have you talked about this experience with anyone? A therapist can provide a safe and nurturing environment for you to express your feelings and talk through things. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help by offering specific techniques for changing your thoughts and moving forward from this experience. Often, after a traumatic event, people experience things such as sleep interference, feeling jumpy or "on edge," have nightmares about the event, experiencing a feeling of "hyper vigilence" across situations, and having repetitive, ruminative thoughts on the details of the event.

Often, it may feel as if the event is happening over and over again, complete with heightened emotions and physical symptoms such as a pounding heart or shortness of breath. It can be an exhausting and difficult experience and I hope that you will consider speaking with a therapist about it. A licensed psychologist or psychiatrist will have the tools needed to help you with your concerns and can serve as a guide to assist you in moving past this event. Your physician can be an excellent source of information and care for sleeping issues, as well as a resource for referrals to other practitioners. Have you considered bringing this up with him/her?

How are you taking care of yourself? Many have found that activities such as yoga, regular exercise, listening to soothing music, keeping a journal, massage, meditation, and relaxation have helped in the aftermath of a trauma. What types of things help to relax you? You have gone through a lot and I hope that you will consider improved self-care.

A technique that often helps inspire us to reach out for help is to imagine what advice we would give to a friend in a similar situation. If a close friend you cared about approached you with a similar experience, what types of ideas would you share? How would you encourage your friend? How would you offer your support? What resources would you ask your friend to consider? These types of questions may help you gather your thoughts and ascertain how to best help yourself.

What you have gone through is certainly traumatic. I am confident that you can, with time, effort, and assistance, you can recover and feel safe again.



This column is for general educational purposes only-- it is not a substitute for medical attention, counseling, or therapy of any kind. The Couch and the staff of this website urge you to seek immediate medical attention if you are in an urgent, harmful, or potentially dangerous situation. Psychiatric emergencies or urgent matters should be handled by calling 9-1-1 or going to the nearest emergency room.   Please note that your emails will not be answered on an individual basis and your confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. Top

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