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Family Dynamics of Trauma

When one person experiences a traumatic event or is challenged by the impact of a trauma that happened earlier in their life, it not only impacts them significantly but can also affect other members of the family. The family dynamics of trauma differ with each individual and their family but can potentially have serious implications.

Trauma Responses

A traumatic event could be a single incident such as being the victim of or witnessing a car accident, a violent act, or a natural disaster. It could also be an ongoing situation such as physical abuse, emotional neglect, or even the anxiety and isolation of a pandemic.

Trauma is the individual’s emotional response to the event or situation. Shock and denial are typical for a person to experience immediately afterward. Other symptoms can arise in the longer term, including flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, and strained relationships with others, including family members.

Different Reactions to Traumatic Events

Individuals react differently to trauma. Although initial distress is common, subsequent responses can range from being resilient to experiencing issues with mental and physical health. Within the family, trauma can change the dynamics as each individual works to survive and adapt to new circumstances and perhaps even a new environment. Trauma can impact individual family members differently, affecting their relationships with each other and the overall functioning of the family unit.

Trauma Can Be Draining

Both in a practical sense and in an emotional sense, trauma can be draining to the individual and to the affected family members. Dealing with the trauma can drain the family of energy as well as time and money. Trauma is disruptive and so can interfere with the normal development of each individual as well as the family unit as a whole.

When the trauma causes physical disruptions, such as loss of a job or a need to move to a new home, that can result in cascading effects such as a loss of income. It can also cause significant changes in the amount of time and the quality of the time spent together as a family. As a result, the family can have difficulty sustaining the important traditions that could continue to bind them together.

A Source of Strength

The relationships between family members, particularly the adults in the family, can be a source of strength when coping with a traumatic experience and the emotional responses of trauma that follow it. Unfortunately, the challenges that can arise from having resources stretched too thin or increased levels of stress can threaten those relationships.

Families that make the effort to work through the trauma together, to strengthen their family dynamics, can help each other through the recovery process. Even though the family unit may be dealing with high levels of stress and reduced levels of resources, they can turn to their safe and nurturing relationships to help each other grow and recover. These safe relationships can be among parents, siblings, and extended family members. Close family friends, including neighbors and faith-based group members, can also be instrumental in the family dynamics of trauma.

Risk Factors

There are risk factors involved that can contribute to family instability, including a history of previous traumas, increased life stressors, adverse childhood experiences, negative family member interactions, and social isolation such as that experienced during the pandemic. The family’s ability to adapt and to regain a sense of stability and safety can be compromised by these risk factors.

Family-Informed Trauma Treatment

Trauma affects the family dynamics as well as the individual who has been impacted directly by the traumatic event or situation. Appropriate treatment for the individual and for the family unit can help each member get the support they need to regain their lives, to strengthen their relationships, and to stabilize the family dynamics once again.

Family-informed trauma treatment can include:

  • Educating each family member on the signs of post-traumatic stress and how it can affect the entire family.
  • Encouraging all family members to talk together about their traumatic experiences and how they were impacted.
  • Promoting safety for all family members and preventing exposure to further traumas.
  • Conducting family-informed trauma assessments and evidence-based treatments that actively engage all family members.
  • Linking families to essential community resources that can help them continue on their path to recovery.

Healing Starts at Makana Path

Trauma can lead to an addiction to drugs or alcohol, used in an attempt to cope with the effects of the traumatic event. Breaking the painful cycle of trauma and addiction is possible. At Makana Path, we work with you to safely reprocess your trauma so you can regain control over your life. We’ll address the emotional, physical, and sexual trauma that have led you to your addiction.

We also understand the challenges of staying at home and social distancing during COVID-19 and remain open to provide the help you need during these challenging times. To learn more about trauma-informed treatment, contact Makana Path today by calling 1-866-313-0978.