If you know a family adjusting to a major trauma; keep them in mind as you read here. Tho every
family is unique, most face common difficulties with gathering together
after a major calamity like death, loss, desertion, divorce, or disaster..
Multi-generational ("extended") families range from functional (high
nurturance) to dysfunctional (low nurturance). Functional
families recover from major traumas and restabilize relatively quickly. My
experience as a family therapist for over 30 years is -
most families (like yours?) are
moderately to very dysfunctional for five interactive
To validate this opinion and judge the functionality of your
current extended family, study and discuss
Your adults and kids face a set of tasks to reorganize and stabilize after
any major family change. The overall goals are to maintain or raise your
family's nurturance level, and to protect your young people from inheriting the
lethal [wounds + unawareness]
Recovery Tasks After a Family Trauma
Option - use this as a recovery-planning framework, progress
checklist, and discussion starter. Add tasks as needed:
_ 1) after any
significant trauma, each family member
(broken bonds) and grieve them over time.
Losses can be tangible and invisible, like health, hope, trust, respect, and
family roles ("Dad was the family planner"); routines (like meal times),
rituals (like holidays), and relationships.
_ 2) redefine
(responsibilities) as needed
_ 3) kids and
adults reduce any significant guilts - forgive themselves and each other;
_ 4) revise
family-member membership (inclusion), and alliances and coalitions, as needed (who
belongs, and who sides with who now?);
_ 5) resolve old
_ 6) adjust
family finances as necessary (who pays for what now?)
_ 7) after
parental separation and divorce, shift from a one-home to a two-home nuclear
family system. There are many subtasks involved;
_ 8) if there are
minor kids, evolve and stabilize child custody, visitation, and supervision
agreements between two homes;
revise wills and estate plans, as
_ 10) identify
_ your family's
and _ key
from the trauma;
_ 11) revise key
expectations about the future ("Now I'm not sure I'll be able to go to
college next year or at all")
_ 12) resolve any
conflicts that arise from making these adjustments.
These post-trauma reorganization tasks are simultaneous, and take varying
amounts of time. Typical family adults can't articulate or prioritize all
these tasks, and have no mutually-discussed plan to do them as a team. The
more wounded and unaware (dysfunctional) the family's multi-generational adults are,
more stress and conflict members will experience in making these
How to Optimize Family Reorganization After a Trauma
In general, family adults can adapt to a significant trauma most easily if
they commit to these tasks:
Acknowledge the trauma and
its effects (vs. minimizing or denying them), and their need to evolve
and implement a
reorganization plan together;
Stay aware of the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and it's lethal
Agree to learn and use a
point of view as a planning and progress-evaluation guide;
Adopt a multi-decade point of
view and seek progress over time, rather than
expecting immediate "normalcy" and stability;
Increase awareness by studying, discussing, and applying online
If your family is
give special attention to these
lesson-6 articles and videos.
And after a significant trauma, family adults need to...
Assess for, admit, and reduce
their' major psychological
wounds (Lesson 1). Without this, the options below probably won't
be much lasting help; And also...
work patiently to improve
kids' communication effectiveness. Give
special attention to developing empathic listening, assertion, and
Intentionally evolve a
and help each member understand and
it to mourn old and new losses. Desertion, disasters, divorce,
death, and reorganization cause major losses.
Teach your adults and kids how to manage
Help everyone learn to
special attention to these three common
Pause, breathe, and note what you're thinking and feeing
about these options for family recovery room significant trauma. Do you think most adults would know how - and
why - to do each of these tasks?
Again: creating a successful family event after some major
calamity is far easier if the family adults have begun implementing
recovery options like those above.
With this in mind, let's explore ways to...
Optimize Family Events After a Major Trauma
Here, a "family event" includes birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, bar
or bas mitzvahs, baptisms, Christenings, reunions, weddings parties and
ceremonies, holidays, barbecues,
funerals, vacations, and other multi-member occasions.
How would you define a "successful
family event"? Have you ever experienced one? A normal answer is
"It's successful if everybody has a good time" (gets their primary needs met
Common Surface Problems
What can prevent that? Think of one or more unpleasant family events, and see
if any of these factors promoted your discomfort:
I felt obligated
to participate / I'd prefer doing something else
The preparations were
I wasn't with people I
liked or respected
I wasn't in a
mood to be social
The event's location and/or
physical setting was unpleasant
I was physically and/or
emotional distracted from being really present.
The reason for
our event wasn't important to me.
I wasn't clear on
how I was "supposed to" behave or I felt uncomfortable with
what others expected of me at this event.
I felt judged,
rejected, and/or ignored by some
I wasn't free to express my
needs, feelings, and opinions to other family members.
needs weren't met
at this event.
I felt uncomfortable with the activities
and/or conversational topics we shared.
I wasn't able to
arrive or leave when I wanted to.
The food and drink weren't enjoyable.
The event included
I didn't value or enjoy
related to this event were too high
I was bored during this event.
I wasn't able
to bring the companion I wanted to be with.
raised painful reminders for me
Some of the people I cared about weren't
(add your own
you experienced some of these family-event problems?
Each one is a surface problem
- a symptom of
Before and after divorce, desertion, disaster, and/or death, many factors can reduce
holiday and celebration enjoyment.
The more your family
adults and kids are aware of these core stressors and what to do about
them, the more you can enjoy gathering together
as you recover.
The core stressors are...
adult unawareness of
in adults and
kids, what the wounds
and how to
_ 2) family adults' inability to
effectively as teammates
_ 3) adult ignorance of healthy grieving
basics + an
in some adults
and kids, (Lesson 3); and...
_ 4) family-adult inability to assess and
resolve relationship problems like dislike, disrespect, distrust, hurt, hostility, exclusion,
_ 5) family adults' and kids' inability to
avoid and reduce unwarranted, excessive, and chronic