Turning Toward Instead of Away: Trauma and Family Resilience

Written by: Lena Blum, MFTC

2020 has come with trials and tribulations in consistent and unrelenting waves. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial inequity within our country reaching a boiling point, fires displacing families, and  the uncertainty of our economy leading to job loss for many, our lives have been flipped upside down.

With all that is happening in our world it makes sense that people are reporting trauma-like responses such as feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and sadness and urges such as fight, flight, flop, or freeze. These are responses that most of us are familiar with, but traumatic stress may appear differently in relationships. In our relationships we might show up as tend and befriend or distant and disengaged (Barrett,2020). You may have noticed these feelings and urges in yourself or your loved ones. While we cannot control our feelings or urges, we can choose our behavior. It is our behaviors that impact our relationships and whether we pursue community and resilience or isolation and distance.

Family resilience is defined as “the ability of the family, as a functional system, to withstand and rebound from adversity”(Walsh, 2017,p.14). You may be asking what does that mean? Walsh identifies the following ideas to nurture resilience in times of crisis:

Identify and communicate about family/individual strengths. In times of adversity, it is sometimes easier to spot our shortcomings than our strengths.  Identifying our individual and family strengths allows us to better allocate responsibilities and share much deserved appreciation for ourselves and our loved ones. 

With each week bringing new curve balls, establishing or resurrecting a tradition or family ritual can create a place for predictability through the many changes. A ritual of eating dinner together, a standing weekly phone call, or an evening walk, can carry our values and a sense of normalcy in a less than normal time. 

Adversity provokes a crisis of meaning, forming a collaborative family resilience narrative endorses feelings of belonging and relatedness. Discussing our individual and collective story about our emotional experiences fosters a sense of understanding and unity amongst confusion.  This also may be an opportunity to reflect on your family’s history with adversity across generations and to pull from past family values and experiences of overcoming adversity to make sense of your current experience.  

Lastly, reframe problems to possibilities. This can be a difficult and potentially painful task, so proceed with warmth and compassion. The goal of this concept is not to necessarily problem solve, but hold hope for the promise of a better day. In our current world it can be hard to look past the limitations for possibilities, but they are out there, big and small but equally important. For example, many of our favorite social events are not currently available to us, but in return we are given time. Our regained time can be used for books you’ve been meaning to read, family game night, or much needed rest.


Walsh, F. (2017). Strengthening family resilience. New York: The Guilford Press.

Barrett, M.J. (2020). Collaborative Change Model [Powerpoint Slides] Retrieved From www.centerforcontextualchange.org

Lena Blum has begun working on a Ph.D at the University of Denver.