Secondary Stress and Adoptive Parents

I am an adoptive parent of three children. When I first brought my children into my home, I noticed that immediately my house change. Many times I was living in a warzone as my wife and I struggled to teach our children boundaries and structure. Simple tasks like getting ready for school, doing homework, and chores in the house became major battlefields.

As we struggled to adjust and blend a family, I noticed that my physical and mental health changed. Physically, I was diagnosed with hypertension six months after bringing our children into our home. I also noticed changes in my personality and attitude. I became more angry, short tempered, and impatient. Sometimes, I was just sad. At the time, I was dealing with some depression but didn’t know it until I went to see a marriage counselor.

These are some of the effects of what I call secondary stress or PTSD. Secondary stress is a term given to helpers who experience a lot of trauma vicariously. Usually police officers, medical workers, and mental health professionals can experience this after witnessing the horrors of violence second hand, either via sight or verbally.

As adoptive and foster care parents we also experience secondary stress or PTSD. We live with our children and try to provide healing environments as they walk through their traumatic experiences. Children often act out their trauma through behavior and this is what causes some of the challenges we see. As trust is built, they will also share some of their stories with you. You are in a sense reliving their traumas with them.

If you find yourself feeling angry, having more emotional outbursts, or retreating into yourself maybe its time to look at therapy to help you navigate through secondary trauma and stress. For me, therapy made a big difference and kept my marriage and family together.

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