For you, returning home is the point at which you begin to rebuild a new life with your family and friends. Sometimes relatives won’t know what to say or how to support you, and you might not know what to tell them either. This is normal considering what you have all been through and it will take time to readjust. Try and communicate what you are going through to each other.
If you are returning to live alone, it can help to identify friends or family members who live locally to help you settle back in or to help you with tasks. Don’t be afraid to reach out and help them to support you by telling them what you need and how you would like to receive their help.
Relationships with family and friends
First contact with your family
Your first contact with your family will be a happy experience, but it can also be challenging.
Your family might be shocked by the changes in your appearance and they may find this upsetting and distressing. You might be overwhelmed to be with people after your period in captivity. You are likely to be tired. Don’t be hard on yourself or on them- you have both been through a terrible ordeal and you all need to take things slowly.
Changed family dynamics
It is very likely that your relationships will change. You have all been forced apart under difficult and stressful circumstances and you will all have changed as a result.
You may find that you need to work on reshaping your relationship with members of your family, such as your partner and your children. On a practical level, your partner or children will have taken on your roles and duties and so the family dynamics may not return to the way they were before you went away.
Intimacy has been a struggle for some upon their return home. Given what many hostages have been through, finding such experiences unenjoyable or feeling anxious about them is understandable, and you should not feel ashamed if you do have these problems.
Talking about what has happened and how you are all feeling can help.
However, you may not want to talk to them, and your family may be afraid to ask in fear of upsetting you. Some hostages have never spoken in-depth to their family or friends about their experience, as it can be a very painful and emotive subject for them. You will need to know what you are comfortable telling them and be patient and understanding with each other.
You can help your family to support you by explaining to them what might be helpful. For example, you could explain that you might need to sleep much more than normal and at odd times. You could ask them to act as gatekeepers for wider family and friends or the media until you are ready to see more people. You could ask them to encourage you to engage in simple activities, such as going for a walk or getting out into the garden. They could help you – over time – to re-establish a simple daily routine, without being too regimented.
Alternatively, some hostages say that the last thing they want is someone telling them what to do. If you feel this way, explain to your friends and family that you need space.
Teenagers and young children
Adjusting to returning home can sometimes be hardest for teenagers and young children. They may have been shielded from most of the details of your kidnapping in an attempt to protect them and therefore feel left in the dark. Young people have reported that they have felt unsafe, struggled to understand why the kidnap happened, blamed themselves or felt angry about missing birthdays or holidays as a result of the kidnap. All of these are natural feelings, which need to be recognised and worked through. Reassure them that everyone is safe and that everything will be okay.
Wider family and friends
Friends and members of your wider family may not have known much (or anything) about your kidnap. Knowledge about kidnap and hostage cases is often limited to direct family members for security reasons. As a result, those not in the inner circle of knowledge may struggle to understand what you have been through or not know what to say or do. Sometimes this means that even close friends stay away. While this can be confusing or upsetting, be patient with them and take your time reconnecting with people after you are released. Everyone reacts to major changes in different ways and while you may feel like they are avoiding you, they may actually be assuming that they are helping you by giving you space.
If your kidnapping was mentioned in national media, you may have members of your community coming up to you to say that they recognise you or to give you their well wishes. This can be unexpected and overwhelming. In order to manage this, you might want to prepare what you would say in these situations as it can make them less awkward. For instance, you could say ‘Thank you. I need space to settle back in at home at the moment, so I won’t be talking about my time away’.
Re-evaluating your priorities
Having gone through a significant incident, such as a kidnapping, you might end up re-evaluating your priorities, whether related to life, work, relationships or leisure pursuits. While this is normal, don’t make any changes for the first six weeks and don’t make any major decisions in the first six months unless you have to. Allow yourself time to process what you have been through and adjust to your ‘new normal’ first.
While you have been away, your family may have had to administer your financial accounts or change the name of contracts and mortgages so they could keep the household running. Now that you have returned, you may want or need to make adjustments. Work with your family to make these adjustments and ask them to reach out to the points of contacts in the relevant organisations as necessary. Hostage International may also be able to help.
If you live in the UK, your family may have taken advantage of rights they have under the Missing Persons Act 2017 to take temporary control of some of your assets and finances. Liaise with your family and relevant organisation to reverse the temporary changes.
You may also need to renew your driver’s licence, complete tax returns or update insurance policies. These tasks can feel overwhelming in the first few months after your return. Ask for help if possible and allow others to take on these tasks for you don’t feel ready to do them yourself.