Even though the person may not remember that traumatic event, it may show up in association with, when, or how the trauma occurred...

Understanding Trauma and Traumaversaries

Did you know that it is possible for your body to unconsciously remember a traumatic event? The brain is an amazing machine and it will move mountains to protect you. When a traumatic event happens to a person, the brain may tuck the event away. Even though the person may not remember that traumatic event, it may show up in association with, when, or how the trauma occurred. A traumaversary is a term used to identify a pattern of behavior that shows up at the same time year after year in association with a traumatic event. 

Many adoptive families have found that traumaversaries are very real. Knowing they may be on the horizon can help a family to prepare and support a child through a difficult time.   

How do you know a traumaversary is coming?

Identifying traumaversaries will likely happen over time. Our daughter had been with us for a couple of years before we were able to identify anniversaries of trauma that she had experienced. She was, and is still not, able to tell us why certain times of the year are hard for her, but her behavior speaks volumes. While we have some information on her life before us, there are many life experiences that we may never understand. 

January is always hard for her. On the second January that she was with us, we made the connection that a few weeks after Christmas, we would probably see several difficult behaviors. Not only did negative behaviors increase, she also seemed sad and was continually self-sabotaging. We still do not know what happened in her young life during that time, but we were able to recognize the same patterns return every year. The longer you know your child, the better you will be able to recognize the patterns of traumaversaries. 

How do you prepare for traumaversaries?

Once you have identified when a traumaversary is likely to appear, you are able to better prepare for their arrival. For some, it means making more time in their schedule to slow down and lessen the outside pushes and pulls. For instance, maybe you know that every June your child will show signs of a traumaversary, so you can plan your summer vacation for another time during the break from school. 

In our home, we know that we will need to have extra support in place. Depending on how the traumaversary affects the child, you may need to plan supports to be in place to help you as you meet the needs of your child. That may look like making meals ahead of time and throwing them in the freezer, scheduling play dates and outings for your other children to open up, finding Intentional time for connection and one-on-one time with your hurting child, and reaching out to teachers and trusted adults at school to let them know that your child may need a little more support during a period of time. Communication is key and reaching out for support can make these difficult times much better. 

Should you seek professional help?

When you are dealing with the complexities of mental health, it is important to know you do not have to do this alone. There are many therapists who have experience working with traumatized children. Find support for the child and the other members in the family. It is very important to know you are not alone on your journey and the help and support of a therapist will help you in ways you could never imagine. 

How do you support your adopted child?

There are many ways to support your child when they are going through difficult times. It may take some time to learn what works best for each child. Over time, you will learn how to best relate and support them. 

For our family, we have found that just because something has worked before, it doesn’t mean it will work each time. That being said, our options for coping has grown. We have found many things that work over time, but the one thing all of the activities have in common is that we are mindful of time. 

Supporting your child through difficult times like this is a delicate balance of being present for them and giving them space. It is a difficult part of parenting for sure. To facilitate a safe place for your child to grow, thrive, and heal sometimes means you need to give them space to explore their pain on their own. It is important to be humble and open and give your child permission to let you know how you can help them. Sometimes they will need to be held, but fight it. Showing up every day for your child will offer them unspoken words of the faithful love of a forever parent. It can be challenging to understand what your child needs, give yourself grace. 

How do you get through the difficult times with a child who has trauma?

As a mom, I never fully thought about the toll parenting a child who had endured trauma would have on me. Over the years, I have quietly struggled, sometimes not so quietly, about the amount of stress I have absorbed. I am the primary caregiver for our child and the one who takes her to her different appointments. The hours of sitting with my daughter processing trauma, coping with behaviors, and being the primary parent have left me with many scars. About seven months ago, we had to make some very difficult decisions about her care. We had to seek significant help for her and during that time I have also needed to do a deep dive into my own mental health. 

Through the many hours I have spent dealing with the state of my mental health, I have discovered just how deeply her wounds have pierced my heart too. Taking care of your heart, mind, and soul should be a priority. You can’t take care of your family if you aren’t taking care of yourself.  It is important to remember that this life can be difficult, but every day you show up is a day you have decided to fight for the ones you love. It may be hard, but it is so worth it. 

The views and opinions expressed through Adopting.org Articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the company. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Rebecca Dell

Becky Dell is a Staff Storyteller for adoption.com. Now married for over 20 years, her journey to motherhood started with a miscarriage, followed by the birth of her two biological sons, and brought to completion with the domestic adoptions of two daughters. You used to be able to find Becky baking cookies and playing trains with her two tiny sons, but now, you will find her learning to parent through the rough and rewarding world of adoption, attachment, and trauma. She is a fierce advocate for adoption and processes the many facets of adoption through written word.