Psych Central

Archive for February, 2013

The Family Story of Trauma: Ways to Change the Legacy

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

family story of traumaWhether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.

How Does a Family Cope?

One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”

All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.

Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?

  • Families have a difficult time speaking about traumatic events because traumatic events assault the fabric of family life.
  • They are unexpected events that threaten, injure, and take the life that was known and the people that were loved.
  • They leave family members overwhelmed, frightened, angry, haunted with images, self-blaming, and bereft.
  • They are beyond what family members can physically and emotionally comprehend.
  •  Traumatic events feel “beyond words”.

Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance

Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”

Historically we know that the opposite is true. As  trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.


Five Strategies to Reduce Excessive Worry

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Given natural disasters, school violence, unemployment, deployment, the fiscal cliff, the flu, erratic weather patterns and tax changes, there are plenty of things to worry about. Everyone worries. The question is how much?

Worry is the negative thinking we do when we are faced with a real or anticipated threat. It is the “ thinking” component of the physical heart racing, shallow breathing and sweaty palms that make up anxiety. “ What if I lose my job?”  “ What if we are hit with another storm? What if something happens to my child?”

Whereas a certain degree of worry may prompt us to plan ahead, ask for help, or change behavior patterns, experts tell us that excessive worry is toxic.

What Causes Excessive Worry

The common misconception that fuels excessive worry is the belief that worry actually accomplishes something positive:

“ I want to be ready when the other shoe drops.”

The Impact of Excessive Worry

  • In reality, excessive worry is not only ineffective as a strategy; but often sets in motion a vicious cycle of paralysis, poor problem solving and fear of coping which in turn escalates more worry.
  • Physically, excessive worry is costly. It trips the release of stress hormones, disrupts sleeping and eating patterns and often compromises the immune system.
  • Overall, spending time ” anticipating the worst” debilitates rather than prepares us for what may or may not happen.

Five Ways to Reduce Toxic Worry

Worry need not become a toxic cycle that takes more than it gives. Here are six strategies that wind down toxic worry:

Reconsider and Refocus

Are you worrying about “ What if” or “What is?” Most excessive worry is about  ‘What if’ – something that we have no proof will ever happen. Keeping you focus and energy on addressing ‘what is’ is not only more realistic but more likely to positively impact your life.

From Thought to Action

As a rule of thumb, if we are acting out too much, it makes sense to start thinking and if we are thinking too much, it makes sense to start acting.

Accordingly, another valuable strategy for reducing worry is to move from thought to action. No …


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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