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Taking care of yourself will put you in the best position to advocate for your loved one and then receive them upon their release. It is important to maintain as much normalcy and routine as possible, and to pay attention to your physical and emotional needs while your loved one is away. Surround yourself with people who are good for you and avoid those who are not. Find someone you trust to listen when you need to talk things over.

If you have the opportunity to speak with or send a message to your loved one, focus on reassuring him or her of your love and support, and that he or she does not need to worry about what is going on at home.

Common Reactions

It is normal to experience a wide range of powerful feelings that may feel abnormal to you. Feelings can include sadness, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, grief, guilt, loneliness, and isolation. These feelings can also affect your sleep patterns and overall health. Emotions may rapidly cycle from one to another, and you can experience peaks or drops when you receive news about your loved one.

Individual family members have their own unique ways of coping with stress and loss. Family members may experience different emotions at different times. There will be times when family members may have disagreements and trouble understanding each other’s emotional reactions. Some individuals find relief in talking about their feelings and fears, but others may not. Some family members throw themselves into activities to help get the detainee released, while others may need to step away from the situation in order to stay resilient. Some individuals remain very optimistic while others feel the need to prepare for the worst. It is important to try to allow each family member to have their own individual emotional reactions. Detainees and their families tend to adapt to their situations and do whatever is necessary to survive during the detention period.

With the absence of your loved one from the family, other family members may take on roles and responsibilities previously filled by him or her. Some family members may feel guilty for living as normal a life as possible while a loved one is gone. Some family members may withdraw from the family and the situation.

The experience of having a loved one wrongfully detained places enormous stress both on the family as a whole and on its individual members. This guide is not intended to be a substitute for the role of professionals with expertise in counseling victims.

Drawing on Your Strengths

Coping includes thinking about other difficult and stressful times in your life and recalling how you were able to manage. Think about who and what may have been helpful and whether it is appropriate or possible to use those same resources. Most people find a combination of internal and external resources to be helpful. Internal resources may be spiritual faith, optimism, and good health. External resources may include a support system of trusted friends or family, consultation with a therapist, and support from a member of the local social and religious communities.

Maintaining a Routine

It is important to try to maintain some sense of a normal routine. You may or may not know the length of a wrongful detention at the beginning. It is also unpredictable as it can depend on the legal and judicial processes of the government that is detaining your loved one, as well as that government’s motivation for detaining them. It is important to try to pace yourself and prepare for a sustained period. Try to spend time each day doing some of the things you enjoy. Child family members will need predictability and routine in order to cope.

Families of wrongful detainees sometimes maintain a record of things that occurred while their loved one was detained for him or her to read when they come home. As part of your routine, you may wish to consider documenting your progress toward achieving your loved one’s release for your loved one to read later. It can help them to understand what happened while they were away, and it can also help them realize the extent of their family’s efforts to secure their release. A written document allows your loved one to read it at their own pace.

Taking Care of Your Health

It is very important to maintain the daily routines and activities that support your health. Stress can take a serious toll on physical and emotional health. Rest when you can. Even a brief walk can help you cope with stress. Make sure you see your doctor and let him or her know that you are experiencing unusual levels of stress. If you find that the stress is interfering with your ability to function at levels you are accustomed to, it may be time to talk to a doctor or mental health

professional about any stress, anxiety, or depression. Medical professionals must maintain the confidentiality of patient records and communications. Get in touch with your doctor if you experience loss of appetite or trouble sleeping, or if you are having trouble with daily functioning.

Sharing Information with Family and Friends

Start gathering your trusted support system around you. This may include extended family, trusted friends, clergy, and others who are able to keep information in confidence and follow your lead. Consider having someone help you notify the people who most need to know. You may also need to notify your loved one’s employer, your employer and the employers of your family members who may need time off or support, and your children’s schools. If you do not choose to tell them about the detention, you may still need or want to let them know that you have a family emergency.

Families need the support and comfort of people they are close to and trust, but you will need to carefully consider how broadly you want to share information about the wrongful detention. The safety of your loved one is paramount. Many types of information about the detainee, your family, or actions being taken to locate and secure the release of your loved one can become available to those detaining your loved one; it could be used to their advantage against your family or loved one.

  • Consider your privacy and the status of your loved one. Bear in mind, that as more people know information and details of the wrongful detention, the chance increases that this information could be made public and potentially impact the safety of your loved one.
  • Let friends and family know that they should not pass information to anyone else, including the media, or post information online and through social media without your permission.
  • Keep a list of offers of help from people, such as child care, driving, meals and grocery shopping, pet care, and other practical needs. It may be helpful to ask someone else to coordinate the requests so you are not overwhelmed.

Coping in the Workplace

Severe stress and the grief that comes with a profound crisis involving a loved one may affect productivity in the workplace. It may be harder to focus on work. You may find yourself

overcome by emotion resulting from an innocent comment or question and have to take breaks to “get yourself together.” You may also need to take time off from work to deal with matters directly related to the wrongful detention. For those who work in a supportive environment, the workday routine may actually be beneficial. For those who work in a less than supportive environment, the additional stress associated with the job can complicate an already stressful situation. People may be more understanding of your needs if they know there is a reason behind them, but it is not always possible to share information about your situation if the detention is not widely known. You may be able to have a confidential discussion about your situation with your immediate supervisor. Their support can be a critical means of support in your workplace. If you need to request any special accommodations from your employer to help you manage your loved one’s situation, it may be helpful to consider your employer’s perspective as you develop proposed solutions. as well.

Managing Special Days

Holidays and anniversaries may be challenging. Families often celebrate holidays in certain ways. Some holidays may be more important to your missing loved one, and his or her absence can make these days particularly painful. It is important to recognize the additional emotion of the day. Holidays will feel different, and that is normal. Celebrating a holiday without your loved one does not mean you have forgotten him or her, or that you are betraying them by enjoying yourself.

It is an individual choice whether to celebrate the holiday or not. It is helpful to think ahead as holidays or anniversaries approach. Decide how you want to spend the day and also allow yourself the opportunity to change your mind as the day approaches. Explain to your friends and family what you need from them to help you get through the holiday. Give yourself an opportunity to take a “time out” if you need one.

Dealing with Insensitive People

Many people will want to support and help you, but not everyone will be sensitive to your situation. The downside of public and social media attention to the wrongful detention is that many people express views that are distasteful and even cruel. Some people may not be sympathetic and may even blame your loved one or your family for your situation. These comments can be hurtful for families, and especially for children. It may be possible to gently educate friends and coworkers who say insensitive things. If not, find other people to lean on. It is important, however, not to isolate yourself from social contact, as it can lead to depression and other complications.

You may find that most people in your life do not know how to react to your situation because it is so unusual. This may add to your feelings of isolation. It may help to realize that they still care for you, but don’t know how to respond or help you.

Considerations for Children

It is important to be aware of the impact of a wrongful detention on children, including nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. What and how much you tell them should depend on the age and emotional maturity of the child. The situation brings about changes in routine if they are usually in contact with your loved one. Children will likely be aware when investigative and family support team members visit you, or when the media comes to your home.

It is important to know what your child understands about what is happening. Children are aware of emotional stress affecting the adults in the home and may imagine a completely different scenario in their mind. It is also important if your loved one’s wrongful detention has been made public to talk to your child as they may hear about it from other children, teachers, and parents of other children. It will be necessary to discuss privacy and discretion with your children if there are other sensitivities about the situation.

Helping Your Child Deal with Emotions

Children may have the same emotional reactions as adults to include being scared, confused, worried, angry, helpless, and sad. Children will also experience grief over the absence of the loved one. Even very young children will experience reactions to the changes brought about the absence of a close family member. They may not be able to verbalize their feelings but may react with sadness, fretfulness, and behavioral changes.

It is important to give children an opportunity to discuss their feelings and to understand that there are no right or wrong feelings. It may be helpful to give children an outlet to express their feelings. Depending on the child’s age this could involve drawing, keeping a journal, or talking to you or another trusted adult. Play therapy with a mental health professional may also be helpful for very young children.

Your child may try to protect you from their emotions, not wanting to add to your burden. Your child may direct his or her anger regarding the wrongful detention at you. They may be

frustrated if they feel they are forgotten or that you are not available. The situation brings challenges requiring you to take care of yourself as much as possible during this time and to also be there for your child.

Children benefit from routine and stability, especially when the world of adults in their lives has been turned upside down. Providing as much routine and stability as possible may require assistance from friends and family if you are unable to do so due to your own emotions, or the need to engage with your U.S. government team.

Working with Your Child’s School or Daycare

Very young children may react to stress in the home and the absence of your loved one. If you trust your day care providers and are comfortable sharing information with them, it may help to make them aware of the situation so they can monitor your child’s emotional state and any unusual behavior. Similarly, for elementary age children, it may be helpful to inform the teachers and guidance counselors in your child’s school of the situation. This could give your child a support system to rely on as needed during the school day. It may also help the teacher understand any behavioral changes your child may have during the length of your loved one’s detention. Your child may feel like other children are talking about them or looking at them in a different way. Other children may be inquisitive and ask questions of your child. The school staff may help your child determine the best way to manage what goes on during the school day.

Older children and teenagers will also experience the impact of the situation. It is important to consider including your teenager in the decision to inform anyone at school or their employer, if they are employed. Help your teen understand that the intent is to make sure they have the support they need, and are not further isolated by their situation. They can ask for permission for a “time out” if they need one during the day

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future