posted on March 22, 2018 09:14
Many people within our community are living with the ongoing effects of past and present trauma and without the right support are left struggling with their health and well-being.
We are all becoming more aware of trauma and how common it is. The twenty-four-hour news cycle, social media, and published research bring the reality of trauma to us on a daily basis. This includes war and civil unrest, domestic and family violence, and publicity around child sexual abuse. But sexual abuse is only one sort of trauma. Physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect, are also common. So, too, is living with the impacts of community and family violence.
A credible estimate is that 1 in 4 Australian adults are living with the impacts of childhood trauma alone. Yet despite the vast numbers of people affected, most of us do not know how to ‘talk about trauma’. Trauma is ‘everyone’s business’. When we are all able to acknowledge trauma and respond appropriately, we will no longer have a society that silences trauma survivors, ignores their trauma, fails to respond and makes the effects of trauma so much worse. To do this, we need to build our capacity to ‘talk about trauma’. This will also limit any regret related to ‘not knowing’ and not doing everything we could to help our family members receive the support they need to recover.
But how do we have safe supportive and constructive conversations with family members we know or suspect are experiencing trauma? There are many types of families and family relationships. They range from our ‘immediate’ family of origin and first degree relatives, to ‘created’ families, which include partners, in-laws, step-relationships and people who are not ‘technically’ family but who in some instances, can become ‘de facto’ family due to the closeness of connection and mutual support and respect. Families are complicated. Any experience of interpersonal trauma for a member of the family – particularly if the trauma relates to any sort of abuse within the family – may have major implications and produce ripple effects for other family members and for the whole family system.
This does not mean that you should be silent if you suspect or become aware of a family member’s interpersonal trauma. This would continue the secrecy which enabled the trauma in the first place. It means that if you are initiating a conversation to express your concern and support, it is best to consider the implications beforehand. This includes the need for possible follow up.
The following tips can help you speak with a family member you know or suspect may experience interpersonal trauma:
• ‘Choose your moment’ if you are starting the conversation.
• If possible, avoid a time when either of you is stressed. Ensure basic conditions of physical and emotional safety.
• Respect the family member’s preference in setting the location, time etc. and be sensitive to their level of comfort.
• Approach the person with empathy and concern.
• Consider any implications for family roles as well as personality style (e.g. a mother speaking to a daughter; siblings to one another).
• Try to adopt a manner and tone that is informal rather than ‘heavy’; express concern sensitively but directly.
• Be aware of your nonverbal communications (including facial expressions, body posture etc.) and be sensitive to theirs.
• Listen carefully, reassure the person, and allow them plenty of opportunity to speak. Don’t ‘talk over’ them, and don’t underestimate the validation your presence and concern can bring.
• Take it slowly and steer the conversation away from any distressing detail that could overwhelm the person. Suggest taking breaks if either of you need to.
• Avoid ‘being a counsellor’ while listening in a supportive way. Explore what they and you both need, including the need for follow up support.
Families rely on trust, safety and the power of healthy positive relationships and connection. This includes the importance of support around challenging issues, such as the all too common experience of trauma. Click here to read more