Coping during a hostage taking or wrongful detention


First and foremost, you must look after yourself and your family. You might feel guilty about asking for support while your loved one is being held – but it is vital that you get help, too. Most former hostages and wrongful detainees admit that the experience is worse for their families who have the constant worry of the unknown. Some kidnappings are safely resolved quickly, but others take longer.

The stress of the situation will begin to take its toll, but there are simple things you can do to keep yourself and your family well. This will help to improve your concentration, stay on top of the case, and be ready for the twists and turns along the way. 

Often, the most helpful things you can do are the simplest things including: sleep well, eat well, stay active, maintain a routine, and pay attention to the children impacted.

Dealing with the impacts of a kidnapping

Having a loved one kidnapped puts a lot of stress on a family. It is normal for this to impact you emotionally. Everyone reacts in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to cope. It is important to look out for any signs that you might be struggling to cope.

The impacts can show themselves in a number of ways:

  • Cognitive problems: such as impaired memory and concentration; confusion and disorientation; denial, perhaps that the kidnapping has happened; and hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal which is a state of feeling over stimulated, with a profound fear of the situation you are in, what your loved one is going through, and the impact on those around you
  • Emotional reactions: such as shock and numbness; fear and anxiety; helplessness and hopelessness; dissociation, such as feeling numb and ‘switched off’ emotionally; anger which could be directed at anyone, such as the kidnappers, the authorities or yourself; anhedonia, a loss of pleasure in doing things that you previously enjoyed; depression; and guilt.
  • Social problems: such as feeling withdrawn; irritable; or practicing avoidance.

Most family members who go through a kidnapping make a full recovery after the kidnapping has ended. Even those who go on to suffer from PTSD can overcome these problems with the right care and treatment.

If you are finding it difficult to cope and are interested in professional help, Hostage US can identify suitable mental health professionals in your area who accept your insurance plan.


Your children will be looking to you, other adult family members and their teachers for help to deal with their emotions. You might be unsure how to communicate with your children. You might worry about scaring them. Even very young children can pick up that something is happening.

Aureen Wagner, PhD, Director of The Anxiety Wellness Center, has offered this advice for parents:

“Remain as calm as possible; watch and listen to your child to understand how upset he or she is. Explain a traumatic event as accurately as possible, but don’t give graphic details. It’s best not to give more information than your child asks for. Let your child know that it is normal to feel upset, scared or angry. If older children or teenagers want to watch television or read news online about a traumatic event, be available to them, especially to discuss what they are seeing and reading.”

Consider the following tips:

  • Reassure your children that you’ll do everything you can to keep them and their loved ones safe.
  • Encourage them to talk and ask questions.
  • Let them know that they can be open about their feelings.
  • Remind them that it is not their fault.
  • Answer questions honestly.
  • Protect them from what they don’t need to know.
  • Avoid discussing worst-case scenarios.
  • Limit excessive watching and listening to graphic replays of traumatic events.
  • Consider your children’s or teenagers' use of social media and implement privacy settings that are appropriate.
  • Stick to your daily routine as much as possible.

Most children and teenagers will recover from their fear. If you are worried that your child is not coping well or you would like guidance on how best to support them, Hostage US can help you.

See our video for parents of teenagers and young children.


It is really common to have problems sleeping. Throughout the kidnapping, you might:

  • Feel mentally overwhelmed,
  • Find it difficult to wind down at the end of the day,
  • Wake during the night as your worries take hold and suffer with bad dreams,
  • Feel fatigued during the day and find yourself sleeping then instead.

This is normal.

While lack of sleep and poor sleep habits are normal during times of stress, these issues take their toll on how alert you feel, your memory, and your ability to process new information. This can make staying on top of information about the case more and more difficult over time.

There are a number of things you can do to improve your sleep patterns, such as:

  • Avoiding activities that will stimulate your brain before bedtime.
  • Having a regular time for bed.
  • Avoiding alcohol, high levels of sugar, excessive caffeine and other foods and drinks which can interrupt your sleep further.

Exercise helps to reduce stress levels. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, and meditation or yoga can have positive effects. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.

Exercise will:

  • Decrease tension,
  • Reduce fatigue and improve your sleep,
  • Improve alertness and concentration, and
  • Stabilize your mood and enhance your overall cognitive function.

Feeding our bodies well can make an amazing impact on how we focus, retain information and face challenges in our lives. Some foods are really helpful to keep your mind sharp and focused. Just as foods can keep you alert and energized, certain foods and drinks can aggravate stress – you don’t need to cut them out entirely, but consider moderating your intake. Learn more about nutrition and stress in our resources section.


You will need your friends or other social support structures more throughout this. They will provide support, some distraction, perhaps some practical assistance. If you are worried about who you can talk to because of the secrecy of the case, ask whoever is managing the kidnapping for advice about how to handle personal relationships and what information you can and cannot share.

If you are not able to discuss the kidnapping with your usual social support, reach out to Hostage US for support. We can be a useful stand in for social support during this time and everything we discuss is strictly confidential. We are people who understand what families go through during a hostage taking and can be there for you throughout the kidnapping. 


You might find yourself putting things on hold – maybe you don’t want to socialize or do ‘fun’ things because you feel guilty or can’t face seeing people, there might be household chores or upkeep that your loved one normally takes care of that you don’t want to do without them. Structure is positive during difficult times even if this is just waking up or going to sleep at the same time, taking a walk or keeping up with gardening. You should establish a routine that works for you. Take things at your own pace, but ensure there is stability in your day. A routine can help to keep things moving and make life feel more normal even as you go through this abnormal situation.


Many family members are unsure as to whether they should continue to work while their loved one is held hostage. Some have no choice and must continue working, some want to work to maintain a routine and structure and some are unable to do so. Think about your circumstances and what your preference is.

You could consider asking your employer to allow you to work part-time or different hours, enable you to work remotely, or reassign some of your tasks if you are having problems concentrating or can no longer travel for work. In many cases, it is helpful for your employer to know what you are going through so they understand any challenges you are facing. Hostage US can help you to think through your options.