For Family Members
A person’s reaction to trauma can be difficult for loved ones to understand. At Inova, we know that you are the first line of support for your family member and we want to equip you with the best possible tools for that role.
What is trauma?
Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions, in which:
- The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed, or
- The individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.
Thus, a traumatic event or situation creates psychological trauma when it overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope. Such an event may leave one feeling completely overwhelmed physically, emotionally and cognitively. Many also fear for their personal safety or that of their loved ones.
Types of Trauma
Trauma can be classified in many different ways. Researchers have developed the following categories to help us better understand its impact:
Single Blow vs. Repeated Trauma
Single events, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or isolated acts of criminal violence can be devastating. However, it is typically repeated traumas, such as ongoing sexual trauma, combat trauma or physical abuse often has more lasting effects.
Natural vs. Human Made
Deliberate human acts often have the most devastating effects, as opposed to natural disasters. Having a close the relationship to the inflictor of the trauma, and having less control over one’s own situation increases the impact of the events on the individual.
What are some common reactions to trauma?
- re-experiencing of the event (also known as flashbacks)
- hypervigilence (a state of being constantly on guard)
- overwhelming emotions in the presence of reminders of the trauma
- distrust of others
- loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- avoidance of new situations
- fear of the unknown
- a sense of foreshortened future
Many survivors of trauma develop a variety of other conditions as a means of coping such as:
- substance dependence and abuse
- personality disorders (especially borderline personality disorder),
- dissociative disorders
- eating disorders
Can my loved one recover?
Absolutely! There are many empirically-proven treatments for trauma. Most rely on addressing the maladaptive thoughts that have developed as a result of the trauma, learning skills to manage emotions, and doing exposure to overcome fears.