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In a previous post, we discussed traumatic separation, toxic stress, and how children being detained at international borders can experience effects in physical and mental health. Here, we will discuss the immediate and long-term effects of traumatic separation.

Immediate effects of traumatic separation

When we see a child who has been separated from their parent reunite with their parent, a deep, long, clutching embrace is usually involved. Typically, children are relieved to find their parent and are immediately reassured that everything is going to be okay, that they are safe again. Traumatic separation is different because trauma impacts a child differently. Trauma tells children nothing is okay, nothing may be okay again, nothing is safe, and nothing may ever be safe again. Whereas children momentarily separated may experience brief fear and issues of attachment, children traumatically separated long term will face severe attachment issues.

“Children who have undergone traumatic separation often cling desperately to their parents after they are reunited and refuse to let them out of their sight,” the Washington Post explains. “Many suffer from separation anxiety, cry uncontrollably and have trouble sleeping because of recurring nightmares.” Wetting the bed and other regressive behaviors are common, which can include communication skills. In extreme cases, children may stop eating, stop communicating, or shut down entirely.

Long-term effects of traumatic separation

Specific to the case of children separated at international borders is the prospect of potentially long-term detention. “Studies have shown that boys held in detention, even for short periods of time, such as two or three weeks, can develop antisocial behavior, violence and substance abuse problems. Teenage girls more often show depressive disorders and substance abuse,” Washington Post cites.

Our attachment styles dictate our relationships. Our traumatic experiences also dictate the way we interact with other people, as well as the world around us. If our attachment has been traumatically impacted, how we relate will be impacted as well. Difficulties in relating to ourselves, others, and the world can contribute to the development of mental health disorders and cause us to feel isolated in the world due to our experiences.

Children can and do heal from traumatic separation, but may have to live actively in recovery from PTSD, among other mental health issues. You can heal from childhood trauma with the right clinical treatment and support. Call The Guest House Ocala today for information on our residential treatment programs for traumas, addictions, and related mental health issues: 1-855-483-7800