Project Description

Trauma and the Family

Families can be impacted by a loved one’s trauma in several ways.  It is unusual for family members to walk away unscathed due to exposure to the trauma second hand or due to the emotional and behavioral changes in their loved one.

What is Secondary Trauma?

Secondary trauma is the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a person who has been traumatize or is suffering. It is also called vicarious trauma and can be described as the effect of a person’s traumatic stress symptoms (anger, flashbacks, nightmares, etc.) on others.   Current research indicates that the effects of PTSD on intimate relationships include severe and pervasive negative effects on the marital relationship, general family functioning, and the mental health of partners and children. These negative effects result in problems with parenting, sexual functioning, depression/anxiety, and caregiver burden that can lead to aggression, family violence, and divorce.

How does PTSD affect families and loved ones?

People who have suffered trauma oftentimes dull their emotions and feel detached from others. They sometimes distance themselves from others and their own thoughts of the traumatic event. They do not do this on purpose.  When family members reach out to help, they are sometimes ignored or rejected.  After which family members may become resentful or angry toward their loved one. This often triggers the person to become more withdrawn. Eventually this need to detach may lead to substance abuse, or loss of a job by their own actions. Some family members may feel guilty that they cannot help their loved one.

Other people with PTSD may act out in an angry aggressive manner.  Their trauma may get trigged by seemingly nothing – when in reality it is an experience that causes the individual to recall the previous traumatic memory, (the trigger itself need not be frightening or traumatic), and it can cause the person to re-experience the original event.  It can activate the original feelings and responses in the form of intrusive thoughts, negative emotions, negative self-referenced beliefs, and unpleasant body sensations.  The family members may witness these events or be the target of them thus causing them trauma.

Research has shown that PTSD in one family member can affect the family dynamics and have a negative impact on other individual family members. People with PTSD have more marital problems than those without.  Children of those with PTSD have more anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems than other children. Other problems experienced by individuals with PTSD, like substance abuse and neglecting healthy eating and exercise can have unintended harmful consequences on family members too.

Children are more effected by Trauma

Trauma impacts the following in children:

    • Basic Brain Structure
    • Regulation – emotional and physical
    • Brain Development
    • All development
    • Attachment

How do children cope with traumatic experiences?  

Children deal with trauma through dissociation or hyperarousal – these responses are designed to keep themselves safe, yet they are labeled negatively.  It can be difficult to understand their behavior because when children are unable to achieve a sense of control and safety they become helpless – which they deal with through compliance or defiance.  If they are unable to grasp what is going on and unable to change it, they go immediately from (fearful) stimulus to (fight/flight/freeze) response without being able to learn from the experience. Subsequently, when they are exposed to reminders of a trauma (sensations, physiological states, images, sounds, situations) they tend to behave as if they were traumatized all over again.  These efforts to minimize the threat and regulate emotional distress are often seen as problem behaviors. Unless caregivers, teachers, therapists understand the nature of such re-enactments they are liable to label the child as “oppositional”, “rebellious”, “unmotivated”, and “antisocial”.

Developmental Symptoms of Early Childhood Trauma

  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Disturbed attachment patterns – clingy, aloof, unable to be consoled by caregiver
  • Rapid behavioral regressions
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of initiative
  • Aggressive behavior against self and others
  • Cognitive, Speech and Motor delays
  • Lack of bodily regulation in the areas of sleep, food and self-care
  • Altered views of self and the world around them
  • Hyper-response, anticipatory behavior and traumatic expectations
  • Multiple physical problems, from gastrointestinal distress to headaches
  • Lack of awareness of danger and resulting self-endangering behaviors
  • Self-hatred and self-blame

Children’s Reactions to Trauma

  • Chronic feelings of helplessness/hopelessness
  • Altered views of self and the world around them
  • Hyper-response, anticipatory behavior and traumatic expectations
  • Multiple physical problems, from gastrointestinal distress to headaches
  • Lack of awareness of danger and resulting self-endangering behaviors
  • Self-hatred and self-blame

Trauma in children may be misdiagnosed as:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • ADHD
  • Bi Polar Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


There is nothing quite as powerful as words of praise from a patient or colleague. Here what some of them have to say!

Rachel Starr has a mastery of in-depth emotional therapeutic work. She brings to her clients her experience, skill, compassion, intuition, and commitment. I refer my clients to Rachel for EMDR when they need to process trauma on the emotional and body levels. I trust her to lead them through their journey of healing with expertise and professionalism.

ANNA BETH CARSON, Inner Child Healing Coach

Rachael is one of the most professional, knowledgeable and empathetic therapists I have known in 30 years of going to therapy. I often say i could have shaved 15-20 of those years of money, time and hunting for therapist had I met Rachael sooner. Trauma is not something all therapist are equipt to deal with effectively. Rachael has not only helped me address the root causes of by trauma but also begin to heal from it. Rachael is the best and last therapist I will ever need.

LINDA, Childhood Trauma & PTSD

Ready to Heal?

While it is better to call, if you are unable, please fill out the information request below, and someone from The 11th Hour Trauma Retreat will call you. To get more information by phone please dial (772) 475-3334

[contact-form-7 id="20" title="Get More Information"]