This week we are starting a series on trauma and our children. Trauma can often be a scary thing to talk about, especially when it concerns our children, but it is a topic that families are rarely able to avoid. Whether or not you or your children have experienced or been exposed to trauma, it is valuable to develop the skills necessary for navigating trauma as a family so that your family always has the ability to develop resiliency and heal well.
One of the biggest obstacles to healing from trauma is a lack of information or misguided information. So, let’s spend this first week of our trauma series doing a little Trauma 101.
Before we get started, let’s define “trauma.” There are a lot of great definitions of trauma out there and I think this one from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) and HRSA (US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration) has a particularly well-balanced definition:
Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.-SAMHSA and HRSA
When we, or other mental health professionals, talk about trauma, we aren’t just talking about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but about all kinds of events or circumstances. Trauma has a broad definition, which can make it all the harder to fully understand.
TRAUMA DESCRIBES A BROAD RANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES AND SYMPTOMS
Whenever we think of trauma, we usually think of events such as exposure to warfare, combat, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, tragic accidents, and possibly a resulting diagnosis of PTSD. While all of the above-mentioned events are indeed often traumatic, trauma in and of itself is not limited by any one set of symptoms or events. Trauma’s causes and effects on an individual can be as varied as the individuals themselves.
Warfare, tragic accidents, natural disasters, and other “big” events are often described as big “T” trauma. Little “t” trauma, such as grief, neglect, bullying, and many others are less often associated with the longer-term and severe side effects of trauma, but repeated exposure to little “t” trauma can be just as impactful as experiencing big “T” trauma.
TRAUMA CAN AFFECT ANYONE
Experiencing trauma doesn’t make you weak. Anyone can become a victim/survivor of trauma. The effect that an event or circumstances has on a person has to do with many factors including: mental health, physical health, spiritual health, pre-existing illnesses, stressors, perceived support, the quality of relationships, brain chemistry, age, life experiences, and many, many more.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT IT
If your children have been exposed to a traumatic stressor, they’re probably thinking about it even if they aren’t talking about it. One of the most compassionate things we can do for our kids if they have been exposed to a trauma is be willing to talk to them about it. Children need to talk about traumatic experiences so that their brains can fully process both the events that occurred and the things they are feeling as a result. If we, as their parents, appear to be uncomfortable talking to them about what happened or tell them to think about or talk about something “more positive” or “happier,” then we are not providing the space that they need for processing.
HIDING TRAUMA IS RARELY HELPFUL
The healthier you are, the healthier you are empowering your kids to be. This doesn’t just mean appearing to be healthy by always acting happy or ignoring your own pain or emotions. This isn’t always easy, because just as it is hard to see our kids suffer, it can also be hard to let them see us suffer. Have age-appropriate conversations about your experiences with your children and how you are working to heal and grow. Whenever children see their parents working to heal themselves, it gives them a template for seeking their own healing as well.
In short, trauma is complicated, complex, and often unpredictable. Join us each Monday during the month of September for more information and insights about trauma, and we will end the month with a special guest post. And remember, we’re all in this together.
In the joy and in the chaos,
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.