Sometimes, the indicators of trauma are not clear or easy to pick out. My family law clients come into the conversation generally fully functioning adults in society, succeeding in their profession/business and in their parenting role. Then through questions and building relationship the client feels a sense of safety and begins to open a little.
Clients could also express anger, depression, anxiety, all the emotional stressors that are causing them to not be as fully functioning as they could be. They’re beginning to realize that there is something triggering them. Together in a safe space we try to put our arms around and figure out what that might be. Again, not as a therapeutic model, but as a constructive conversation supporting them in this important life’s transition. We are working together to resolve a long-standing family dispute, not resolve some earlier childhood or inter-generational trauma. Yet understanding how the two are could be inextricably related does assist dramatically in resolving the matter. Most clients come to me not with an idea for a band-aid but seek legal action causing a major life change.
A client, let’s call her Nancy, comes to me having had been raped and is having difficulty finding intimacy with her partner. The partner is asking for a divorce because of this. Through a series of questions, the trauma comes up. “What caused the breakup?” “What are they experiencing?” “What shame might they be experiencing in this breakup?” We know historically around divorce, there’s always some degree of shame for just going through the separation/divorce process. I ask about the cause of that shame and find it’s often not so much about the public image, as it is a feeling of failure. A victim in an abusive situation or relationship often carries a sense of failure that, “I caused this”. In Nancy’s case she was working in therapy, she understood the intergenerational traumatic aspect of her experience, and entered a collaborative divorce process to best protect and strengthen her goals in starting newly in the world.
This shame can create an enabling behavior, that lead to one form or another of domestic violence. Note that domestic violence victims are not the only ones who suffer from trauma. There trauma is more acute in a domestic violence case and their safety is at risk.
Long-Term Physiological Effects Of Trauma
The lasting effect of trauma is like you are continuously dragging a weight with no break. In trauma discussions, it’s sometimes viewed as an iceberg. That the stacks of experiences of abuse or traumatic events stack on top of one another, but we only see the bit that’s on the surface.
The foundational piece of trauma is often in our family of origin. What I view is that an individual’s superpowers exist within some of those earlier times when they experienced abuse or something traumatic, like a death, a loss of a parent. I’ve seen this with me I have worked with who lost their fathers when they were young. They tend to have not processed the loss fully. Then they come into a family conflict with a lot of pent-up anger because of their loss and grief they never fully resolved. These feelings show up in how they parent, possibly because they didn’t have that role model to guide them. Unconsciously this anger or grief directs how they parent and how they can feel comfortable in their manhood. This may show up as unhealthy behaviors all too often impacting the other spouse and children.
Physical symptoms could show up in children being unable to process early trauma. Children may develop any number of ailments as a way of coping and not address the underlying cause such as one parent or both parents acting in ways that are not kind and compassionate towards one another.
The long-term impacts of trauma are carried over since their childhood and they may find themselves struggling in their parenting role. I spend time with young families in setting up a parenting plan, working on each of their mutual responsibilities, and the effects of their behavior on their children. But this is when they’re coming to me to help separate and to develop this child access plan or parenting plan; this is after the fact. We’re all dealing with the effect of what may have occurred that caused their anger, frustration and lack of patience with the other.
The long-term effects of traumatic events are vast. It’s been demonstrated scientifically that these traumatic effects are being carried over to second or third generation, from the first generation traumatic experiences. Much of the scientific research is in second and third generation Holocaust survivors. We can see how it plays out with Sharon and her decision not to try alienating her husband from his kids the way her father did with her and her mother. One of the hopes that I have in my work, is to bring attention to this pattern of trauma where it is nobody’s fault. If we don’t bring awareness to it, we are continuing to perpetuate some of these dysfunctions. It is the responsibility of the client, the family, the attorney, and the whole team of people who are working to support the clients, to bring some closure and resolution to this issue.