Brat trauma handout2_051313


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Brat trauma handout2_051313

  1. 1. Military Families & Trauma There are many wonderful aspects of growing up in a military family, but if trauma is “something negative that happens to a person over which they have no control,” a military family’s life can be filled with lots of trauma, too – and not just war-related. Multiple moves, parental absence, pressures to subvert personal needs for the sake of the Mission can all take their toll on soldiers, spouses, and children. These experiences can cause some individuals to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other symptoms of anxiety, including depression. Military families may appear tough and resilient on the outside, but that may not accurately reflect what’s going on inside. Understanding trauma may be one of the most important steps you can take to helping your family lead full and satisfying lives before, during, and after deployment. Warning - Disclaimer The information in this handout is intended to stimulate ideas, conversation and research. It is NOT intended as a substitute for consultation with health care professionals. Each individual’s health concerns should be evaluated by a qualified professional. The Definition of Trauma Understanding how the brain and body process, remember, and store traumatic events is the key to healing trauma. Remember – there is no right or wrong reaction to trauma! What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another, depending on a multitude of issues, including old childhood traumas. Please leave your judgments at the door. “Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.” - Judith Herman, MD, Trauma and Recovery How Memory is Stored in the Brain & Body The brain stores memories of traumatic and non-traumatic events in different ways. When a traumatic event happens, the brain releases hormones that prepare the body to take defensive action – via fight or flight or freeze (if the person can’t fight or run away). The way the body responds is automatic, a person can’t “choose” which way to react under stress. Once the traumatic event is over, the brain releases cortisol that tells the body the event is over and they can return to normal. Something in this process goes wrong with those who develop PTSD. Their brain/body doesn’t know the traumatic event is over. The memory continues to float free in the brain, keeping them in an agitated state, which can take a massive toll on their body. PTSD is “memory gone awry.” - Babette Rothschild, The Body Remembers Common Reactions to Trauma The following is a partial list of reactions to trauma, from Dena Rosenbloom and Mary Beth Williams’ book, Life After Trauma: A Workbook for Healing. If any of these symptoms last more than a month and your soldier, spouse, or child is not functioning as well at home, work/school or in their relationships, seek professional help.  Physical Reactions: nervous, jumpy, tense; upset stomach; panic attacks; teeth grinding; fatigue  Mental Reactions: hypervigilance; dissociation; can’t concentrate/remember; intrusive images; nightmares  Emotional Reactions: fearful; depressed; guilty; angry; numb; loss of trust; helpless; emotional distance  Behavior Reactions: withdrawn; easily startled; confrontational/extremely emotional; change in eating/ grooming habits; restless; hurting self (cutting); poor grades; self-medicating (alcohol/ drugs/food)
  2. 2. Recovery There are 3 stages of recovery from trauma. Most important, the individual must in charge of their own recovery – what they are willing to do, and pace at which they proceed. The best gift you can give is to listen. 1. Establishing Safety. The individual must feel they are in a safe place to heal. 2. Remembering and Mourning. The individual tells their story and mourns what they’ve lost. (Need professional involvement at this stage, because talking about the trauma can re-traumatize the victim.) 3. Reconnecting. The individual reconnects with ordinary life. (This can be difficult for military families, who are constantly moving. That’s why it’s important to stay connected with your military friends.) “The core experiences of psychological trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from others... Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivors and the creation of new connections... Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships, it cannot occur in isolation.” - Judith Herman, MD, Trauma and Recovery Ways to Help (From Life After Trauma: A Workbook for Healing.)  Take care of yourself, too. If you need support, get it from others, not the person suffering.  Learn as much as you can about trauma and its impact.  Prepare your children for potentially traumatic events. Moving is an adventure, but it’s also scary, sad, and potentially traumatizing as they grow older. Don’t ignore that reality or pretend it isn’t affecting them!  Establish routines and encourage relaxation techniques.  Ask what you can do to help and really try to do it. Don’t assume you “know better.”  Don’t try to fix the problem or make the feelings go away. If the person suffering thinks you can’t handle his or her feelings, they may conceal them, which will just make matters worse.  Help the person suffering find support systems and/or professional help, but don’t force it.  Get help sooner, rather than later.  Listen and be patient. Healing from trauma takes time. The Good News People can recover from trauma – both big “T’s” and little “t’s.” It takes time and effort, but the human brain is powerful and it can be done. The pace, however, depends on many factors, including: the severity of the trauma; prior traumas; how supportive friends, family and the community are following the trauma; and just plain old genetics. Don’t assume individuals are equally “resilient.” Just put one foot in front of the other, get the help you need, and odds are, you and your family will be just fine! Resources Judith A. Cohen, et. al. (2006). Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents. The Guilford Press. Deborah Ellis (2008). Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children. Groundwood Books. Judith Herman, M.D. (1997). Trauma and Recovery. Basic Books. Aphrodite Matsakis (1996). Vietnam Wives: Facing the Challenges of Life With Veterans Suffering Post-Traumatic Stress. Sidran Press. Aphrodite Matsakis (2007). Back from the Front: Combat Trauma, Love, and the Family. Sidran Press. Donna Musil, JD (2006). BRATS: Our Journey Home. Brats Without Borders. Karen Petty, Ph.D. (2009). Deployment: Strategies for Working with Kids in Military Families. Redleaf Press. Babette Rothschild (2000). The Body Remembers. W.W. Norton & Company. Janet and Tony Seahorn (2010). Tears of a Warrior: A Family’s Story of Combat and Living with PTSD. Team Pursuits. © 2013 Brats Without Borders, Inc. All Rights Reserved.