Processing Traumatic Events as a Family
Processing a life-changing traumatic event can be hard enough as an individual, but if you are raising children who have also been through the traumatic experience, the grieving and healing process can pose additional hurdles. For those in the Chicagoland area, you’re probably intimately aware of the mass shooting that took place on the 4th of July in Chicago suburb Highland Park. The gunman killed seven people and injured dozens more. Regardless of the type of traumatic event one experiences, there is a period of intense grief as well as healing from the trauma that needs to happen. The tricky part is, navigating this is different for each individual — and especially challenging for children.
Here are some things to keep in mind throughout the healing journey as well as a list of resources for families to tap into for navigating trauma.
Give yourself and your family permission to grieve
So often when anything traumatic happens, there are rumblings of “getting back on with our lives” and “staying strong.” In reality though, not setting time aside to grieve what was lost during the traumatic event can lead to larger mental health struggles in the future. And remember, there is no set time allotted for one to grieve. All grief is valid. Take as much time as you need, and ask for help when you need it.
Try to identify what you’re feeling
Putting effort into identifying your feelings surrounding your trauma can be a helpful piece of healing. Are you feeling sad, furious, anxious, hopeless? All of these feelings and more are extremely normal surrounding grief and trauma. If you have children who are also grieving, encourage them to share their feelings too and elaborate on what specifically makes them feel angry, for example.
Some specific feelings that have been found to be associated with mass shootings include:
- crying frequently or seemingly out of nowhere
- easy to anger; general irritability
- emotional numbness
- persistent fatigue
- unexplained pain, especially pain in the same area of the body the victims were shot
- trouble concentrating
- difficulty accepting the mass shooting as “real”
Setting boundaries for yourself and your family can be extremely important in the healing journey. Whether those boundaries are about what you are willing to share about the traumatic event with others, how much time you’re spending on social media or watching the news, or how much time you dedicate to your own self care. Social media in particular can be especially toxic after mass shootings due to the intensity of political conversations surrounding the events. Sometimes it can be helpful for individuals to get involved in the cause on a political level. Getting involved in a fundraiser or calling lawmakers to advocate on behalf of gun reform, for example, can be a form of active coping. However, you can set boundaries in terms of how much you give and how soon you engage.
Take care of your needs
After a traumatic event, focusing on your personal needs should be prioritized. If you are raising children, this can be tricky but by practicing your own self care and healthy coping skills, you can be a model for your children. Think about it as also getting back down to the basics. This includes getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in personal connection with loved ones.
Know when to ask for help
Living with grief and trauma is lifelong and can come in waves, however, living in a constant fight or flight state is not good for the long-term. Some things to look out for include:
- You have a lot of free-floating anxiety and can’t seem to relax.
- You compulsively check for updates on each latest shooting, often ignoring other things you need to get done.
- You feel guilty and responsible for the victims’ deaths, even if you couldn’t have done anything to prevent the shooting.
- You avoid going to public places or near crowds for fear of getting shot.
- You feel utterly hopeless in the face of all this violence.
Keep in mind that all of the above are completely normal feelings after living through a traumatic event. Mental health professionals are specifically trained to help individuals through these challenging times and provide tools to live a mentally well life. If you, your family, or anyone you know is in need of help, Mind Body Co-op is here and ready to help. We have a staff of therapists available to help process. Learn more here.
Check out these additional resources for navigating the aftermath of a traumatic event:
- After a Crisis: Helping Young Children Heal
- Talking to Children About the Shooting
- For Teens: Coping After Mass Violence
- Helping Teens With Traumatic Grief: Tips for Caregivers
- Age-Related Reactions to Traumatic Events
Mind Body Co-op is Chicago’s only space for individuals to discover, explore, and heal what is occurring internally at the cognitive, emotional, and physical levels. This unique, holistic approach to treatment and wellness is born out of the belief that examining the cognitive, emotional, and physical pieces and how they intersect helps lead to uncovering your full potential by providing thoughtful, collaborative, and complete integrative mental health care. We offer a variety of clinical services, including individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, psychological/neuropsychological assessments, medication management, CPT (comprehensive transitional program), medical nutrition therapy, somatic mindfulness, somatic groups, DBT, adventure therapy, therapeutic yoga, and more. We provide culturally competent services in English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Russian & Arabic.