We Are Family


Contact Trauma

Contact Trauma - Siblings

Last night my daughter awoke just as we were going to bed. She staggered into our room, disorientated, on the verge of tears. She looked as if she was struggling to get out of her own skin, twitchy movements, evident discomfort, flinching when touched.

I took her to her room and asked her if there was a pain. ‘Yes,’ she mumbled. 

‘Where? Point to it for me.’ She pointed to a table. I asked again, she repeated it again. In her eyes I could see that there was something there for her that wasn’t there for me.

I picked her up and told her she was safe and loved. I took her to the loo, then tucked her back into bed. She was able to recognise and hug her special teddy as she sobbed herself into an uncomfortable sleep.

This has happened many times over the years and been attributed by us to trauma, yes, but also growing pains, nightmares after watching something over-stimulating, being told off at school and many other factors. But this time I recognised this as definite PTSD. Her eyes reminded me so much of those pictures of shell-shocked soldiers, and the clear recognition of something there, causing pain, that I couldn’t see, was disturbing.

Of course, this is very ‘difficult’. In the morning, my partner asked if she could remember coming in last night. As usual, she laughed in disbelief and said no. And we are at a loss to know how to help, if she doesn’t even know it happens. I find myself wondering what it was that she could see; what memory was being relived. Almost constructing one for myself. It’s one of the weird things about taking on someone else’s trauma, I suppose.

I think that what had triggered this awful memory, whatever it was, was a meeting with the half-siblings a few days before. Getting together with a bunch of birth-related kids and being expected to play, eat, swap late Christmas presents and generally act all familiar must be pretty weird. 

One of the other mums in this extended family asked me that day a) if she can bring her two to stay and b) if we can all go camping together. I agreed, within limits, knowing that it would be absolute over-stimulation mayhem. But on reflection, I don’t know if we can do it at all. My daughter seems to be re-traumatised by contact with them. It’s not just the night terrrors. She’s been unable to control her voice volume, unable to sit still, licking her lips raw, she’s had an eczema flare up… ever since we told her that we’d be seeing them at the end of the Christmas holidays. She was saying she felt fine, she was looking forward to it, she felt absolutely normal… but the physical evidence to the contrary was stacking up.

So now, although I’ve been a staunch supporter of contact up to this point, I am starting to wonder what the benefit of it is and how much is too much.

Part of me thinks the more we do, the more normal it will be and the greater support these kids will be when they need it in their teenage years and adulthood. Nobody understands your mixed up childhood like a sibling.

On the other hand, if she’s showing us that it is too much and that she doesn’t really want to acknowledge their existence at the moment, should we go with that?

We have two children to consider; full siblings. And the other one isn’t showing signs of trauma about meeting the half-siblings… I’ve just written that and checked myself. He’s been shoving teddies down his pyjamas to make them feel restrictively tight and doing loads of baby play, and been incredibly accident prone. Ahhh.

It’s the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle. I don’t know if those half-siblings are going to fit, at least not until we’ve got a lot more of our bit sorted.


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