We are continuing discussion on the impact of trauma on children and adults. Symptoms of trauma are typically described as internal issues that occur within the victim, such as trouble building relationships—which can be attributed to children or adults. Sometimes relationship-building difficulties are obvious and thus, easily detectible, and sometimes they are more subtle and hidden. In either case, they keep the individual from experiencing emotional health and a full life.
Relational Struggles of Victims of Trauma
You may remember from reading previous posts that trauma creates imprints in the brain. When those imprints (memories) are stimulated by a triggering experience, the effect may be dissociation or hyper-vigilance. Dissociation usually results in fading out, being non-communicative or distant. Hyper-vigilance usually involves exaggerated reactions, misinterpretation of other’s innocent (or even benign) behaviors and body language, hyper-aggressive reactions, inability to pick up on social cues and lack of self-control. Keeping these symptoms in mind, it is easy to envision how trauma-impacted children or adults will often struggle with building and maintaining social and more intimate relationships.
Trauma victims may experience a downward spiral
The more trauma-impacted people struggle with the symptoms of dissociation and/or hyper-vigilance, the less capable they would be of connecting with others in healthy and socially appropriate ways. Without identification of the trauma and processes toward healing, these symptomatic reactions may evolve into a pattern in which it becomes less likely that others will seek them out or can tolerate the confusing, often difficult behaviors indicative of underlying trauma-issues.
Due to overwhelming difficulty in forming relationships, the downward spiral continues in which the trauma-impacted person grows less motivated and less capable to pursue and effectively engage in or maintain meaningful relationships, so, the lonelier, more isolated and less connected he/she becomes.
Conversely, while some withdraw, others might discover they can bully their way into social groups, force themselves into social networks, demand and coerce others to “relate” to them. The forcing of a desired result ultimately fails and ends in inner emptiness because such relationships are unhealthy and toxic in nature.
Addressing social issues for trauma victims
Trauma-impacted people, especially children, often need help in overcoming social issues that are a side effect of being traumatized and exhibiting trauma-related behaviors. What can we do to help children or adults who are traumatized? First, it is important that we listen. We need to gain understanding about their needs and support them with messages that affirm, appreciate and understand their concerns and self-perceptions.
It is important that victims have someone trustworthy to connect with who can actively listen, affirm, teach and offer effective suggestions to help them deal with the difficulties they face each day…someone who understands their struggle and can help them journey through healing and recovery.
Frequently, a trauma-competent therapist is needed to help the person gain a proper perspective, assist with bringing their awareness of the trauma and guide the recovery process. However, friends and family members can be great encouragement, too.
I will continue to write about some needs of trauma victims who have relational problems and how we can help them using specific strategies. Each of us probably knows children and adults who have had difficulty with relationships. These strategies will help us learn how to assist those individuals who suffer relational struggles due to traumatic events in their lives.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.