How to Stop the Cycle of Trauma
If you are in the middle of dealing with your own difficulties, then it can be harder to focus on the difficulties of others. It seems that you need all of your resources just to deal with what is happening to you. Even if another person close to us is experiencing real need, our perception of the importance of those needs can get blunted. There are important reasons to fight this – and good ways to fight it too. But first we need to understand the the cycle of trauma.
A capacity for stress and pressure
Some people seem better able to handle stress and pressure than other people. Some people seem at home in a crisis centre or emergency room with strong emotions; others can feel stressed and overwhelmed by much less than this. These people feel like they have very little capacity to cope when things go wrong, and they feel bad about it.
They feel like they should be better able to cope with other people. They can view their limited capacity for stressful situations as a personal failing.
This harsh criticism of themselves only adds to the stress.
The effect of our experiences
A portion of this reduced capacity for stress is part of our genetic legacy from our parents. The remainder – perhaps the majority of it – is due to our experiences. Long-term exposure to stressful situations when we are young decreases our ability to usefully deal with stressful situations when we are older.
These stresses when we are young, which we term ‘relational trauma', interfere with growing up. They affect the physical, emotional and intellectual developmental processes which would normally be happening in these years. Whilst some might argue that some stressful events are ‘character building’, there is no doubt that when they are systematic they damage us.
For a child, a significant source of stress is not being responded to in an appropriate way.
The cycle of trauma
Let me close the loop on the cycle of trauma. As adults, when we get stressed it interferes with our ability to respond to the needs of our children. When this is systematic and ongoing, it amounts to developmental trauma for the child. Later on, it reduces their ability to deal with stress when they are adults; it may consequently may affect the development of their children.
Responding to the needs of our children
In this way it is transmitted through the generations. This pattern continues until someone in this chain decides to confront the situation and deal with their own stresses. Through doing so, they ease their own lives and increase their capacity to respond to the needs of their children.
This results in the children having their developmental needs better met, and an increase in their capacity to deal with stress. From being a cycle that perpetuated stress, it becomes a cycle that perpetuates more positive things.
Psychotherapists and counsellors are trained to work with you to – amongst other things – help you address the stressful situations in your life. This allows you to have relations with others that are more like you’d wish them to be, and finish your unfinished business.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Now, read about adult-onset psychological trauma.
– Tim Hill