When you look at the these words, what are the first things that come to do your mind?
Fear, sadness, devastation, disbelief, somberness, loss of words, disconnect, sleep disturbance, community, family distress, financial strains, powerless, inconsistency, change to routine.
If any of those came to your mind, please understand that these are typical responses to traumas such as natural disasters. Many traumas that occur are pressured to remain secrets which forces individuals to try to get through it on their own but The Thomas Fire didn’t just affect one person or one family, it affected an entire community. Depending on the lens you choose to adapt, this could be a good or bad thing. Bad: Thousands of people were displaced and traumatized. Good: Thousands of people can now relate to one another and connect on a deeper level. Social support is a resilience factor that will limit psychological distress after a natural disaster occurs. Pushing yourself to engage with your community, interacting with your friends, visiting with family, sharing fire stories with others, attending therapy, etc. These activities will be some one of the most crucial things that you can do for your mental well being in recovery.
Families, each individual that makes up your family is going to have different symptoms in the upcoming weeks/months. Children may become more aggressive, worrisome, clingy, anxious, withdrawn, develop sleep problems, begin bedwetting, etc. Also, it is important to remember that sometimes not having any symptoms is a symptom.
What can you do to help your children? Children need safety and protection in order to properly develop and individuate. Safety can look many different ways. Providing your child with a consistent schedule, praising small achievements, providing the space to allow your child to talk about the fire, being transparent with your child, and developing future safety plans are just some things you can do to help your child get through this difficult time. Remember, negative feelings are expected after a trauma but these negative feelings should not adversely impact different domains of your child’s life. This means, if you child begins losing interest in sports/activities, can not function properly due to lack of sleep, begins making suicidal/self harm statements, or anything else that makes you believe your child is not grieving appropriately then consider taking your child to a therapist.
Couples, in dealing with a sporadic traumatic event, the human brain is designed to to protect itself in an individualistic manner. This means that human instinct is to get oneself out of harm’s way. Although this is how our brains function, it doesn’t mean that this is what we actually do. The Thomas Fire was a disaster that likely had negative effects on interpersonal relationships when it first occurred.
Why? Typically events that impact relationships are predictable and foreseeable which allows the couple to use their thoughts and feelings to guide their behaviors. For example: if a couple is having financial difficulties, this is something that they can see occuring. They can examine their money spending habits, tell one another their thoughts, and reel in on their emotions in order to execute a plan on how to get through this situation. With The Thomas Fire, there was not any time to work through a rational plan with one another. The actions that occurred after the fire were instinctual.
Although the short term effects of a natural disaster typically lead to more conflict within the relationship, this isn’t true for long term effects. When dealt with appropriately, a couple can strengthen their bond which leads to healthier relationship practices (bringing more happiness!) Practice being open and vulnerable with your partner about your feelings. This is going to lead to your partner being your primary source of comfort which will directly correlate to more intimacy, strengthened trust, deeper admiration, solving problems as a team, and creating shared meaning. Try to etch out a time each day that involves you and your partner embracing one another. Push yourself to engage in mutual interest hobbies with your significant other. Be aware of the different ways that this disaster can be affecting your partner, be attuned, and practice being non judgemental. If you notice that your relationship is having exacaberated issues, don’t be afraid to go to therapy. Therapy is a process that allows you to have undivided time from a neutral person who can recognize and point out unhealthy relationship patterns, while also praising and encouraging in the most authentic way.
The Thomas Fire is coming to and end (my deepest gratitude to all the brave firefighters and first responders) but this does not mean that your feelings of loss and grief will be. Give yourself time and acceptance, and remember you have an entire community that is in this together. Please call or email VCC if you would like to set up a free 30 minute consultation. We are here for you and would love the opportunity to help you through this incredibly painful time.
Who am I? My name is Lexi Heinzer. I am a Marriage Family Therapist Associate under supervision from Marilyn Owen. I have a deep interest and passion to help families and couples through temporary roadblocks to help them reach their full potential. I recognize that many interpersonal relationship difficulties occur because of patterns. I want to help you break these patterns and together learn new skills and techniques to guide you. Relationships are ubiquitous, so why not have the healthiest relationships possible in order to be the healthiest you possible. Please email or call me with any questions or comments that you may have.