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The Effect of Vicarious Trauma on The Entire Family

It’s common to think that when an individual goes through a traumatic event, they’re the only one who experiences the effects of trauma. Families aren’t made of isolated individuals; they are all part of a support system that is intertwined on many levels, including emotional. When a member of the family becomes traumatized, it’s not uncommon for other members of the family to experience a phenomenon known as ‘vicarious trauma.’ Thankfully this process of shared trauma can actually serve to strengthen the family rather than damage it further. It’s all a matter of awareness and knowing how to handle the internal trauma while getting the help the family needs.

The Impacts of Vicarious Trauma On All Levels Of The Family

Trauma in families is a complex affair, affecting every aspect of their daily lives in ways that can be difficult to see at first. Overcoming familial and vicarious trauma requires observation, compassion, and hard work on the part of everyone involved. The below list covers some of the ways that vicarious trauma can affect families.

  • Adults, Adolescents, And Children –Posttraumatic stress symptoms can appear in all members of the family. Some respond to trauma by becoming stronger and more engaged with life; others can struggle with overcoming the experience.
  • Extended Family –Often a source of support for families that have experienced trauma, extended family members can be an important resource. In other cases, it’s possible for trauma to cross generations if they haven’t successfully recovered.
  • Parental Relationships –This is another area that can suffer. Relationships between children and their parents can become strained if one or both are having trouble processing the aftereffects of the trauma. Parents can be less available emotionally, giving children a sense of abandonment.
  • Intimate Adult Relations –Intimate relationships, both emotional and physical, can suffer in the wake of a trauma. This can put significant strain on the relationship, adding to the trauma of conflict, separation, or even interpersonal violence that could result from it.
  • Sibling Relationships –Siblings are a vital resource following traumatic events, provided that they are able to support each other. In other cases, the shared trauma can result in disconnection and heightened levels of conflict for months or years to come.

Seeking Therapy Can Help

Finding providers who specialize in the complications that arise as part of shared family trauma is an important step in the recovery process. These providers will promote a safe environment for all family members, leaning on the strengths of its members to help carry them through. They know how to leverage the spiritual, ethnic, and religious beliefs of the family to bring them closer together. They can also provide access to various community resources that are available for families going through trying times. By working together with a qualified therapist, your family will learn to speak to each other, process their emotions, and come out the other side of trauma stronger than ever.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.