Resources for Families

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.

Our Approach

The Importance of Support

The metaphor used to describe the process of trauma therapy is often that of a “broken bone” scenario. If someone breaks a bone and doesn’t seek medical attention, the body tries to accommodate the break to the best of its ability, though with reduced functioning (we may feel pain and discomfort when walking, sitting, standing, etc). If we are able to eventually seek medical attention, it is often necessary for the doctor to “rebreak” the bone first to reset it for healing. This can seem like the opposite of what any rational person would “want” to do in order to heal and requires a great deal of initial pain and discomfort. In many ways, addressing our trauma can feel like the same process. If we have spent years struggling with being overwhelmed by our emotions or if we have done the opposite and “numbed” our emotions, starting the process of confronting them can be uncomfortable. Because of this, it is easy to empathize with why many clients may arrive to treatment and feel afraid, intimidated, uncomfortable, or even desire to leave during the first few days. For other clients, they may be relieved at having the structure they are lacking in their lives and may experience these feelings later  once they start addressing their feelings about the trauma. Both scenarios can result in a person “sabotaging” their recovery by leaving therapy before they are able to experience the relief that comes when their symptoms begin to improve. This is why support and encouragement not just from therapists, but from everyone in a client’s support network is often crucial to a client’s recovery. 

Typical Symptoms

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?

Feeling detached from others, as if no one understands you
Sitting with one’s back to a wall in any room
Avoidance of crowds
Carrying a gun or weapon regularly
substance dependence and abuse
personality disorders (especially borderline personality disorder)
eating disorder
self harm

What Can I do to Support My Loved One in Treatment?

Trauma therapy is uncomfortable. It requires an individual to explore and challenge patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that have become familiar. In order to survive, most people who experience trauma develop extreme coping methods that may be effective in the short term but end up making them less functional people in the long term. Despite this reality, a client may find themselves feeling angry, defensive, or panicked when they no longer have access to their old ways of coping or when they realize that they cannot exert control in the ways that have made them feel safe. During these moments of crisis traumatized people are often unable to “think through” their situation and consider their options objectively. Being able to remember the problems or events that motivated them to seek out help may be difficult when they are feeling trapped or scared, leading them to play out their trauma in their relationships with staff, other clients or family members. This is called the trauma triangle. While these impulses are no longer necessary for survival or appropriate for the situation, they feel emotionally real for the person in treatment, which is why out clients often need support from counselors, staff, peers, and family members to successfully get through this period and avoid self-sabotage

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.

At Innova Recovery,
we can help you.