Trauma – Why You Matter When Your Loved One is Struggling

Understanding trauma can be difficult. What constitutes trauma is in the eye of the beholder. To some, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend is traumatic while to others, it is not. To some getting in a serious car wreck is traumatic while to others it is not.

 

If you or your loved one has experienced trauma you might have a confusing experience. After experiencing trauma, survivors need others more than ever as they try to healing, however, their traumatic symptoms often alienate, isolate and take them away from loved ones. This can seem confusing to both them and their loved ones.

 

Not everyone knows how to express their need for others after they experience trauma. Also, not all loved ones know how to see past symptoms that seem to push them away. Knowing when to reach out to your loved one and when to give them space is important. Researches and therapists have found over the years that there is a great benefit for trauma survivors derived from strong family and marital support (i.e., Bessel van der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps a Score…’). In fact, the quality of an individual’s attachment to others is a critical factor in whether or not someone develops long-term traumatic issues instead of just short-term traumatic issues. Your family and spouse matter.

 

So how do you talk with them and connect? Simply start by talking with them. Instead of avoiding it because it seems to upset them, talk with them and let them know you are here for them. Even if you don’t talk about the events (in some cases its actually better to not talk with them yet about their traumatic event) you can let them know that you love them, support them, are here for them and want to continue to be here for them. Knowing that you are there for them helps them tremendously. Eventually, and sometimes only with the help of a counselor, they can come around and start to heal with you.

 

 

 

 

Boundaries With Others – How To Set Them

When you’re trying to create boundaries with people they will be tested. It’s like when cows enter a new pasture, they will knock their shoulder against the perimeter a few times to check out where their boundaries are and how strong they are. Cows are strong enough to take down barbed wire if they really wanted to, but they aren’t really testing if they can get out, they are testing if they are safe from the external world. Once they know that the boundaries are consistent and stable they feel safe and they graze in the middle. If the cows don’t have that consistent boundary they will rely on the cowboy to tell them when they have gone too far. The cowboy, however, doesn’t have consistent boundaries, they will only correct the cow when they notice the cow has gone too far, which doesn’t create a feeling of safety. People are the same when they have never experienced consistent boundaries, or they are experiencing new boundaries. People will test boundaries, not enough to break them but enough to trust that they are there to stay and to trust that they are there to keep them safe.

A lot of young adults who never experienced boundaries, because their parents wanted to be their friend. They have a great relationship with their parents, but they will tell me that they feel like they grew up as an orphan because they don’t have a secure home base. but they will tell me that they are afraid to explore and take risks as an adult because they can’t trust that they have parents who are watching out for them, to make sure they don’t make a mistake big enough to ruin their entire life.

It’s important that people are given the space to grow and find their own solutions within appropriate limits. When your setting limits the goal is not to get a specific outcome, rather the goal is to prevent a specific outcome. It is quite spectacular what people can come up with when their possibilities aren’t limited, but just the same we don’t want anyone hurting themselves or others in the process. Limits are set to prevent irreversible and/or irreplaceable damage, while still allowing people to learn how to cope with and improve from mistakes.

When cattle are being herded they have the instinct to turn around when they feel blocked, which can be disruptive to the flow and requires more work to redirect them back into the flow. To redirect a cow, you want them to feel pressure on their shoulder. If you are in front of them when you apply this pressure they feel blocked, if you are beside them when you apply this pressure they will simply turn a bit from where they shouldn’t be. People are the same, when they are told to stop doing what they are doing (and they don’t continue trampling over you) they will do a complete turnaround, even if this wasn’t your intention. If you’re only wanting a slight redirection from a no-go zone you want to adjust your approach to let them know that you understand that they want to move forward, and you want that too, but you want them going forward in a slightly different direction.

Written by Madison Price, MA, LAMFT – therapist at the Holladay Center for Couples and Families