Why healing together is so important
Parents and children who have been impacted by domestic abuse often have feelings of shame and grief, and these emotions can be difficult to experience and understand. These feelings can sometimes fracture the relationships we have with those closest to us and supporting parents and children to build or restore their emotional relationships can help them heal together.
We rely on our family for all kinds of support. Family ties can help give emotional support, increase our self-esteem, and help with our sense of belonging. Therefore, helping parents and children to heal together is vitally important to their wellbeing physically, emotionally, and socially.
Some of the first steps that can be made when trying to heal together can be the creation of safe spaces and safe relationships. When the adult is a safe and grounded individual the child will feel safer to approach and discuss their feelings. Once the channel of communications is open, children can share their experiences, bond in their shared emotions, and understand how they move on together.
We can support parents to create safe spaces and safe relationships by helping them to feel safe and become safe grounded adults. This enables them to have a greater understanding of their child’s needs and they can co-regulate with their child which will help the child to cope with the big feelings.
Understanding strong feelings
Strong feelings are emotions that can overwhelm us, and often lead to us being unable to think straight and appropriately react to a situation. Unfortunately, individuals who have been impacted by traumas, such as domestic abuse, may be more likely to experience these types of emotions with little understanding of why or how to control them. This is often because our brains and bodies are trying to protect us from being re-traumatised or re-living a traumatising experience.
Common strong feelings that parents and children may feel are anxiety and anger. Helping parents recognise their own feelings and why they have occurred can help them to respond to information their children might share with them. Additionally, once a parent can recognise their own emotions, they can start to recognise their child’s, and help their child learn about their own feelings.
Anxiety & Anger
Everyone can experience anxiety from time to time, but sometimes this can be suffocating, with a fast heartrate and body shakes. Anger again is an emotion experienced by us all, but sometimes can seem unprovoked, or disproportional to the situation. This is because both anxiety and anger can be seen as a reaction to our fight, flight or freeze response, especially when in an environment where these three states have been constantly activated, like during domestic abuse.
Once our brain has identified a ‘danger’ it will send our bodies into this fight, flight or freeze response. However, if you have experienced trauma, there may be no physical danger, instead our brain is trying to protect us from our past experiences.
Helping parents and children learn about their brain’s reaction when they are feeling safe or unsafe is helpful for their recovery. This is usually achieved by understanding the changes in their body, such as the heart beginning to beat faster, sweating, becoming red in the face and breathing faster. Once we start to feel these bodily effects, we can try to calm ourselves with grounding activities, such as deep breathing techniques. Once a parent has grounded themselves, it will be easier for them to help their child, and the child will feel safer to express these feelings with their parent, and/or to spend time with their parent.
When a child is expressing anger, if this is countered by their parent also with anger, resolutions can be difficult to achieve. Anger is a very strong emotion that can warp the way we think. When angry, we might tell somebody who we love, that we hate them, but this is the anger talking. Understanding that extreme anger can be a reaction to a traumatic situation is an important tool for those in the helping professions, one which we should share with all those we work with, so they can also start to understand their emotions and angry responses.
Once we understand our emotions, can ground ourselves, and begin new conversations, safe spaces, and relationships where open discussions, honest thoughts and strong feelings can be discussed can start a process of healing between parents and children. Here they can restore their emotional bonds, share their experiences, and enhance their sense of belonging through openness and compassion.
Our role as helpers, is to facilitate these lessons, allow ourselves to be safe people for parents and children to trust, and to support their journeys of healing together.
If you wish to learn more, please visit https://www.healing-together.co.uk and think about becoming a Healing Together facilitator.