“People can learn to control and change their behaviour, but only if they feel safe enough to experiment with new solutions.” – Bessel van der Kolk
We’ve come a long way in understanding trauma and the havoc it can wreak within us and between us. However, many people still believe trauma can only be caused by a singular traumatic event (a car accident) or long-term exposure to a dangerous situation (war). However, there are more subtle relational traumas that often go unnoticed or ignored within families and communities. Most relational traumas occur during childhood when we are most vulnerable and at-risk. They are often brought on by parental neglect or familial abuse in some shape or form. This can be physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal. The unfortunate reality is that much of the effects of relational trauma go unnoticed or untreated until well into adulthood, and it can have a long-term impact on a person’s life and their ability to form healthy and happy relationships. Unfortunately, many people have been subjected to a complex mix of trauma stressors that can be traced back to events and/or relationships in their past or present, and we sometimes refer to this as ‘complex trauma’.
As with anxiety, trauma occurs when our autonomic nervous system is overwhelmed by a stressful event, and it can have physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural consequences. Some symptoms or effects of trauma are easier to identify. Some of the most common physical and emotional responses include:
– Uncontrollable anger;
– Persistent fear;
– Shame and/or guilt;
– Irritability or difficulty concentrating;
– Racing heart; and
– Excessive sweating.
These symptoms are often a sign of hyperarousal – a state of feeling constantly alert or stressed. Other symptoms are more subtle and creep into our relationships with ourselves and others. They include: a fear of intimacy, difficulty to create and maintain healthy relationships, difficulty identifying or naming our feelings, patterns of self-harm, and a fear of commitment. People often forget that addiction – whether it be to food, sex, drugs, gambling, or engaging in any pattern of self-harming behaviours (such as cutting) – often mask an unprocessed trauma that requires compassionate and urgent attention. If you have continually experienced any of these symptoms it’s important to get support because trauma can be treated.
Talk-based therapies have proven to be a wonderful way of helping people process trauma. I have been trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy. It is an evidence-based approach to therapy that helps clients process traumatic memories in a safe and contained environment. I also use an ego-state approach to treatment to support my clients who are processing trauma. Trauma can trick us into believing that we are “broken” or “no good”. However, using ego-state therapy, clients can reconnect with their healthy parts of self and find ways to heal the parts that have been hurt or affected by trauma. Both of these approaches have shown to be effective in trauma treatment. As there is almost always a relational component to trauma, no trauma treatment is complete without working on our relationship with ourself and others. The goal is to look at our lives as honestly as possible and to identify challenging areas that need to be changed. Within the therapeutic relationship we can explore those areas of your life and in the process you will learn about yourself, learn to nurture your relationship with yourself and ultimately be able to identify your unhealthy trauma responses in relationships with others. Bringing these unhealthy relational patterns or behaviours into consciousness can help us replace them with healthy patterns and behaviours.
The best way to explore the relational components of trauma is in relationship with a trained trauma-informed therapist who can contain and create a safe and non-judgemental space for exploration. Trauma is a complex phenomenon that manifests in many different ways. It can show up immediately after a traumatic incident, or it can show up twenty years down the line. Therefore, there is no easy five-step process or linear system that can eradicate trauma. Trauma practitioners like myself have been trained to create specialised and individualised treatment approaches for each and every client and their specific needs.
If you have been affected by trauma, I am here to support you. You can use my online scheduling system to book a free, no-obligation consultation for more information on my approach to trauma. You can also call or e-mail for more information.