Emotional Triage

Anyone who remembers M*A*S*H* or has followed any of television’s medical dramas knows what triage is. In an overwhelming situation, it is the assessment of individuals to determine which are the most critical patients in need of treatment. But the concept of triage has applications elsewhere.

Emotional triage is perhaps best seen in a family with a special needs child. Little Jimmy is on the spectrum. Little Julie is neurotypical. Julie wants to talk to Mom, but Jimmy is on the verge of a major meltdown. Mom has to make a choice. Julie’s needs, or Jimmy’s. Nine times out of ten, she will have to take care of Jimmy first.

Over time, Julie learns to take care of herself. But it can go one of two ways. She can either understand her family dynamics and accept that she must be the strong child, or, she can become so resentful she acts out just to get any kind of attention. Scratch that…there is a third way…She can be understanding and responsible one day and a hellion the next. Parental emotional triage can be seen in other family situations. Perhaps Jennifer is a star athlete with a demanding schedule, or James is running with the wrong crowd and is into drugs. It can even happen in perfectly typical families where one child is simply more outspoken than another, or even between spouses when one parent becomes so absorbed in a child he or she neglects his or her partner.

Understand, I am not laying blame on anyone. Parents, like all human beings, have only so much strength themselves. And like all human beings, some have more than others. And very often, the neurotypical child, the “good” child grows up to be a strong, capable adult.

I believe everyone, to some extent, practices emotional triage in the community in which they live, whether that be family, workplace, neighborhood, circle of friends, or church. Two (or more!) people seek one’s attention or help. Which one will collapse, either physically or emotionally, and which one will be “fine”? When this happens occasionally, it’s no big deal. But when it becomes a pattern?

That one person you all know; that one person who can always be depended upon to understand why you had to cancel that get-together or never answered that text or phone call. That one person who seems to be so strong, who never expresses disappointment at cancelled plans. That one person who is taking care of others. That one person who will never let you see how much being invisible hurts. You know him. You know her.

Check up on that strong person in your life. Do it today.


By kathykexel

I've been writing from close to the time I learned to read. Fortunately, almost nothing exists from those days. Throughout my working life, I've jotted down bits and pieces here and there. But now that we m retired, I've run out of excuses not to write.

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