Encountering Strong Emotional Reactions

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Be good to yourself.

Thinking about how residential school affected you can lead to positive or negative thoughts or memories. This brochure is designed to help you recognize the reactions you may have.

Revisiting painful memories can be an important step in the healing process. It can also lead to difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For some people, strong emotional reactions are normal. This can happen immediately, within hours, days or weeks after. Your reactions may even surprise you.

When past emotions or memories are triggered, you need to be kind to yourself and others. It is helpful to have a vision of how to take care of yourself as a way to honour what you have been through.

Emotional Support

Having someone to talk to when encountering emotions, big or small, can help you to experience emotions in a good way.

Are you a Survivor or a family member of a former residential school student?

If so, cultural and emotional support, and professional mental health counselling services are available to you.

Services are provided through cultural supports such as Elders or Knowledge Holders, or Indigenous community workers who will listen, talk and share space with you in a safe and respectful way.

Important Things To Know

If you encounter any of the experiences listed in this brochure, please know that this is not uncommon. If these feelings or experiences last longer than a few weeks, consider talking to someone who can help you.

It is important to reach out and talk to others for support to help you to navigate these emotions in a good way.

  • Please do not remain alone if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself for hurting others.
  • Tell someone you feel safe with. These thoughts are often temporary and talking with someone you trust can really help.
  • Though it can sometimes be difficult and painful, healing is possible. Healing is a journey and there are supports available to walk alongside you.

Some common reactions you may experience


  • moral distress
  • questioning your religion
  • questioning your values
  • doubting the goodness of humanity
  • feeling disconnected


  • flashbacks
  • agitation
  • appetite changes
  • substance use
  • quick to anger
  • isolating self
  • mood swings
  • shock
  • conflict in relationships
  • can't concentrate


  • trouble sleeping
  • nightmares
  • stomach aches
  • nausea
  • general body aches
  • headaches
  • crying
  • panic attacks


  • sadness
  • anger
  • frustration
  • feeling alone
  • mistrust of others
  • feelings of guilt
  • shame
  • blame
  • fear
  • hopelessness
  • overwhelmed

Some Self-Care Strategies

What's your self-care vision?

What things can you do to help yourself experience your emotions in a good way?

  • Nurture yourself as you would a good friend
  • Practice a healthy lifestyle (avoid substance use)
  • Take walks and exercise
  • Get out on the land
  • Smudge, pray, sing
  • Sew, drum, dance
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Laugh, cry, talk
  • Meditate, sleep – get plenty of rest
  • Seek spiritual guidance
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Ask for help
  • Seek counselling

A 24-Hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line

is available to provide immediate emotional assistance: 1-866-925-4419

The Hope for Wellness Help Line

Toll-free: 1-855-242-3310

Online Chat: www.hopeforwellness.ca

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Crisis Line

Toll-free: 1-844-413-6649


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For immediate emotional support, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, contact

National Indian Residential School Crisis Line

Toll-free: 1-866-925-4419

The Hope for Wellness Help Line

Toll-free: 1-855-242-3310

Online Chat: www.hopeforwellness.ca

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Crisis Line

Toll-free: 1-844-413-6649

If you attended a residential school, you and your family may be eligible to receive health support services, such as

Cultural Support

Elders, Knowledge Holders, and Traditional Healers for traditional healing, ceremonies or teachings

Emotional Support

Resolution Health Support Workers to listen, talk and provide support

Professional Counselling

A Psychologist or Social Worker for individual or family counselling


Assistance with transportation may be offered when professional counselling and cultural support services are not locally available

To access health support services and for more information, please call the toll-free line for your province/territory

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador - 1-866-414-8111

Quebec - 1-877-583-2965

Ontario - 1-888-301-6426

Manitoba - 1-866-818-3505

Saskatchewan - 1-866-250-1529

Alberta - 1-888-495-6588

British Columbia (First Nations Health Authority) - 1-877-477-0775

Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut - 1-800-464-8106

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