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Unresolved Emotional Trauma has Long-Term Impacts for you, your children and Society.

Loneliness

       It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the uptick in mass shootings in schools, public venues or in the workplace.  In addition to violence on others, according to the 2021 USA General Statistics, Suicide rates are up by 3.4% from 2020-2021.  Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in ages 15-24 year olds.  There seems to be a lot of blame on guns, gangs, bullying, drugs, mental illness, or poor upbringing.   While there are legitimate explanations of why this type of violent outcry exists, much of the list I mentioned can actually be symptoms to a greater problem.  If you do some digging, Emotional Trauma coupled with not being allowed to grieve the loss from that trauma.   By allowing and supporting a person to grieve a loss, will help in developing coping mechanisms and working through much of the their loss by grieving.   Without the Grieving Process and the teaching of coping mechanisms, will set all human beings up for potential failure as grief impacts emotional stability and impedes a person to live productive, proactive lives.  From not making an athletic team, getting fired from a job, someone close to you dies, parents get divorced, an absent parent or natural disaster all have a root basis in creating emotional trauma. It goes without saying, everyone will experience at least one or more types of emotional trauma in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, the ability to grieve is not as simple as you may think. Each emotional trauma is personal which makes it hard to determine the level of emotional pain a person will feel when they experience an emotional trauma. The plain and simple fact is you cannot ignore nor dismiss grief and the process to work through grief.  Our society, especially in America, feels grieving is a form of weakness, should be suppressed or treated with a pill.  Fortunately or unfortunately, grieving is needed for a person to be emotionally healthy and in turn, be physically and psychologically healthy both as children and adults.  Most people, especially children and teens, lack the experience and tools to properly grieve and cope when things in their world go wrong.  Many parents think because their children are playing, laughing, or acting like nothing is wrong, they are not impacted by their loss. I am telling you; they are impacted.  Even the most amiable divorce will have a negative impact on your children if they are not allowed to grieve. If they are not allowed to grieve, they will become emotionally unbalanced and risk additional harm to themselves, their choices, and others they encounter.

It is not just personal choices, The workplace is also impacted by Emotional Trauma. Grief impacts a person’s ability to properly function at work.  According to Training Industry.com, Grief is costing businesses nearly 75 billion dollars annually due to lost productivity, lost wages, errors, poor performance and paid time off.  According to some estimates, that cost can grow to 100 billion dollars.  Even if the employee seems to be moving forward in their job, if the employee has children, will create an additional impact on the company’s bottom line because the employee’s family is also grieving. Poor job performance could lead to layoffs or termination which then adds to the already stressed and traumatized employee and family, making an already difficult situation much worse.  By having proactive programs in place to help employees cope, ultimately helps the employee, their family and the company’s bottom line.

Emotional Trauma on children has a greater impact, especially in the long term.  When a person cannot find a way to work through their emotional trauma, they tend to find ways to distract themselves from that emotional pain.  Alcohol and other drug addictions are the most common.  If you watch many of these reality television series like Intervention and Hoarders, the back story of the person featured in an episode is rooted in past, unresolved emotional trauma.  Often, the featured person experienced their emotional trauma at a younger age. If unresolved emotional trauma goes unchecked, could make it nearly impossible for someone to recover from their addictive behaviors.   In 1936, Jean Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development lists Four Concepts of Adaption. Being able to adapt to new information about the world is a critical part of cognitive development and emotional stability.

Simply put, according to Piaget, as human beings, we need balance in our lives.  To have that balance, we rely on our past experiences to adapt or assimilate to a new experience we encounter (especially a negative experience).  When people cannot adapt or assimilate, we turn to other, possible harmful, behaviors to find that balance.  Often those negative behaviors have a long-term, unhealthy impact on themselves, others and ultimately society.  There are other theories out there that support the need to be emotionally healthy to make proper and proactive choices.  A simple example is things we do out of anger.  Punch a wall, throw something and it breaks or gets into a physical fight.  When you are no longer angry and look at your actions caused by your anger, there is deep regret for those choices.  Imagine never getting to that point and always being angry.  Emotional Trauma can be like that.  A person continues to make negative choices because one cannot work through the emotional pain usually because they don’t know how or that person may have experienced multiple losses. A lack of emotional stability has long term negative impact on our children and society. 

According to the Minnesota Psychological Association, in an article posted on their website by Jerrod Brown, published on August 4th, (Father-Absent Homes: Implications for Criminal Justice and Mental Health Professionals (mnpsych.org)) have implications that emotional trauma from an absent parent, in this case, absent fathers, impact children from the perspective of various adverse outcomes rooted in emotional trauma.  According to the posted articles, the adverse outcomes are Perceived Abandonment, Attachment Issues, Child Abuse, Childhood Obesity, Criminal Justice Involvement, Gang Involvement, Mental Health Issues, Poor School Performance, Poverty/Homelessness, and Substance Abuse.  These adverse outcomes not only impact the individual, but also society.  For example, the article states; “Coming from a fatherless home, can contribute to a child having more emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression.” It continues, “Fatherless children may start to think they are worthless than children (their peers) that have fathers…this may lead to an increased risk of suicide and/or self-injurious behaviors.”  Unfortunately, absentee parents will not stop.  Even if we reduce divorce, and increase active parenthood from one or two households, children will continue to lose one or both parents through illness, accident, natural disaster, and bad choices.  What we can do is recognize the Emotional Trauma is real and will not go away without consistent support to allow children to grieve, develop coping mechanisms and integrate their emotional trauma into coping mechanisms that will help children be more resilient, improve self-esteem and be more proactive as teens, young adults, and adults.  In turn, those coping mechanisms are passed on to their children or others they encounter.  This not only makes the healthy child a healthy adult but expands into a healthier and safer society. 

We are seeing what happens when denying the grieving process and not developing coping mechanisms continue to add to our already violet history to become even more violent.  There are plenty of examples of mental health issues that are not related to some of the very public acts of violence; however, there are just as many that have experienced an emotional trauma that has never been resolved.  Depending on the severity of the emotional trauma, when left unresolved, manifests itself into destructive behaviors.  Often, emotional trauma is either swept under the carpet or treated with medication.  Treating symptoms rather than the cause is simply kicking the can down the road.  As the years pass, that unresolved emotional trauma turns that “can” into an emotional bolder that cannot be kicked because it is entangled in layers that become hardened by other negative encounters tarnishing everything someone experiences.  It is like a pen’s ink leaking into one’s pocket or purse.  It covers everything and is difficult to clean. 

In the aftermath and continuation of COVID-19, the grief process is just as important now. Yet many still find it a form of weakness, blame and vulnerability.  Grieving is time consuming but doesn’t stop you from moving forward; however, choosing not to grieve can stop you from moving forward.  Grieving is a natural part of loss, especially when that loss is close to the heart.  Despite all the brain research, books and experts telling us that grief is a natural process, and we must work through our grief, most still want a quick fix via a pill or simple denial and suppression.  Today’s society often does not allow for proper grieving.  Keep in mind, a loss under the best of circumstances, it is still the loss of a way of life, a known security, support system and change, which all human beings tend to resist.  We are all creatures of habit and tend to resist or deny change.

Often if a grandparent, older aunt, or uncle passes away, parents seem to be more tolerant of the grieving process for themselves and their children as a natural progression of life and tend to be more supportive and patient for grieving. However, if the trauma is due to a more direct loss such as a divorce, telling their children they are adopted or their spouse has died, parents tend to feel that their children’s grief is a negative reflection on them as parents for their child’s pain and heartache.  Often parents will deny their child’s pain if they see them laughing, playing, and carrying on like nothing is wrong and/or choose to pre-occupy them with distractions, gifts, activities and refusal to admit their children’s heart is hurting and broken, an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.  There is nothing wrong with distractions, gifts, and activities, but not as a permanent substitute for the avoidance of grief. To pretend nothing is wrong, dismiss their pain or tell yourself or your children “that’s life and move on” does not help work through their grief any faster.  If anything, it will take longer because there is a lack of ability to work through their grief process, especially in children.  Children are afraid they may hurt their parents further if they tell them how they feel.  You would never deny your children their medication to keep them healthy, why deny them the ability to grieve?  To allow grieving keeps you and your children emotionally healthy, and in turn become healthy physically and mentally.

Brain research has proven that if you are not healthy emotionally, you are not going to be healthy physically nor mentally.  As mentioned, children lack the experience and tools to work through what they are feeling.  Even if they know others who have gone through similar circumstances, like adults, no one feels their pain like they do, because their pain is unique and personal to them.

Think about the pain you felt when you lost someone close to you or even when your divorce was final, or spouse died.  You’re an adult with life experiences; yet your pain made you feel helpless, vulnerable or like a child all over again.  If you, the parent, have those feelings, imagine how your children, who have little, or no, life experiences must feel?  Regardless of why the loss occurred, the blame and guilt can consume you to the point of long-term denial for yourself, your children, nor can you simply feel that a few months of grieving or short-term support system is all you need.  The deeper the loss, the longer it will take to grieve.  Since the grief is personal, seldom can a time limit be placed on it.  Some say grief is a lifelong journey.  If you don’t learn anything on the journey, the outcome is filled with animosity, anger, and self-loathing.  In the long term, the end of that journey is never good. 

It is never easy to ask your children how they feel about their parents no longer being together.  Even if you did ask them and they said they’re fine or simply shrugged their shoulders, doesn’t mean they are okay with it.  Often, the reality of the loss sets in six months or a year after the emotional trauma takes place.  This usually coincides with family and friends that stop coming around on a regular basis to give support or help you and the family, or a move to a new home or state.   As your child gets older, their perspective changes and again may need to grieve from another perspective.  The difference is they already have grieved and developed coping mechanisms.  The next round of grieving may take less time to work through. If you do not grieve, the next emotional trauma may compound on the previous loss.  Perhaps making it seem more hopeless. 

At the end of the day, to grieve (adult or child) takes time.  How much time it takes to grieve is truly unknown.  Simply understand you cannot put a time limit on it.  Part of raising your children is teaching them to cope with life’s bumps in the roads.  Those bumps may be caused by us, the parents, and we must be prepared to help our children cope with that also.  Choosing to do nothing and denying the pain will simply cause greater issues and perhaps greater heart ache for you and your children.  I know if a speeding bus was coming toward your children, you would do anything in your power to prevent your children from being hit by that bus.  The unresolved grief is a speeding bus.    

To help you and your children start the grieving process in a healthy manner, consider some basic steps:

  • When talking to your children, all technology is off or put away.  No distractions.

  • Acknowledge the loss and validate their feelings (often that starts with sharing your feelings).

  • Crying is ok and healthy.

  • Make time to discuss “their world” and the impact the loss is making on them.

    • Don’t set a time limit, facilitate the discussion, don’t run it. Guide it.  

    • If it must stop, try to end it on an upbeat note and a promise to continue.

    •  Reassure them you will be there to help them every step of the way.

  • Understand, your children’s time to talk may not be convenient.

    • They may very well wake you at night to talk. 

    • They may do very little talking…but they are listening and watching.

  • Consider counseling or a peer support group for your children. 

  • Parent your children consistently with appropriate boundaries. 

    • Parenting out of guilt tends to have negative long-term effects on your children.

  • Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just “are.” 

    • It is how the feelings are expressed that should be monitored.

    • Never dismiss their feelings even if they are angry at you. 

      • They need to verbally express themselves and may not know how.

      • Listen more than give reason or excuse.  Be empathetic. 

      • Pity and sympathy usually don’t work…especially with adolescents.  

      • Conversations with younger children may be limited, and you may need to ask them to draw what they are thinking and feeling while explaining it to you as best they can.

  • Tell them each night you love them and reassure them you are in this together. 

No one ever said parenting is easy.  Adding an emotional trauma such as a divorce, death, pandemic, deployment, incarceration, or deportation, makes parenting more difficult.  Anything worth doing is often difficult and, regardless of how hard parenting is or becomes, your children are counting on you!  When tackling grief, try to break it down into chunks.  Sometimes looking at grief long-term can be overwhelming.  Chunking the process may not make it easier, but it will make it more manageable.  Not only are your children depending on you so is society.  We can make society better, one healthy child at a time.  Being able to grieve will make for healthier children, healthier adults, healthier choices, and a healthier society with a reduction in crime, homelessness and addiction. 

New Year's Do Overs!

       At the end of every year, we reflect back on personal events that happened to us. We tend to think more of the negative events than the positive. Especially in 2020 with covid-19, our lifestyles and routines turned upside down and even the holidays which are supposed to be a positive event, have been marred with shelter-in-place, loved one who have died, deployed, perhaps incarcerated, the holiday visitation schedules, implied competition to make your holidays as special if not more special than their moms. Maybe you lost your job and additional money problems cast a huge cloud on your holiday. Perhaps you were in court simply trying to see your kids. 

      If the holiday did not or has not been what you had hoped, New Years gives a renewed reason to hope. New Year’s Day symbolizes a fresh start, a “do over” so to speak. It is a time to look on choices, good and bad, and figure out how to make the next year better. For a single dad, that can be easier said than done. To help make that happen, here are few things to help make your new year with your kids a little bit better:

1. Your children love you UNCONDITIONALLY! Many times, it is our own perceptions of how we should raise our kids; how to show them you love them that often set us up for failure. Always remember to love them as they love you...unconditionally.  

2. Resolutions are made to be broken, so set a New Year’s goal. Make the goal obtainable. Always focus on one realistic way to be a better parent. Yes, it does not have to involve money or taking your kids somewhere. 

3. Make time to make contact your kids each day. Even if it is just to say Hi and say I love you. Even if they don’t respond. Don’t stop doing it. 

4. Make sure you parenting skills are consistent and appropriate. Even if you feel the other parent is not as strict. As long as the kids are not neglected, just stay the course...your course.

Get a notebook and calendar. Mark everything down anything that involves your kids. This will include court dates, visitation and communication. You hope you never need it, but it is there just in case. Never, ever discuss these issues with your kids. It is between the parents.

5. Never, ever use your child to relay messages to their mother. Pick up the phone or send an email. Remember we are the adults.

6. Never cut the other parent down in front of your children.  It is like shooting an arrow through your kid’s heart into the other parent. They love both parents equally. If there are issues with the other parent, your kids will figure them out and you will be there to help them.

7. Make time to sit at the dinner table to talk.  Yes, that seems very foreign these days; however, if you take one meal each night they are with you and start sharing your life with them, they will share their life with you. Keep all conversations age appropriate.

8. If you have not seen your children in a while, start slow. You cannot make yourself instant dad by just showing up. Trust is earned. 

9. Remember it is not about the money or the amount of visitation. It is always about loving your children. Anything worth doing is hard work. 

Depending on your relationship with your kids or where you are in the court process, by just taking on one or two of these suggestions as your goal, it will start you on your way to building and maintaining your relationship with your kids. Happy New Year!

Edited Image 2016-01-23 13-53-35_edited.jpg
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