5 Ways You Can Help Your Sibling Suffering from Relational Trauma

Relational trauma results from repeated, chronic neglect, abuse, or other type of mistreatment, usually in childhood. When someone who is supposed to care for a child, such as a parent or other family member, perpetrates this trauma, the results are often serious and long-lasting. Siblings are also impacted, but they can also be key source of support. The siblings of those who suffered trauma can encourage treatment, get involved in therapy, and address their own mental health needs to help their loved one learn to cope with past trauma.

The effects of relational trauma are serious and long-lasting. Many adults struggling with the aftermath of ongoing childhood trauma have few people to turn to for help and support. They may not have a partner to stand by them. Parents may be out of the picture or ill-equipped to help. Often it falls to siblings to provide needed support. If you have a brother or sister suffering because of past trauma, there are ways you can help. And don’t forget to take care of your own mental health as well.

Relational Trauma and Its Consequences

Relational trauma is not an official mental health diagnosis, but it is a real phenomenon that causes suffering in the individual who experienced it as well as other family members. Any kind of prolonged or repeated trauma or stress perpetrated by someone who is supposed to care for you is considered relational trauma.

This kind of trauma is most typical in childhood. Examples of things that can cause relational trauma include bullying by a sibling, neglect by a parent, or repeated abuse by any family member. Relational trauma has lasting consequences. Some of these may include:

  • Poor attachment
  • Difficulty establishing healthy relationships
  • Neediness in relationships
  • Prioritization of others in relationships
  • Hypervigilance
  • Social isolation
  • Avoidance of intimate relationships
  • Poor impulse control
  • Substance use disorders
  • Mental illnesses

As the sibling of someone who experienced relational trauma, you may also have some mental health or behavioral issues. Even if you did not experience trauma personally, everyone in a family is typically affected in some way.

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How to Help Your Sibling

Family dynamics can easily become unhealthy or strained when one person is struggling with serious mental health issues and trauma. Your relationship with your sibling may be challenging, but there are several things you can do to support and help them.

1. Stay Involved.

As an adult it can be tempting to just cut ties when you have a sibling with serious mental health issues. In fact, estrangement from family is not an unusual way to try to cope with the stress of trauma, mental illness, and difficult family dynamics. Your sibling may disengage, but you may also be the one to walk away from family relationships because of the stress and challenge of coping with the repercussions of your sibling’s trauma.

If you truly want to help your sibling, the most basic thing you can do is stay involved in their lives. They need someone like you to provide support and to model healthy relationships. It’s not always easy, but if you can be there for your sibling, spending time together, lending an ear and encouraging relationships with other family members, you can make a big difference.

2. Help Your Sibling Find and Commit to Treatment.

Relational trauma is a complicated mental health issue. It has far-reaching consequences that impact multiple areas of an individual’s life, including relationships, mental illnesses, substance use, social life, work and school, and more. Trying to help your sibling overcome the repercussions of past trauma is not something you can do alone. Your sibling needs professional treatment.

You can help your sibling by getting them into residential treatment. A residential facility will provide a lot of services and opportunities your sibling won’t get from ordinary outpatient counseling. In residential care they will get a complete mental health evaluation and diagnosis for any co-existing mental illnesses or substance use issues. They will then receive an individualized treatment plan that addresses all mental health issues, not just the trauma itself.

In residential care your sibling will get expert treatment in a safe setting where they can focus only on healing without distractions of everyday life. Help your sibling by encouraging this kind of treatment but also by finding the right facility. Look for treatment centers that offer individualized care and a variety of therapy and treatment types with a focus on trauma.

3. Participate in Therapy Sessions and Other Treatment Opportunities.

Once you have gotten your sibling into treatment, you can help and provide support by continuing to be involved. Family therapy during treatment is a great way to help establish healthier relationships. Your sibling will be learning relationship and socializing skills in therapy, and your involvement is a great chance to practice them.

Get as many family members involved as you can. The more support your sibling has, the better. Engage in family therapy but also in any other opportunities the facility offers, such as family days, recreation and activities, and family psychoeducation programs.

4. Help Ease the Transition Back From Treatment – Encourage Engagement.

When your sibling is ready to leave treatment, be supportive by helping to ease the transition back home. If necessary, providing a place to stay that is safe and secure is another way to help. If your sibling wants to go back to their own home, be there often.

One of the most important ways your sibling can begin to establish better mental health and positive relationships is to get engaged with loved ones. Healthy family relationships help to minimize the impact of trauma in childhood, and in adulthood they help the victim cope. Your sibling will have some new skills to try out, and having family around is a great way to practice and continue learning.

Also encourage your sibling to engage with people in other ways. Help them get in touch with old friends, find work or go back to a previous job, find new activities to try, and just get out of the house often to be around people.

5. Get Your Own Mental Health Care.

You will only be able to help your sibling to the extent that you too are mentally well. Relational trauma impacts everyone in the family. Even if you were unaware of the trauma your sibling experienced as it was happening, the repercussions reach far enough to cause stress throughout the family. Added stress comes from helping your sibling now and trying to establish a healthier relationship.

Make sure you take care of your own mental health needs. Take breaks from your sibling as needed and spend time with your own friends and doing activities you enjoy. You’ll need that time out to be healthier. Get enough sleep and exercise and focus on eating well. If you find that you still feel stressed, anxious, or depressed, consider seeing a therapist.

Relational trauma in a sibling impacts you, whether you choose to get involved or not. You have the ability to help your sibling heal from past trauma. Encourage treatment, work on your relationship together, get other family members involved, and take care of yourself, and both of you will be healthier and happier.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and believe they may need residential care, we can help. BrightQuest offers long-term treatment for people struggling with schizoaffective disorders, schizophrenia, and severe bipolar as well as co-occurring substance use disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.