How To Address Trauma Within Your Family

Group of men talking about concerning issues.

How To Address Trauma Within Your Family

Substance use disorder (SUD) often stems from a traumatic event or — events — that can affect an entire family. This may be especially true if your trauma stems from a shared family experience. You may even witness your family members struggling with the shared trauma in ways that may seem unproductive or even harmful. 

Approaching a family member about a subject they may not be emotionally ready to talk about can put you in a difficult situation. However, addressing trauma with your family may be essential to your recovery because it could help you process your trauma and view it from a new perspective.

Starting the Conversation

Unfortunately, you can’t force people to talk about or acknowledge a trauma if they don’t want to. However, you can express concern for a person if you believe they are participating in harmful behaviors due to a shared trauma. If your trauma is shared with other family members, it’s OK to ask them if they want to talk about it. Nevertheless, you do need to respect their boundaries if they don’t want to discuss it. If you feel that it’s important to talk about the traumatic event, you can emphasize the importance of talking about the trauma and explain that you think it will help you both heal. 

Keep in mind that even after you explain how important it is to discuss the traumatic event, the family member may still refuse to engage in a conversation about it. To mitigate the chances of them saying no, wait for the right moment to initiate this conversation, ideally when your family members aren’t currently in a negative headspace or stressful situation.

Alternatively, you can let your family members know that this is a conversation you want to have in the future. This will allow them time to think about their own feelings around the traumatic event and emotionally prepare for the difficult conversation. To make sure that your family members don’t forget about having this important conversation, pick a specific time and date for when you will be having this discussion. Since your family members will be more emotionally prepared to talk about the subject, they may also be more receptive to what you have to say.

During the Talk

Talking to your family about a shared or personal trauma should be handled delicately. While you may have been able to work through your own experiences surrounding the traumatic events, other members of your family may not have been given a chance to process their emotions. Be sensitive to the feelings of your family members. Express how you feel about the event but let your family members know that you understand if they feel differently.

However, be careful not to let family members bully you into viewing the event through a false lens by invalidating your feelings. Remind them that your perspective is just as valid as theirs and that you want to share your thoughts and feelings about the traumatic event because you believe it will help them understand your perspective. If your family members persist in being insensitive about your feelings surrounding the trauma, it might be necessary to leave the conversation and either accept that your family may never be ready to talk about the trauma healthily or decide to talk to them at a later date.

Emotionally Prepare

You can’t control how people will react when you ask to talk about a shared trauma with them. You also can’t control what people will think about your emotional reaction and feelings toward the event. Some family members may be in denial about the event and may respond defensively when you bring it up. Other family members might try to convince you that your experience of the traumatic event is invalid or did not happen. Be prepared for these responses by practicing emotional management tools and coping mechanisms that will help you stay calm at the moment and remind you that your understanding of the event is valid.

Seeking Treatment

Discussing shared or personal trauma with your family members requires a delicate and sensitive approach. It’s important to emotionally prepare yourself for negative emotional reactions and remember that you are valid in your feelings. If you find that you struggle to communicate with your family successfully, you could suggest attending family therapy. In family therapy, you will work to improve communication and resolve points of tension within your family unit. This process will likely include both individual sessions and sessions with one or more of your family members.