When a Child’s Parent has PTSD.

by | Apr 26, 2012


The following quote is from the above National Center for PTSD site.   

“A parent’s PTSD symptoms can be directly linked to their child’s responses. Children can respond

in certain ways:

The “over-identified” child

might feel and behave just like their parent as a way of trying

to connect with the parent. Such a child might show many of the same symptoms as the
parent with PTSD.

The “rescuer” child

takes on the adult role to fill in for the parent with PTSD. The child

acts too grown-up for his or her age.

The “emotionally uninvolved child”

gets little emotional help. This results in problems at school, depression, anxiety (worry, fear), and relationship problems later in life.”

The PTSD paper written and published by the National Center for PTSD addresses an often not discussed secondary PTSD problem in a family where the parent shows severe symptoms from experience in combat or other traumatic events. My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, describes my own family’s post WWII culture in the context of how we siblings behaved under the toxic home life conditions resulting from my father’s extended combat duty. Dad’s symptoms became worse in the ’50’s following a tour of additional combat duty during the Korean War. It is highly painful but healing at the same time to revisit the past in our family story. Kids take on PTSD like bad genes and often deal with the symptoms for a life time with or without treatment. My family deals with this so much better these days after learning and becoming more aware of Dad’s mental health challenges following two wars and over five years of combat duty beginning with the South China Sea just before WWII, surviving the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia, the Asiatic Pacific Theater serving of the USS Belle Grove, and finally the USS Andromeda during the Korean War. This was far too much combat duty for one human being to endure. And think of it, 1000’s of combat veterans experienced the same kind of combat duty during my father’s “Greatest Generation” of warriors. Life after war for countless wartime veterans was a total experiment in coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression, including acting out with rage at home around spouses, children and loved ones. We really didn’t begin to learn a whole lot of PTSD until the post Vietnam era, and now are in a much better position to provide diagnosis and treatment. The key to healing is awareness, education, and discussion among ourselves as families and the community as a whole.   We must take responsibility and action as a community where our veterans return home to live a healthy, happy, and productive life after war. 

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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