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Creating a Back-up Plan

A back-up plan is any sort of safety precaution you set in place to help manage or cope with the trauma-related symptoms you experience.

What Is a Back-up Plan For?

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse can experience a variety of long-term effects connected to their trauma. And even as they work to manage these effects through various tools and healing practices, they may still be caught off guard by certain instances where the trauma of the past suddenly feels very real and present. This is particularly the case with triggers and the responses they can cause in the brain and body, such as flashbacks, panic attacks, dissociation, acute anxiety, or suicide ideation.*

And while survivors can practice tools such as Mindfulness to help ground themselves in these moments of emotional distress, it can still be challenging to soothe an alarmed limbic system once it has been triggered, especially if the symptoms that arise feel particularly overwhelming. This is why, on top of practicing grounding techniques and other strategies, it is helpful for survivors to have a back-up plan, should they find themselves in a situation where certain symptoms or trigger responses escalate into a level of distress that may require additional or immediate support.

Note: If you are experiencing suicide ideation, we encourage you to use this safety plan template provided by the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can access this lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

What Is a Crisis Card?

In moments of debilitating distress, it can be difficult to remember where we are, when we are, and why we’re experiencing such an alarming response. Such panic and confusion can make it all the more difficult to recollect what steps we need to take next or who we can reach out to. That is where the crisis card comes into play.

This card is something you can keep close, and quickly reference should a moment of emotional crisis arise. It serves as a reminder of your back-up plan and the support system that is available to you in moments of severe distress. All you have to do is fill out the information and print the card to keep in easily accessible places (e.g., your wallet, car, office, home, etc.).

Your crisis card contains actions you can take, people you can call, things people can do (or avoid doing) for you, and a positive statement to encourage you during difficult times.

Below is an example of information you can include in your crisis card.


What Other Precautions Can I Take?

While crisis cards are useful for general, everyday activities, you may want to modify your back-up plan for certain situations that may pose very specific triggers. For instance, before attending a family gathering or a holiday event, you may want to establish a new set of precautions based on prior experience, family dynamics, and potentially triggering topics. These precautions might include:


Identify People Who Support You

This could be someone also attending the event or someone you can call or text, like a therapist, family member, or friend. Reach out to those in your support network and let them know you might need their help during that event or during that day and time.


Determine How Your Supporter Can Best Help You

When you reach out to let your supporters know that you might need their help, it can be more effective if you clarify exactly what you may need from them. Maybe you want them to intervene and guide you someplace quiet where you can ground yourself. Maybe you want them to pick you up from the event, if needed. Or maybe you want them to simply listen and validate your feelings.


Plan Out What You Will Do in Potentially Triggering Situations

Consider uncomfortable or painful scenarios that may play out based on your prior experiences. Think about how you would like to respond in each of these scenarios. What grounding techniques can you use? Who can you lean on for support? Where can you go to collect yourself and think about next steps? Is there a way for you to leave the event early if needed? If the topic of sexual abuse is brought up, do you think you should excuse yourself from the conversation, or stay and participate with planned out responses?


Make a List of Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are encouraging or calming phrases that you can repeat to yourself to help maintain a sense of safety in a stressful situation. These can be as general or as specific as you like. Have them at the ready to use if certain intrusive thoughts come up before or during the event. For instance, if you start having the thought: “No one really wants me here,” redirect your attention towards an affirmation like: “I am worthy of love and acceptance.”


Prioritize Your Needs

No one knows you better than you do. Perhaps what you need most is to reconnect with friends at a get-together you’ve been excited about for weeks. Perhaps it’s agreeing to spend a little time with your family while maintaining firm boundaries and planning to leave early. Or perhaps, what you need is to not attend a certain family gathering or social event. Check-in with your emotions and determine what you think will be best for you and your emotional needs. And remember that choosing to say no for you own well-being isn’t selfish; it’s self-care.

For tips on creating a safety plan specific to holiday events, visit our blog post about handling the holiday season here.

As you brainstorm and create your back-up plan, you are practicing:

  • Acknowledgement by recognizing the trauma-related symptoms you experience, as well as the situations, settings, or events that may trigger those symptoms.
  • Mindfulness by being attune to your emotional and physical needs and what you can do to attend to those needs, particularly in times of crisis.
  • Aspiration by setting a plan based on the belief that you can manage the effects of your trauma through intentional preparation, practice, and support.