Deal with trauma in compassionate way

My 26-year-old daughter is showing all the signs of trauma. I’ve been struggling with her since she was raped at the age of eight. She lost her father when she was 10 and her only brother at 13 I gave her all the relevant care (court case, social workers, psychologist, even changed schools because she kept on failing). I even went as far as trying to have her admitted after her first baby was born, with no luck as she was over the age. My heart goes out to my grandson, who is now seven, because it is almost like he is her keeper. He is a bright boy and when her mood is not right he does not go to school. It really saddens me to see what she is doing to her children. She moves a lot with her kids because she usually can’t cope wherever she is staying and this is making the children unstable.

Your daughter is clearly suffering from the psychological and associated behavioural effects of her very painful childhood traumatic experiences and losses.

Understandably, these were unbearably painful for her and she just wanted to carry on with her life.

Many people feel that they must just get over their painful experiences, but a traumatic past will continue to haunt us like a ghost if we do not heal from it.

It is like an old wound which needs treatment but over which a plaster is placed and it only gets further infected. The plaster needs to be removed and the wound properly treated. This is what therapy does. It removes the plaster and looks into the wound in a compassionate way.

The amount of time taken to heal is always different for each person.

If the person is very defensive and decides they will deal with this by themselves, it is very difficult to convince them otherwise. They will attempt to push away any help.

However, doing nothing about psychological problems only leads to these issues creating havoc in their lives and relationships as well as being transferred, usually unconsciously, onto the next generation.

The children then pay for “the sins of the fathers” by not receiving the love and attention they deserve and being neglected or abused by parents who are unable to care for them sufficiently due to their own unfinished emotional business. I would advise that your daughter receive professional psychological help as soon as possible or she will continue with her destructive behaviour and use her son as her pillar to lean on, which is damaging for him and will stunt his emotional development. I would also strongly recommend that her children get psychological help as they are being negatively affected by her emotional problems. Perhaps you could sit her down and tell her your concerns and that they come from a place of love for her and her children.

She could start by taking the children for therapy at the Child and Family Unit at Red Cross Children’s Hospital which can be contacted on 021 685 4103. Often they see the entire family so your daughter will also get help indirectly.

As an assistant teacher at a primary school, I have detected the results of many failures of parents in the areas that you specified in your article regarding “boundaries”. God bless you for guiding parents who don’t get taught these valuable lessons. I acquired Springbok colours for volleyball for three years because of my never-give-up attitude and a tough upbringing as the middle child of five siblings. It was my parents’ guidance in my early growth and teenage development which were very effective.

The positive effects of “good-enough” parenting cannot be over-emphasised with regards to good outcomes for children on every level from academic and emotional to fulfilling their dreams and goals in life.

The parental guidance you got had a positive impact on your life as an adult. Resilience, persistence and willpower are taught by parents who guide their children through their own example but also by setting appropriate limits and being sufficiently loving and attentive. This requires an ongoing attention to our own behaviour as we are continually observed by our children in terms of what we say and also what we do on a daily basis.

One can never be a “perfect” parent but we can be good-enough in that we strive to understand ourselves and our children and what their specific physical and emotional needs are at each developmental phase in their lives. We may fail sometimes and it can be a daunting task but we cannot give up just because it is difficult.

Each parent has to find their own path and there are no easy answers for doing it “right”. I think our best guide is to be attentive to what is going on within our children and within ourselves. A mindful parent is what children need in order to thrive in life.

Please help me or give me advice on who I can speak to. I am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a “natural” response to a very unnatural or unexpected experience. The symptoms can occur immediately or be delayed and only surface months or even years later.

PTSD symptoms also can express themselves differently in different people. Some people experience more numbing effects such as dissociating and denial of the emotional effects of what happened to them, or they may try to forget it or avoid thoughts, memories, or actual places and people that remind them of the event.

Others may experience flashbacks to the traumatic event, often feeling overwhelmed by this.

Common symptoms include depression and anxiety, including sleeping and eating problems and having anger outbursts.

Some people respond more with their bodies and may have symptoms such as chronic aches and pains all over thus often having to go to the doctor regularly, headaches, nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, as well as developing specific phobias such as fear of certain foods, smells, sounds and animals.

I would suggest that you contact the Cape Mental Health Society on 021 447 9040 or call the Trauma Centre in Woodstock on 021 465 7373 and make an appointment to see one of their counsellors.

* This column appears every two weeks. Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist in private practice.

While she cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers, she will try to answer as many queries as possible through this column or refer you to organisations that can assist.

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