My Family Is Prodding Me to Confront Trauma, but I Don’t Want To

I just started therapy after having suffered some bad trauma in the past year. My family are all in therapy. Anyway, I had some flashback memories, which prompted my supervisor to tell me to get help, as it was affecting my work. In September, I went out west to bury my older brother, who killed himself—he was a drug abuser. We share some bad trauma in our childhood; he could never let it go, while I, for some reason, was able to get on with my life after a somewhat bumpy start. Before he died, he wrote letters to our parents and a couple of other siblings telling them what happened to us, and now they are telling me that I need to deal with the trauma. I don't want to. I hate answering the phone because eventually it is brought up. I know they mean well. How do I tell them to stop? Their pestering has started to give me nightmares. - Traumatized
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Dear Traumatized,

Congratulations on taking the very courageous step of starting therapy. It sounds like with the recent trauma you have experienced and the death of your brother, therapy could be tremendously useful to you at this time. In fact, while I can provide some feedback on your situation, as you have outlined it, I would encourage you to discuss your concerns about your family’s pestering behaviors with your therapist. Since he/she knows you well, you two will likely be able to work together to come up with some strong strategies for managing the stress they are creating for you.

It also sounds like your family cares very deeply about you. Since you and your brother experienced the same trauma and he struggled with drug abuse and ultimately committed suicide, they are probably pretty scared about what could lie ahead for you. While it is completely understandable that they are concerned about you, if the way they are expressing this concern is causing you more distress, no one is really being served. It sounds like they might be turning their issues into your issues. You mention that everyone in your family is in therapy, so it might be useful to acknowledge their concerns and ask them to address these concerns in their own therapy. You are also free to tell them that the way they are expressing their concern for you is actually quite harmful to you. Consider reminding your family that you are actively engaged in your own therapy and you are working on dealing with these issues in that setting. Hopefully, your family will respect these boundaries, but if they do not, continue working with your therapist on some possible strategies for enforcing these boundaries.

While it seems like the focus of your therapy is on the more recent trauma you experienced and also possibly on your brother’s suicide, it is probably a good idea to talk about the childhood trauma, too. That said, in talking about the childhood trauma, you and your therapist might decide that is not really what needs to be addressed—not all trauma needs to be processed. You mention that despite the childhood trauma you suffered, you have been able to let it go and get on with your life. If this is the case, it might not really be necessary for you to revisit the trauma you experienced in childhood. However, sometimes a more recent trauma can bring old traumas that were not sufficiently addressed to the surface. I would encourage you to have a very open conversation about all of this, including the nightmares you are having, with your therapist and work together to create a treatment plan that will serve your best interest. No matter what you and your therapist determine to be the best course of action for you, it will probably be difficult at times, but when you see the process through, you just might find that you are living a life free of the effects of trauma.

Sincerely,
Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • danielle

    danielle

    January 28th, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    It takes such courage to get through something so painful and upsetting as the loss of a sibling. You have the added baggage of having had a traumatic childhood as well, and even though you have worked through some of the pain, obviously your brother could not and I would suspect that you feel some guilt about that too. But you shouldn’t and I do so hope that you are able to confront your past and move forward in life. It would be such a shame to know that you have worked so long and hard to confront your pain but that it got the best of you too. I know that you deserve better than that as I am sure that is how your family feels too.

  • Sam

    Sam

    January 28th, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    Sometimes a difficult situation at hand can bring back old memories that then begin to haunt us.

    Also, your family may be scared for you. While they may not be expressing themselves in the best possible manner, a response that is not appropriate from you could only make things worse. So have a little chat with them and maybe you could reach an agreement with them.

  • Mason P

    Mason P

    January 29th, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    While I think that it is important for you to eventually make peace with what has happened with you in the past, I still feel strongly that it has to be on your own terms and your own time. No one can force you to do something that you are not ready to do, and honestly maybe you have to take some slow steps toward a healthier outlook before you are even ready to begin what can be a sometimes even more painful journey when you start therapy. So I hope that you will make peace, but on your time, on your terms, and with the help of your family and a therapist who can gently help you find the courage that you need.

  • TR

    TR

    January 29th, 2013 at 3:20 PM

    Maybe attend one session and explain to your therapist about your own stand? He or she could then put things in a better way to your family. They are far more likely to take it from the therapist than from you given the circumstances.

  • Naomi

    Naomi

    April 20th, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    I agree with a commenter above about dealing with issues on your own terms. When you are ready find someone who specializes in dealing with trauma. It’s important to make sure you feel safe and comfortable.

    I do advocate for dealing with trauma because otherwise it does have a tendency to continue to haunt you. The good thing about going through the darkness of dealing with trauma is it allows you to eventually come out on the other side. And the other side tends to be brighter.

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