The Family Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress
When the world watched as events of 9/11 unfolded, the cultural climate changed. People both near to and far from the tragedy struggled to cope with what they saw. Collective trauma of this kind can impact families and communities for generations, especially when the symptoms aren’t recognized as post-traumatic stress. And this type of stress can be damaging to more than the person who experienced the trauma.
According to Molly S. Castello, Ph.D. for Psychology Today, trauma can affect families for generations. “What is overwhelming and unnamable is passed on to those we are closest to,” she said. “Our loved ones carry what we cannot. And we do the same.”
Healthy families are there for each other in all of life’s ups and downs. They shoulder the good and the bad together, and often, that includes trauma. A parent’s reaction to a place associated with a trauma can impact how a child sees and feels in that place. Although the child may not be able to identify in later years why a certain time of year or location makes her feel a certain way, it has everything to do with the shared trauma that’s been part of her family; and sometimes, for generations. Charles Portney, M.D. for the Psychiatric Times describes the phenomenon this way:
“The parent suffering with PTSD has difficulty modeling a healthy sense of identity and autonomy, appropriate self-soothing mechanisms and affect regulation, and maintaining a balanced perspective when life challenges arise.”
Because of this, parents who struggle with untreated stress from trauma can appear numb in certain situations. They can also be extremely anxious, which can interfere with healthy child development. Close extended family members can also impact the healthy development of the children in their lives as they deal with the stress from trauma. Talking to children about the reasons for their loved one’s behaviors and answering their questions in age-appropriate ways can help end the cycle of stress from trauma. Proper treatment, increased awareness and understanding as well as learning new ways of handling traumatic stress are all ways to make the situation better.
Alternative Therapies Make a Positive Impact
Treatment in a traditional setting isn’t the only answer when it comes to coping with and recovering from traumatic stress. Getting out into nature and learning to relax, breathe and incorporate healthy coping skills can be incredibly healing for those struggling with stress-related to a trauma. Alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, hiking, walking or any other activity that you or a loved one enjoy are all ways to help reduce stress and encourage positive self-talk.
The impact of generational trauma is real. Studies show that people groups who were the victims of large-scale traumas, Native Americans, victims of the Holocaust, those who grew up during the Great Depression, first responders in the Oklahoma City bombing and others, are not only responsible for carrying the trauma but are inadvertently communicating it to subsequent generations. These survivors and first responders can become emotionally paralyzed, resulting in a collective, horizontal impact on loved ones. This concept is the genesis for our initiative, Reunify Family. By focusing on expanding the numbers of family members we serve, we are expanding our ability to positively impact our heroes, providing healing therapies to the whole family.
Being able to recognize and process the stress caused by trauma can help those most affected by it stop the cycle of stress-related trauma. Through no-expense kayak-fishing trips, family-focused events and a connection with others who have similar experiences, you and your family can heal from the impact of stress-related trauma.
Our motto at Heroes on the Water is “PADDLE. FISH. HEAL.” Our program is designed to get you and your loved one out on the water into a peaceful, healing environment. Our goal is to heal not only the person who experienced the trauma but all of those in his or her circle that have also been impacted. As a 501(c)3, our services are available to our warrior community at no cost.