Childhood Trauma, PTSD, & Trauma Therapy
Trauma is the outcome of experiences which were unbearable. But what is traumatic is not only what happened, but also what didn’t happen.
What is childhood trauma?
Any experience that is too much for the mind to bear can be traumatic. You decide has been traumatic to you.
Chronic trauma involves repeated experiences such as torture or childhood abuse.
Chronic trauma can be the outcome of being marginalised/oppressed because of race, sexual identity, gender identity, class, neurodiversity, or disability.
Symptoms of childhood trauma in adults
Punitive guilt and shame can dominate mental life.
Extreme anxiety that manifests not in “fight or flight”, but “freeze and flop”.
Digestive disturbances, breathing disturbances, sensory disturbances (tinnitus, blurry or tunnel vision).
Thinking problems (mind going blank, racing thoughts, difficulty thinking).
Hearing voices and dissociation.
Self-harm and suicidal ideation.
Effects of trauma on relationships
Survivors can find it very hard to form and maintain relationships. Trauma destroys the possibility of trust in others.
Survivors become very adept at sensing other people’s emotions, but often struggle to contextualise these.
It becomes challenging to see the self and others in shades of grey.
There can be enormous buried grief about childhood experiences which can manifest as chronic grievance towards others.
Childhood emotional neglect is invisible trauma
If the parents weren’t able to recognise and meet the baby/child’s needs, the survivor is likely to develop self-neglect, often supressing, dismissive, or minimising feelings.
Neglect can leave one comparing and despairing. After all, if you are being neglected it means that someone else, presumably more worthy, is getting all the attention.
Neglected survivors can become compulsive caregivers as they make others more important.
Therapy for Childhood Trauma and PTSD
Many people have experienced chronic trauma, often starting early in early life, within their family. Others hold identities (related to race, sexuality, gender identity, disability) who place them under marginalisation and oppression. In such cases the therapeutic relationship itself the main “curative factor”. This is because:
“Trauma that happens in relationships can only be worked through in relationships”.
In the first instance, trauma survivors have to decide that the therapist can be trusted. They will need to spend time having an experience of being listened to, believed, and taken seriously. They will also inevitably have an experience of being “triggered” by their therapist’s behaviour. Those can be some of the most crucial moments in the therapy as survivors’ worst fears come to life. The person who is meant to help them seems to become the enemy and this can deeply resonate with frightening early experiences. A helpful therapist who can remain alongside the survivor at those times can assist with recovering a sense of trust in others and the world.
A therapy that places working with the relationship between client and therapist, such as psychodynamic therapy, can often be very the treatment of choice for childhood trauma and PTSD. At Relationships in Mind, a flexible approach called Attachment Based Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (ISTDP) is available to people suffering from PTSD and complex trauma (or complex PTSD).
Effective trauma counselling in Kensington
The first aim of trauma therapy is to help the survivor feel that they have control of the therapy while the therapist remains responsible for emotional safety.
The therapist will often listen at length and reflect back what they have understood. “This is how I see you. What do you think?” The survivors are slowly helped to take a careful and caring looks at themselves.
The therapist will be working hard behind the scenes to ensure that the client remains within their “window of tolerance” during the session, making sure that anxiety is tolerable and learning can take place.
The window of tolerance expands by experiencing more and more of our emotions in the presence of another person.
Becoming more in touch with emotions allows us to be more of ourselves, a process often interrupted when there has been childhood trauma or neglect.
ISTDP is highly congruent with recent advances in neuroscience and neurobiology.
It may be a little while before the memories of actual trauma are revisited together. Nonetheless, the symptoms of trauma do enter the therapy before even the first consultation (e.g. will I be understood by this therapist? Will they blame me? Will they hurt me in some way? Can I really trust people who claim they will look after me?)
Trauma processing happens all the time in ISTDP
One of the advantages of ISTDP is that it involves continuous microprocessing of trauma.
The moment when we notice that we smile when we talk about something helpful: This may be reliving (rather than remembering) how we learned to dismiss our feelings, perhaps because we thought they were dangerous to our caregivers.
The moment when sadness rises and we attack ourselves: This may be reliving how we learned that our sadness is not going to draw a parent close, but might actually drive them away.
The moment when anger rises and we become angry at ourselves: This may be reliving how we learned that our anger made a parent angry and dangerous.
The ISTDP therapist notices these and help you process these moments as they occur. Together rather than alone.
And of course, some times we talk about those times we do remember that were horrific and remember them floods us with so much anxiety that we will damage ourselves in a myriad ways.
Micoprocessing means paying careful and caring attention together, at each one of these moments.
Benefits of therapy
Increased self awareness
- Discover your unique relationship models
- Identify otherwise invisible patterns of thinking and feeling that lead to unhelpful behaviours
- Explore your values and make decisions
Use your emotions
- Turn your emotions into information
- Identify your needs
- Become the truest version of yourself
Improve your relationships
- Become more assertive
- Become more collaboartive
- Reduce self-criticism
- Reduce doubt
- Reduce worry and rumination
- Reduce a sense of meaninglesness
Healthy relationships, Healthy selves
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