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The Lasting Effects of Trauma

Today while scrolling through Facebook, where I read most of my human interest news, I read an appalling story of a young 6 year old boy who was kidnapped by….wait for it… his OWN FAMILY! His mother and grandmother apparently gave consent for his aunt and a coworker to falsely kidnap the boy to teach him a “lesson” about stranger danger. The news report indicated the family thought the boy was “too nice” to strangers.  I won’t go into more graphic details about the event in order not to traumatize you as you read this. I often take measures to avoid reading this sort of news. There is a good reason. I don’t want to traumatize myself and ever since having children, I feel particularly vulnerable to hearing about children being injured either emotionally or physically. Actually, I shield myself from most traumatizing news stories now that I specialize in working with trauma victims. I know the damage even secondary trauma can cause. I always discourage my clients from over exposing themselves to news like this as its often unfruitful for them.

I chose to comment on this article because doing so is fruitful. Initially it made me angry. How could these so called adults not know that something of this magnitude not only could but wouldhave long lasting effects on an innocent child that are irreversible. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines trauma as

”(1) experiencing a serious injury to yourself or witnessing a serious injury to or the death of someone else, (2) facing imminent threats of serious injury or death to yourself or others, or (3) experiencing a violation of personal physical integrity. These experiences usually call forth overwhelming feelings of terror, horror, or helplessness.”

This situation includes all three of these points. To help the reader understand the impact of trauma on a child, typical behavioral reactions to trauma in children include: sleep disturbance such as inability to fall asleep, being fearful of sleeping due to hyper-vigilance or worry and nightmares, guilt feelings that somehow they caused or could have prevented the trauma, regressive behavior such as bed wetting or thumb sucking well after those milestones were reached, newly developed fears of being left alone, being in the dark, or monsters. They could also start to have temper tantrums, irritability, crying fits, behavioral outbursts, depression and anxiety.  Depending on their age, children may not be able to fully process the traumatic events and therefore may have limited ability to express themselves and adapt to the aftermath.

The ability for adults as well as children to rebound from a traumatic incident largely depends on their support system, history of trauma or stability and the severity of the trauma. What are the chances that this 6 year old boy has a history of fully functional home life that provided love, support and the teaching of good morals and values to equip him to handle this horrific life altering event? I’m not betting on any family support for him to manage this crisis as his family is the ones who acted so moronically. As a matter of fact, this child’s life as his knew it is gone. While that may not be an altogether a bad thing, given the choices his family made this will certainly be devastating for him. After just suffering the biggest trauma of his life, this child will likely end up in a stranger’s home, in a strange place, and knowing no one.

It’s important to recognize that each of us is vulnerable to the effects of trauma, even if it’s secondary. Remember it’s okay to stay in the know, but continually exposing yourself to traumatic news events, mass shootings, executions, even the impacts of natural disasters and your local crime can have lasting impacts not only on you, but on your children. Learn to protect yourself against too much of this information, especially if you’ve had trauma in your history.

Secondly, learn to self examine whether you may need support in dealing with trauma from your past. Most of us think of only major serious events as traumatic, however two people who undergo the same event may interpret that event vastly different. One may walk away relatively unscathed as they are able to adapt the upsetting situation into their world. Another person however may have lasting effects that they cannot shake. If you are the latter, don’t suffer in silence. There is help out there to deal with symptoms before they overwhelm you. Talk to family and friends, but if that’s not enough or they don’t understand, find a support group, either live or online, talk to a counselor, or others who can relate to what you’re going through.

As for the 6 year old boy, I will be praying for him as he faces the unknown and praying for the right therapist, foster parent, teacher, guidance counselor, pastor, extended relative or neighbor to help him navigate what he cannot even grasp at his tender age. I will shield my own 6 year old from anything that can harm him and I will continue to help trauma survivors reclaim their lives and find healing and hope.