The impact of unresolved adverse or traumatic events experienced in childhood can feel like waves travelling through time bringing with them images, feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations and responses that interfere with and often undermine attempts to make a whole and fulfilling life in the present.
While most, if not all, children and adults experience adverse events in life: it is when those events have not been sufficiently attended to and witnessed with loving care when they happened, combined with other factors that often leads to those events creating long term difficulties.
These kinds of unresolved events includes all kinds of physical, emotional, sexual and psychological behaviour. However, there may not be any obvious 'abuser' or 'perpetrator' involved as it is often the case that a parent or primary carer is unable to provide adequate attachment and care to a child as a result of their own problems which would not make sense for many people to think of as a traumatic or even adverse experience. However there is now a considerable body of research and understanding about the ways in which a troubled attachment relationship within the family does lead to the development of complex trauma. This has been called interpersonal or developmental trauma. If you would like to read more about this I recommend looking initially at the work of Dr Bessel van der Kolk.
The impact of this kind of trauma can be baffling and hard to make sense of in the present as there doesn't seem to be any conscious or apparent link between the past and the problems being experienced in the present. A person may also be experiencing all kinds of other difficulties which may or may not have been assessed or which are nevertheless easier to describe including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, phobias, self harm, problems with intimacy, disordered eating and addictions. In many instances though these problems are connected to a lifetime of finding ways to cope with the suffering and chaos caused by unresolved trauma.
Resolving these adverse experiences involves being able to integrate those experiences more fully into conscious awareness so that they are no longer intrusive or get in the way of making a whole life. This means being able to accurately name and make sense of how those experiences affected the person at the time and continue to impact on a person's life now.
It is important to understand that the mind's inability to integrate such events when there was not enough emotional and other support available to a child is a very functional and necessary response to a situation that could not be changed and from which there was no way to leave. Being able to survive those events and not know consciously just how wounding they were is therefore the most appropriate response at the time as it enables the child to survive, grow and develop.
However once we reach adulthood the protective response of not knowing then becomes a problem in making a workable whole life as the feelings , thoughts and bodily responses to those events are still needing the help and healing that wasn't possible at the time. Returning to the metaphor of the waves travelling through time, trauma therapy is all about first creating a safe space so as not to become overwhelmed by those waves. As the person builds up more strengths and resources to stay with the feelings without becoming overwhelmed healing is then possible through the process of gradually naming and making sense of what has happened and making new ways to move forward.
Studies about trauma and trauma therapies show it is of utmost importance in working with those who have experienced trauma, for the person to feel deeply understood by the therapist and supported to trust and allow the expression of their feelings and ways of making sense of their experiences in a safe and containing way.
One of the world's leading experts on trauma, Dr Bessel van der Kolk encourages those looking for a trauma therapist to “pay more attention to the therapist’s intellectual and emotional equipment than theoretical system,” and to “pay attention to whether the therapist really wants to hear the troubles you have to tell. Ask yourself, ‘Do I feel validated? Is the therapist really listening to my story?'”
If you would like to explore the possibility of working with me around these issues please get in touch for an initial session at no cost.
CHOOSING A THERAPIST
Creativity, journaling and art such as these drawings play a very helpful part in creating a safe place around the overwhelming feelings of trauma and in honoring strengths.
[Please note these images do not breach client confidentiality].