Trauma responses are your reactions to things that remind you of past trauma. Certain situations might trigger you emotionally, causing anxiety, agitation, and even emotional distance between you and your loved ones.
Raising a child might trigger some of these responses, which can affect your relationship and how you parent. Understanding your trauma responses can make you more conscious of how it is affecting your parenting and hopefully heal your relationship with your children.
What Are Trauma Responses?
The way you naturally react to trauma is a trauma response. It is how your mind and body cope with the trauma and how you carry on with it emotionally. How you react to trauma also depends on the severity of the trauma. There are two common responses to trauma. The first is to feel incredibly anxious. You might find yourself on high alert because you fear something bad will happen again. The other response is to become completely numb. Trauma frequently causes shock. If you are in shock, you will become numb to your feelings and surroundings.
Trauma responses are not just emotional. Trauma responses are mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical. Of these response categories, there are countless ways you may react to traumatic experiences. You might experience intrusive thoughts, relive the event constantly, develop one or more mental disorders, or may turn to substance use.
Unfortunately, trauma can consume many parts of your life. That includes your ability to parent and maintain a healthy relationship with your children. In order to heal from the trauma, you must heal from the areas of your life that trauma has affected. Before doing that, you must be able to recognize where these effects have taken place.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sometimes, the trauma you experience is so severe that you might develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Institue of Mental Health (NIMH) describes PSTD as a “disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” PTSD affects your natural fight-or-flight response to danger. PTSD causes you to feel stressed or frightened in situations where there is no danger. There is no one cause of PTSD either. It is commonly diagnosed in soldiers and veterans, but something as mundane as the passing of a loved one can also cause PTSD.
The European Journal of Psychotraumatology has researched the impact of parental post-traumatic stress disorder on parenting. In their research, they observed parenting domains such as parenting satisfaction, parenting stress, the parent-child relationship, and other specific parenting practices. Some of their observations were inconclusive, but results findings indicated that “parental PTSD is associated with impaired functioning across a number of parenting domains, including increased levels of parenting stress, lower parenting satisfaction, less optimal parent-child relationships, and more frequent use of negative parenting practices.” Just because you experience trauma does not mean you will develop PTSD. Although, it can still affect your parenting style.
How Trauma Can Affect Your Parenting?
It is important to emphasize that responses to trauma are normal. You should not feel like you are failing your children. Although, you should be able to recognize the areas of parenting being affected and know how to improve them. Different responses to trauma can affect various areas of parenting.
If you fall into shock, you might be emotionally unavailable.
While in shock, you can become numb to the world around you. In addition to being emotionally unavailable, you may even dissociate, causing children to feel like you do not care about them. Of course, that is not the case. As you learn to cope with your trauma response better and fall back into reality, you will be able to connect again with your kids emotionally.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you become overly anxious and on high alert, you may have the opposite effect. Perhaps you become so fearful that you are overbearing. Overly sheltering and controlling children has many repercussions. Especially as they get older, kids often feel suffocated and eventually become more rebellious, causing even more tension in your relationship.
Trauma responses can affect your parenting style even more severely than if you were in shock or on high alert. If you are severely suffering from unresolved trauma, you may become neglectful or abusive. Neglect and abuse become so traumatic that the children carry it into their adulthood, causing a cycle of unresolved trauma and harmful parenting styles.
Healing From Trauma
The first step in healing from trauma is learning to cope with the traumatic events. According to the NIMH, some ways to cope with trauma include:
Creating a routine to follow every day
Prioritizing quality sleep, exercise, and nutrition
Avoiding alcohol and drugs
Surrounding yourself with a support network
Spending time with family, friends, and loved ones
Consider treatment if your trauma is taking over your life. Several psychotherapies can benefit you, such as exposure therapy or cognitive restructuring. Through treatment, you can finally be able to heal from your trauma. As you heal, you can improve your parenting style and relationship with your children. If your children are older, it may take more time to repair the relationship.
Start by making amends for your actions. Explain the effects unresolved trauma had on you, not as an excuse, but to inform on the harm of trauma. The best thing you can do is to be there for them and prove that you can continue to be there when they need you.
Consider reaching out to Chateau Recovery if you are seeking trauma or PTSD treatment. Chateau offers a holistic and evidence-based approach to treatment and offers ongoing support to our clients. To see if Chateau is a good fit, reach out to us today.