The way you cope with trauma is as unique as your fingerprint – do you wrap the blanket of yourself around your ill child, or try to keep things as “normal” as possible, or take care of all the mechanics surrounding care? Do you reach out to your community of family and friends for support or do you keep your challenges to yourself?
Every person has a different way of coping with a child’s trauma. And the way people in your support network cope may be very different than your own. When a partner or best friend or other family members copes differently than you, it can make it difficult to appreciate their experience and it can also be difficult to ask for and receive the support you need. The thing is, you need your team now more than ever. Here are some hints for supporting people with different coping styles and also receiving support during your child’s chronic illness:
1. Work to Understand the Roots of Different Coping Styles
Chances are if you take the time to dig deep enough into your partner’s or friend’s past, you can find the experiences and beliefs that create his or her adult coping style. Did your partner’s family hide away their secrets from the world? Is your friend’s past filled with other traumas that make it especially difficult (or easy…) to cope with the current challenge? By working to understand other coping styles as trained responses, you can start feeling less “blame” and more compassion for a style that is different than your own.
2. Learn to Use Differences in Coping Styles
Let’s be honest: it’s hard to do everything yourself. If your partner or a friend is better at managing the details, why not let him or her have at it? If his or her coping style helps that person reach out to extended family and friends for support, why not let this person be in charge of communicating your child’s challenges? The thing is, differing coping styles might be a blessing – maybe your challenges are your partner’s strengths? Recognizing how another person’s coping style can help support your own can let you keep in mind how much stronger you are as a team than individually.
3. Ask for What You Need
This is a hard part. It might seem obvious to you that you need a night off or on the opposite side of the spectrum, need to have a bed wheeled into your child’s hospital room. But someone with a different coping style might not see what you see. In that case, be honest, be open, and be direct. Instead of being frustrated with your someone’s inability to guess what you need, simply tell him or her. With all the adults’ attention focused on the ill child, it might take a little straightforward asking to make sure you and the people in your support network are able to support each other.
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.