Suffering a Traumatic Event as a Family: How to Weather the Storm

Families are all the stronger for the difficulties they face together. However, there are some difficulties which are too much for any family, and which can threaten to dismantle them through no fault of their own. Traumatic experiences take a great many guises, from catastrophic accidents and injuries to the personal experiencing of earth-shattering news events. How you approach the days, weeks and months after such a life-altering experience is key for your personal and collective health. What do you need to know to weather the storm?

Early Responses

The early hours, days and weeks after a traumatic event can often blur into one. Everyone’s trauma responses will be different, from closing off and dissociating completely to taking on personal responsibility for ongoing safety and security – and everything in-between. Being aware that you will be operating ‘out-of-spec’ as a family is a great start, so you can meet one another’s needs appropriately.

Civil Recourse

Depending on the nature of the traumatic experience at hand, your family may have some opportunity for civil recourse. For example, if a member of your family suffered a catastrophic injury in a public place, resulting in the amputation of a limb, you may have good reason to get in touch with a solicitor. Amputation claims can bring an element of closure to a traumatic experience that was no fault of your family’s, as well as some much-needed financial compensation to cover costs associated with accessibility changes and emotional damage.

Here, though, an extremely important point bears making. The outcome of any civil case relating to the traumatic experience your family was unfortunate enough to experience should not inform your recovery as a family. Acknowledgement of civil liability, and the payment of compensation accordingly, is one small part of a much larger and more complex journey; money can never undo what was done, and pinning hopes on what is effectively a dry bureaucratic process will do little for longer-term mental health.

Emotional Recovery

With this in mind, a structured and empathetic approach to emotional recovery should be your focus as a family. Family therapy sessions are indispensable, regardless the individual feelings any one member might have about the efficacy of ‘talking cures’; gentle encouragement to attend, even if just to show solidarity as a family unit, should be utilised.

Therapy is not a panacea for the trauma and grief you will be feeling between yourselves, though. Recovery is not a linear journey, nor is it a singular path. Different family members will have different reactions to the event and to their response, which can unfortunately lead to family friction in the medium term. While therapy can be a huge help in this regard, it is also important that you form a united front on group activities – even something as simple as a forest walk together – to share in your experiences post-trauma.

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