Common Reactions and Managing Expectations - Cold Case Resources

Managing Expectations

One of the most challenging aspects of an unsolved case can be the ups and downs of the investigation. News of a lead can make loved ones hopeful only to be disappointed later. During the investigation, especially long-term unsolved cases, loved ones might experience a rollercoaster of optimism and dashed hopes. When an unsolved case is reactivated, it is important to recognize that renewed attention might not yield new results. Talk to the people on the case about the steps and challenges involved in the investigation. Ask for information to help set realistic expectations regarding the timeline and the outcome of the investigation.


Common Reactions

When you first hear about a new lead or renewed activity on the case, there may be excitement at the possibility of finally getting some answers. At the same time, you may feel a sense of dread about learning more details. Years of emotion may suddenly rise to the surface. Strong emotional reactions may appear similar to those you felt when the crime first occurred, such as anger and despair at the injustice of the crime. You might experience stress reactions, including:



It's as if a wound has been reopened

It’s as if a wound has been reopened. It is common to have strong mental, emotional, or physical reactions to that. These reactions may make survivors, family, and friends feel guilty or disloyal and question why something that should be “good news” is causing such anxiety or sadness.


These reactions are a natural response to experiencing trauma. You may be frustrated that you are experiencing stress reactions that you thought you had already worked through. Many people in your situation have had similar experiences.


What You Can Do


  • Talk to a doctor if you are worried or have questions about any of these reactions.
  • Take care of your health with good nutrition and rest. If you are having problems sleeping (too little or too much), read the Tips for Sleeping.
  • Be aware that the misuse of prescription or illegal drugs and alcohol will likely make stress reactions worse.
  • Talk about your feelings with a trusted, supportive person.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are many services available to help victims of crime. Read more in the Victim Rights and Services section of this website.
  • If media coverage/interaction is adding to your stress, consider our tips for interacting with the media. For additional information see Tips for Interacting with the Media on this website.



Sleep disturbances are a common reaction to a stressful or traumatic event. It can be very difficult for survivors to relax enough to fall asleep. Some survivors experience nightmares that make it hard to sleep through the night.


Lack of sleep can affect your overall health, and make the day’s activities seem overwhelming. If you are experiencing sleep disturbances (too much or too little sleep), consider discussing this with your doctor.


Tips for Sleeping


  • Sleep in a location where you feel most safe.
  • Try not to force sleep. Go to bed when you feel ready to sleep.
  • Sleep experts recommend a quiet, cool, dark environment to promote sleep. If the dark bothers you, keep the room dimly lit.
  • Consider asking a trusted friend or family member to stay nearby if you think it will help you fall asleep.
  • Close to bedtime, avoid activities such as watching some television programs, or conversations that make you more mentally or physically alert.
  • Do something relaxing at bedtime, such as reading or listening to music.
  • Try to keep a regular sleep schedule as often as possible.
  • Some survivors have reported that yoga or other relaxation techniques have helped. There are many free sources of information about relaxation exercises and techniques online. If you don’t have internet access, most libraries provide access to free internet service.
  • Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can interfere with your ability
    to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep.