For Supportive Family Members and Friends
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What is Relational Trauma?
It can be challenging to support a friend or family member who has experienced relational trauma.
Relational trauma differs from non-relational trauma in that it happens within the context of relationship to another. This sounds simple, but isn't. What this means is that relational trauma impacts the individual's understanding of self and other within context of relationship.
When someone is in a car accident trauma, there may be impacts which include: fear of driving, trauma response when driving down a particular road or on a highway. There might be sound triggers (i.e. the song which was playing at the time of the accident) or negative internalized messages about self, regarding guilt or shame around responsibility from the accident.
When someone is harmed within relationship with another (even if it is a virtual stranger), the internalized messages can become more complex. There might be self-doubt around trusting others, feeling guilty, responsible, shameful, bad, deserving, different, not good enough, broken or damaged, unworthy, or unheard. These messages about self and others become part of the context of how the individual may interact with new people and relationships (whether caregiver, friend, teacher, boss, co-worker, etc.)
Relational trauma impacts can be widespread and pervasive in someone's life.
How Can I Help?
If you have a loved one who has experienced relational trauma; through sexual or emotional or physical or mental or financial violence, it can leave you feeling helpless or powerless to 'make things better'. Please know that even small responses can have a significant impact on their healing journey. Read some of the tips below on how you can be a supportive person in their life and can contribute to their healing.