How Trauma Can Affect Family Dynamics

The journey to recovery begins with a single step. Sometimes it’s one giant leap, and other times it’s just a simple skip, but the first step is always an important one. Taking that first step can be done alone or with others. Even when you don’t realize that you’re taking it, there’s always something special about finding the strength within oneself to make that small step. However, the journey doesn’t stop there; it’s just beginning.

The family of someone affected by chronic illness or trauma has also experienced the effects of whatever was plaguing their loved one, whether it’s serious or minor. Whether they’ve been directly impacted themselves or not, some changes happen to the family dynamic, depending on what has happened.

Trauma affects each person involved in different ways. Their involvement in the situation, personality, coping abilities, and even gender can play a role in how easy or difficult recovery is.


What Is Trauma?

Trauma can be an experience where there was actual or threatened death, serious injury or pain, or sexual violation. Traumatic experiences can change the structures in your brain, altering how you view yourself and others.

What Are The Effects Of Trauma?

Many different things can happen when a traumatic experience impacts your family as a whole. While some people may feel as if everything is fine, others may have concerns about what happened and its effect on them in the future. 

In some cases, trauma can tear a family apart because of how everyone deals with it. If you’re wondering whether or not you and your family need counseling from professionals such as the team at Jackson House, it may be time to sit on it and talk about what happened openly and honestly.

It’s important to remember that family dynamics don’t have to be dictated by what happens during trauma, but they may need some work before returning to their old selves. 

The following are possible effects on the family after traumatic experiences.

  • Increased violent tendencies
  • Becoming overprotective
  • Underdeveloped coping skills and emotions
  • Feeling overwhelmed by sorrow
  • Losing trust within relationships
  • Difficulty expressing your true feelings
  • Loss of intimacy within relationships
  • Increased alcohol and drug use

Different Responses To Trauma

Everyone responds to trauma in different ways. There’s no one sure formula to respond, just how it seems to be the most effective for that individual. 

Here are the different ways a family member may respond to trauma:

  • The blamer: This type of person will blame others for the difficulties their loved one is going through and not see things from any other perspective than their own.
  • The fixer: This is someone who goes out of their way to help others, even if they’re not the ones affected by the trauma. This person may neglect themselves to take care of those around them and either needs to learn how to set limits or simply let others take some control.
  • The avoider: When this type of person can’t manage their own emotions, they’ll simply withdraw instead of seeking help or support. This behavior can be detrimental to relationships and can cause more problems than it solves, so they must find somebody to guide them back to a place of trust and openness.
  • The family caregiver: This person takes on the role of caregiver for their loved one’s family, even when they’re healthy. They may be overworked but won’t ask or allow others to help them carry that responsibility, leading to resentment from those expected to pick up the extra slack. This person may need to learn how to let others take the reins once in a while or simply be willing to ask for help when they need it.
  • The enabler: This type of person enables their loved one to make poor decisions like avoiding responsibilities or not dealing with critical issues. Instead of enabling, this person needs to take responsibility for themselves and begin setting boundaries to help the other family member develop more appropriate coping skills.
  • The detached: This person has difficulty connecting with others and will often try to keep their feelings to themselves. They may be distant from their loved ones and make excuses to avoid spending time with them. While these people should remove themselves from a toxic environment, they need to find a way to connect with others in healthy ways despite the trauma.

Coping Within A Household

When someone experiences trauma, there’s usually an imbalance in coping skills. Following are some of the different ways family members can connect and cope with what they’re going through. It’s important to remember that it can’t be forced but rather allowed to happen organically.

1. Talking About What’s Happening Vs. Sharing Experience

It’s very common for family members who aren’t involved in the trauma to feel left out or alone. When this happens, they may ask questions, which can become overwhelming for the person experiencing it firsthand. It’s not unusual for them to deflect with statements like “Well, I’m doing fine” or “I don’t know why everyone’s so upset.”

The best way to connect in these situations is simply by allowing them to bring it up on their terms while not setting any expectations. If they do open up, then you can share your feelings about what’s happening while staying aware of what questions are too much for them to answer right away.

2. Listening Vs. Fixing

When connecting with the person who has experienced the trauma, there’s a difference between listening and fixing. It’s necessary to understand that not everything can be undone, which means that the best thing you can do for them is to offer support instead of advice.

Even though it may be difficult, don’t turn the conversation into one about what you would do or how you would handle things if that were your family member. The best thing you can offer is a chance to let out some of those emotions and frustrations in a safe place where they know they won’t feel judged.

3. Keeping Tabs Vs. Space

When someone close to you experiences a trauma, it’s common for those that weren’t there to have many questions. Sometimes family members feel the need to ask their loved ones how they’re doing daily if possible. While this isn’t meant to be controlling but rather supportive, it can be overwhelming for someone trying to process what has happened.

This type of behavior can often lead the person experiencing the trauma to close up and put up walls, which can cause even more distance between everyone. So how do you deal with this?

Asking them questions about their recovery can be helpful, but don’t expect to get the full answer. Instead, think about what you’re trying to accomplish by asking these questions and how it can benefit them to feel comfortable enough with you to say something.

4. Asking Vs. Telling

When people experience trauma, they don’t always want to talk about it in great detail right away. Even without saying anything, their behavior may speak volumes to other family members about what’s going on.

Sometimes people can get upset when they don’t know things because it’s not their place to ask. However, if they see that the person who has experienced the trauma isn’t ready to talk, it will become easier to wait until it’s a good time.

5. Letting Them Vent Vs. Interrupting

Talking about what’s going on can be difficult for the person who has experienced trauma, especially if they feel like no one else understands or that everyone is judging them for their feelings. The last thing you want to end up doing is interrupting them when they try to speak. Instead, let them know that you’ll listen when they’re ready, but don’t pry before they think it’s a good time.

The same goes for when they’re venting. Just because people are sharing everything on their minds doesn’t mean you should start offering suggestions or advice right away. It’s best to provide them with an open space where they can just get the feelings out without fear of judgment.

6. Understanding Vs. Feeling Responsible

These coping mechanisms have a lot to do with the enabler type of personality mentioned earlier. Sometimes people find it challenging to understand where others are coming from. Still, instead of listening and trying to understand, they become defensive and upset because they feel like something should be done about the situation.

If you find yourself thinking along these lines, it may be helpful to ask yourself what you’d do if this were your child or family member. While you may have good intentions, you may end up doing more harm than good if you try to interject yourself into the situation.

Final Thoughts

Getting past a traumatic experience can be challenging for everyone involved, but with the proper support, it’s possible. This type of journey and any emotions that come up along the way shouldn’t be walked alone, and keeping the lines of communication open will always help make things better in the end. If you ever feel you need help navigating what’s going on, it’s always best to reach out for support instead of trying to tough it out on your own. Not only can family members play a huge role in helping someone after experiencing trauma, but they’re often the very reason that an individual decides to seek counseling or treatment in the first place.



Welcome to the Night Helper Blog. The Night Helper Blog was created in 2008. Since then we have been blessed to partner with many well-known Brands like Best Buy, Fisher Price, Toys "R" US., Hasbro, Disney, Teleflora, ClearCorrect, Radio Shack, VTech, KIA Motor, MAZDA and many other great brands. We have three awesome children, plus four adorable very active grandkids. From time to time they too are contributors to the Night Helper Blog. We enjoy reading, listening to music, entertaining, travel, movies, and of course blogging.

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