Trauma is your emotional response to a distressing event or situation. Nearly everyone has experienced trauma at some point. Trauma can include, and is not limited to:
- Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- Sexual or physical assault
- Death of a loved one
- Witnessing a traumatic event
- Physical injury or an accident
Family trauma is generally discussed in terms of generational trauma—harm that has passed through generations.
Family trauma can be especially difficult to treat, as it affects the entire unit, and everyone experienced it in their own way. Each member might feel the effects of harm differently. Some may deny the hurt exists at all. Often, cycles of abuse perpetuate themselves from grandparent to parent to child. One abuser in a family can send ripples of trauma to everyone around them.
If you’ve experienced family trauma, you might be experiencing:
- Intrusive thoughts or memories
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Trouble remembering things
- Dissociation or depersonalization
- Body dysmorphia
- Persistent fear, guilt, shame, anger, or other distressing emotion
What are next steps?
The key to healing from trauma is learning how to process emotions. While it’s best to work through this with a therapist, you can begin practicing these techniques on your own. Start with smaller traumas and work up to bigger ones.
Become grounded in your body.
Practice mindfulness—become fully present in your sensory experiences. Check in with your breathing. Bring awareness to your body, your emotions, and the immediate things happening around you.
You can work on this daily and get better the more you do it. This can be done in conjunction with activities like meditation and yoga.
Recognize your trauma and triggers.
Begin to understand that you’ve experienced trauma. This is no easy feat. It can feel simpler to push your suspicions aside or avoid certain situations that trigger painful memories.
Recognizing your trauma will help you begin to feel your feelings, which is one of the first steps toward healing.
Seek behavioral therapy.
There are different therapy methods that can help.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to reframe how you connect your behaviors and thoughts and feelings. Over time, you likely don’t even recognize which behaviors (and the thoughts that come after) are dysfunctional. A therapist will help you identify your dysfunctional patterns and schemas. They can work with you to retrain your behaviors, reactions, and understand your emotions.
In narrative exposure therapy (NET), you will slowly process the traumatic moments of your life while also focusing on positive experiences. By moving slowly through your memories and the emotions associated with them, you’ll fill in the fragments with details. Eventually, you’ll arrive at a full life narrative, having processed the traumatic memories and brought positive memories to the surface.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) uses bilateral eye movement to help you process trauma. Like with NET, you will build a narrative of your life with your therapist. As you walk through your traumatic memories with your therapist, they will engage you in bilateral eye stimulation, moving your eyes from one side to another. This means you’ll be using the biological processes in Rapid Eye Movement to transform how you feel about your traumatic experiences.
Other therapies that might be useful are prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. You may find one or a few of these to be effective in addressing your particular needs.
Beginning the process of healing from your family trauma is a brave undertaking. Recognize the strength you have to even make these changes in your life. It takes courage to break the cycle of trauma that harms so many families.
Seeking professional treatment is the best path toward healing. If you feel you would benefit from therapy to help you heal your family trauma, please reach out to us.
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