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Ambiguous loss

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Avoidant behaviours

After exposure to a stressful event, those affected may try to avoid related emotions. This is how they cope with trauma. A person might immerse themselves in an activity, shut down, or engage in substance abuse to escape their feelings. These are avoidant behaviours. People affected by trauma might also respond by withdrawing from family and friends. They might spend more time alone and turn down opportunities to socialize. Withdrawal behaviours include irritability, reduced communication, and limited involvement in family life. When a family member is not really “there”, a source of emotional and practical support is lost for families.


Impacts of “not thereness” on families

When substance use, gambling, infidelity, or other vices are used to cope with trauma, SSOs can experience sadness, anger, jealousy, and/or depression. Poor communication can put the couple relationship at risk. Developing healthier strategies to manage trauma exposure can reduce the risks for families.

Over time, PSP families report that they have learned the signs of a ‘bad call.’ They know what to pay attention to and adjust their expectations. Sometimes these behaviours are isolated and manageable. Repeated behaviours that disrupt family life may require the support of a mental health professional.

When PSP withdraw from family life, family members, especially SSOs, are burdened with added responsibilities. More demands on any family member’s time can lead to role overload. The wellbeing of the family depends on timely and effective strategies that support healthy outcomes for all family members.

Both physical and emotional distance and the unpredictable involvement of a family member in family life strain relationships. Family members can experience feelings of anger and resentment, which can arise from lack of intimacy and trust. Early intervention is important to prevent growing problems.

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References for this page (click to expand)

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