Whether 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?
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.
Disaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.
Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.
While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.
Depression Occurs after Trauma:
Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.
Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.
Be it the toy truck, the pasta bowl, the piano, the silver earrings or the old books, we all have stuff because psychologically we need stuff.
Sartre holds that “to have” (along with “to do” and “to be”) is one of the three categories of human existence…
Wired for Stuff
Famous psychologist, Donald Winnicott, tells us that long before we could verbalize the need, we transitioned from merged oneness with mother to “transitional objects,” the favorite blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, or a piece of cloth that was attributed a special value as a means of making the shift from mother to genuine object relationships.
That said, our relationship with objects, “our stuff” never stops. It unfolds throughout our life; reflecting who we are, where we are, whom we are connected with and what we need to be ourselves.
One of the reasons we find it easier to ask others rather than ourselves, “Do you really need this stuff?” is that the actual value of anything is primarily a function of our investment in it and/or our interaction with it. We give “stuff” value and meaning.
Many people face a traumatic event in adult life. Be it a serious car accident, combat, rape, a natural disaster or the loss of a child, people are often confronted with a horrific event that threatens death or serious injury to themselves or someone else, or involves the traumatic loss of a friend or loved one.
While such trauma is in itself physically and emotionally assaultive, trauma theorist Robert Stolorow proposes that beyond the actual event, it is the emotions suffered after the event that become the unbearable emotional pain of trauma.
Stolorow’s contribution to the field is his articulation of these feelings in a way that becomes an invaluable resource for validation.
The new film, “The Hunger Games,” based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, has outstripped Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax as the top grossing film this year. Perhaps because it is based on a young adult novel written in the voice of a 16-year-old heroine with many young fans, it earned a MPAA rating of PG-13 despite considerable violence. As such, there has been concern about its impact on the millions of teens who will be viewing it.
Research studies have demonstrated both an increase in aggression and desensitization to violence by children and teens viewing many hours of violence in TV shows, interactive games and films. Longitudinal, cross-sectional, and experimental studies have all confirmed this correlation.
In “ The Hunger Games” what is of particular concern is that the violence is lethal violence of children against children, an activity portrayed as “games.”
The Role of Parents
As parents you can best mediate the impact of what your children have seen or are viewing if you are “media literate” i.e. – you know what your children and teens are exposed to. Accordingly, if your teens have seen or are going to see “The Hunger Games,” it makes sense for you to see it. If necessary, see it separately.
Last week the media reported the sad and unanticipated deaths of two men. Derek Boogaard of the Rangers died from an accidental overdose of the drug oxycodone mixed with alcohol and retired lieutenant, John A. Garcia, a 23-year veteran of FDNY who not only responded to 9/11 but responded and lost two of his men in the Deutsche Bank Fire. died by suicide.
One can’t help but wonder if the tragic deaths reflect the danger of hidden depression in men. Increasingly we have become aware that although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, many men, beyond the 10-17% diagnosed, may also be suffering with depression.
Depression May Be More Deadly for Men
What makes depression in men so dangerous? It too often goes unrecognized and untreated because it is masked by physical complaints, substance abuse, anger and other stealth symptoms.
Today a concerned parent commented to my blog “Could My Teen Commit Suicide?” by describing his 14 year old daughter who had begun cutting herself.
He asked “Could this be a warning sign?”
Also today two colleagues raised concerns about young people engaged in cutting – one a female college student and one a 15 year old male.
Whether parent or professional, this is a topic that concerns and confuses us. It is one that we cannot ignore. It is one worth considering.