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The war in Ukraine continues. Many people lost their home, their belongings, and jobs. Fleeing Russian aggression, they left their beloved homeland, loved ones, friends. They lose irretrievably everything they have achieved in life, their lives change dramatically. They end up in a foreign country, where they speak another language, where they don't know anyone.
The editor of Poradnik Zdrowie talks with Aleksandra Potykanowicz, a psychologist, about how to find yourself in such a critical situation.
Once again, in such a short time, we found ourselves in a completely different reality. Is it even possible to reconcile with such a huge loss?
It is an extremely difficult and stressful situation. Regardless of whether there is a loss or the need to run away and leave your belongings, psychologically it is a very severe crisis. The hostilities in Ukraine are environmental crisis and, like any crisis, they trigger a number of strong emotional reactions.
From a psychological point of view - what is the task of these emotional responses?
Their goal is that a person can handle it all, so that he can survive. The stages of going through a crisis are compared to the stages of going through mourning, which is the period after the loss. It is very important to understand yourself - if I am experiencing a crisis, but also the other person - if I am a support person.
What happens when we lose someone or something?
A range of different emotions and behaviors can emerge that can be confusing, difficult, and extreme situations such as the loss of a loved one or property take time. Everyone goes through this situation differently. For the first few days, such a person may be in the first stage of mourning, the so-called denial.
So in disagreement with the new situation. Why do we react this way?
To be able to bear something very heavy, evolution has equipped man with a mechanism of denial, so that he does not want to take his own life, to survive those first moments. It could be hours, days, sometimes even weeks.
Does this first stage accompany anyone who has lost something?
The phase of denial and shock always occurs,and we differ as to how long we will be in this phase. All these emotions can be drawn in the shape of the letter "U". At the beginning there is a stage of denial, through anger and discord, to sadness - even depression and a decline in energy, deep regret. Then this curve goes up again through the stage of "bargaining" with reality, making the first attempts to find yourself in the new reality, all the way to the final stage, which is accepting what happened.
What to do, how to react?
It is an extremely difficult, emotional and time-consuming process. What should be done if you are an experienced person and also if you are a support person is to provide physical care for your basic needs.
What should first aid psychological look like?
You should give a person a place where they will be safe, offer support, listen to what they are telling, listen to their crying and emotions, but do not ask questions, do not pursue them, just be and listen. The most important thing in such psychological first aid is to show support through the presence and satisfaction of the most basic needs.
It is also advisable to provide the person with information about what might be waiting for him now, where he will find specialist help, what he can do, and so on. All needs in the form of shelter, food and building the predictability of events should also be covered.
How to understand these emotions?
It should be remembered that for a person who has lost a loved one or the most important place in the world, which is home, the world has fallen to pieces. It takes more days and weeks for such a person to even understand what happened. At first, some people may give the impression that they are "frozen" as if nothing has happened. This is a coping mechanism and it just takes time. Unless the reaction is extremely strong, making it impossible to survive the next day in the natural field, when it takes away the possibility of everyday functioning, it is definitely worth using psychological support.
Where should you look for such support?
It could be a telephone support line, of which a lot has now opened, or through contact with a crisis intervention. Specialists who know best how to help such a person are properly prepared for such severe crisis situations.
Can only the person affected by the loss meet the crisis intervention?
With an interventioncrisis situation, a person directly affected by the situation or a support person may meet in order to obtain basic information on what to do and what not to do and how to help. It may also happen that it will be necessary to visit a hospital emergency department and obtain a quick psychiatric consultation, during which the drug will be administered ad hoc.
Can a crisis situation in some cases act on the contrary - that is, motivating?
It can absolutely happen. We differ in these reactions. As a psychologist, I might be tempted to say that everyone can react in their own way, even one that may seem strange to a person from the outside. In a crisis, we talk about something like post-traumatic growth and about the duality of the crisis, i.e. about the fact that a crisis can turn into something good. Most often it happens after a while. In the first days, a strong mobilization to action may be a negative reaction intended to drown out emotions. Increased motivation to act may be a reaction to the activation of the survival instinct in a threatening situation.
Thank you for the interview.ExpertAleksandra Potykanowicz, a psychologistOn a daily basis, she supports people in development, coping with the challenges of everyday life and caring for their personal well-being.