Understanding and recovering from painful childhood experiences & trauma

It is not uncommon for people with painful childhood experiences to believe things weren’t that bad, that what they experienced was normal, and that as adults they should be over it by now. Many might not consider that what they experienced was traumatic. Others suffer a painful dual experience, knowing things were not right but struggling with chronic doubt at the same time. One of the first things I will do to help is validate the reality of the traumas you experienced and to name the ways the resulting pain continues to have an impact upon you.

Childhood trauma can include exposure to any or all of the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional and verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse including exposure to a confusing and overly sexualized family environment
  • Exposure to a chaotic, confusing, and/or violent family environment
  • Loss of a parent, sibling, or other caretaker
  • Exposure to parental mental illness, parental alcohol/substance abuse, or unresolved parental trauma
  • Exposure to war, political persecution, and/or community violence
  • Exposure to racism/discrimination, sexism, heterosexism, religious persecution

The effects of childhood trauma can be severe and long lasting. Often invalidation or being made to feel that the trauma was insignificant or that you should be over it by now greatly exacerbates the pain and can hamstring your efforts to own and recover from what has happened to you. Results of childhood trauma include:

  • Chronic anxiety and depression
  • Problems regulating emotions – at times feeling overwhelmed and at times feeling detached or dead inside. Alcohol and substance abuse or other addictive behaviors such as binge eating and compulsive sexual behaviors. Depending upon the nature of your struggle with addictive behavior we might consider referral to specialized addiction treatment to augment our work.
  • Flashbacks including painful and frightening experiences that make you feel as if the trauma is happening again.  Other forms in which this re-experiencing can happen include nightmares, panic attacks, and frequent startle responses.
  • Intense anger and rage
  • Fear of your emotions and emotional needs and intense guilt and shame over emotional expression
  • Low self-esteem including painful self accusations and judgments, and/or self-destructive behavior, shame and thoughts of suicide
  • Sexual problems including shame, guilt, and confusion about your sexual thoughts, feelings, and needs
  • Chronic interpersonal difficulties particularly within intimate relationships
  • Feeling alienated from others, even from yourself along with a sense that your life has no purpose or meaning
  • Feeling that you are not fully engaged in your life
  • Feeling that you have to protect others from the traumas you’ve experienced leading to feeling alone with it
  • Questioning the legitimacy of your pain
  • How I can help. The road to recovery from trauma contains two central approaches:
    1. The healing and empowering psychotherapy relationship. The healing comes from understanding your emotional experiences precisely how you experience them. I will pay careful attention to the fullness of your emotional communication including your words, voice tone, gesture, facial expression all which tells a story of how the traumas you’ve experienced live inside of you:
    I will do my best to feel these painful feelings with you while maintaining an observing stance so that we can work on making sense of what you feel. My training has helped me to build the capacity to notice and process painful states of mind that other practitioners might tend to not notice or even avoid.
    I will pay careful attention to how our own interactions serve as a map for understanding experiences you’ve never had the words to express
    I will help you to pay attention to your own train of thought, to your body, and to the images your mind conjures in an effort to empower you to know and accept yourself and what has happened to you
    I will help you become aware of personal qualities and abilities that have been misunderstood and/or undermined by the traumas you’ve experienced
    2. Emotion regulation strategies, breaking self-destructive behavioral cycles, and effective life action strategies:
    a. Mindfulness practice – learn to observe your inner world with acceptance, awareness, and appreciation. The goal is to reclaim your mind as a safe place to think, feel, and know about yourself.b. Learn what triggers overwhelming emotional states and self-destructive behaviors. Often what seems like acts of self-destruction or self-defeat contain a self-protective purpose that I will help you to access.

    c. Learn cognitive-behavioral strategies of calming and empowering yourself that are congruent with your personal style and preferences. A balanced approach to problem solving and personal growth – problem solving informed by an in-depth understanding of the personal issues involved increasing the likelihood of success.

    d. Build an integrated and authentic self-image including a vision of your future self. Reconnect with your desires, talents/skills, and ambitions while generating specific strategies for creating a sense of purpose and meaning in your life.