Relational Trauma Therapy
If you have experienced relational trauma of any sort, you probably find connecting with others in a deep and meaningful way to be arduous, impossible even. You may be seeking out therapy now because for all your efforts and desire, you’re still trying to figure it out. Professional trauma therapy fills this need by navigating difficulties of trust and vulnerability with a grounded and compassionate presence. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
On this page, you’ll learn about the signs of relational trauma, review examples of traumas that might have affected you, discover how it’s never too late to recover and grow, and outline the path to healing from relational trauma. I’ll also share with you my passion for helping people just like you and encourage you to take the first step.
Signs of Relational Trauma
You may not initially think of some current problems as relating to old wounds. However, when exploring your family and social history, you may be surprised to discover the layered effects trauma has had on your ability to connect. Consider the following pernicious effects of trauma that may be wreaking havoc in your present-day relationships:
- Panic or dread about starting relationships or deepening them (romantic or platonic)
- Persistent distrust of others / suspicions of ulterior motives (for example, with categorical beliefs like “men just can’t be trusted”)
- Avoidance of closeness and vulnerability (you project strength or hide your struggles even when you’re hurting)
- Tense and feeling “on-edge” around others (sometimes with very real physical ailments like stomach pains)
- Conflict avoidance / embroiled in conflict (avoiding conflict like the plague or it seems like you’re always in the thick of it)
- Critical of yourself and others (has anyone complained that you speak ‘negatively’ often?)
- Isolating from potential support people, even though you desperately need help
Recognize any of those in yourself? It’s no accident. Before you go off thinking, yeah but that’s how I’ve always been and it’s who I am, consider your past and present relationships that have reinforced these responses. What were the dynamics and what did you learn from them? You don’t have to have this all figured out – I’m here to help so you don’t have to face this alone. You might also connect the dots further by scanning the list below and see which of the following traumatic experiences you have experienced.
Examples of Relational Trauma
You might be surprised by the many types of relational trauma that may have impacted your ability to connect meaningfully to others. How many of the following have you experienced?
- Childhood Abuse or Neglect
- Physical abuse (leaving bruises, hitting with objects, excessive corporal punishment such as locked in room for hours)
- Sexual abuse / Incest (commonly within the family but could also be trusted other such as priest, coach, teacher, etc)
- Emotional / Verbal abuse (relentless teasing or demeaning comments; others unresponsive to your need for support)
- Sexual Assault / Rape (including date rape or any time that consent is not “active”)
- Intimate Partner Violence / Domestic Violence
- Physically abusive (includes threats, throwing objects)
- Sexual assault or coercion (when you feel you can’t say no or worse things will happen)
- Verbal / Demeaning (frequent put-downs even if positives sprinkled in now and then)
- Spiritual / Religious (criticizing your faith; disallowing you from attending services)
- Financially controlling (tightly monitoring spending; unreasonable allowance)
- Social (restricts access to friends or family)
- Harassment or Bullying (at school, work, or in community)
- Discrimination (based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc)
- Stalking (from past partner or obsessed stranger)
If these seem to hit home, reach out and let’s talk about helping you heal.
Never Too Late for Healthy Connections
When the normal rules for human connection are violated in any of these ways, finding your way in relationships is tough. Despite the past trauma, you long for loving and safe connections. Any skepticism of this possibility is understandable. But keep reading and see if you catch a glimmer of hope for a new path.
While it is true that general attachment styles are established in childhood, remodeling these patterns to more adaptive ones is still possible. In trauma therapy, we focus on those critical unmet needs – safety, security, predictability, support, and commitment to peaceful conflict resolution. You learn and experience that these needs can be met after all. All of this sets the stage for more satisfying, deeper connections in relationships.
Will it happen overnight? Sorry, but no miracle cure or magic wand to change the past. And I can’t predict the future about your personal recovery. However, what I can tell you is that during every session, when you show up with willingness to get better, I will be there with you as a safe, stable presence to help you find your way to healthy connections. Why wait longer? Let’s get started!
Healing from Relational Trauma
My trauma-focused therapy supports your needs for connection through a holistic and relationship-oriented perspective. No cookie-cutter approach. No false promises of quick healing. Certain effects of PTSD may be alleviated through specific techniques, however the deeper work of vulnerability and connection – what I help most clients with – are rarely resolved this way. What it takes is a healthy therapeutic relationship to model the safety you deserved but didn’t get. Here’s a sampling of how that happens:
Our collaborative alliance is at the heart of the healing work. Simply put, if bad relationships set you up for these difficulties, it requires a solid one to learn a new way. Where others violated your boundaries, with me your boundaries will be respected and discussed openly. While others criticized your emotional expressions and needs, with me you will receive acceptance and support of your needs. When conflict went unresolved previously, with me you can count on a compassionate exchange to work out conflicts. These are my commitments to you.
Mindfulness and Compassion
When you are triggered by relational trauma, you can quickly enter fight-or-fight mode. This may have made sense previously but now is probably over-used. Through various practices of mindfulness (not just seated meditation), somatic awareness (body-oriented mindfulness), and compassion, you can gradually learn to calm and re-condition the brain. I can teach you skills in these areas for longer-term healing as well as grounding skills to de-escalate from reactions that pop-up.
De-Constructing the Trauma Narrative
I have a somewhat unique take on using the trauma narrative in treatment. First, I find the skill in de-constructing narratives (trauma or otherwise) more useful than actually writing new ones. Installing a new “script” doesn’t exactly come from writing or reading a new one aloud. You get there by practicing new ways of relating while you put all those self-limiting beliefs in check. The awareness of when these are activated and how to find your center will be more useful than holding tightly to some new version of yourself.
Exposure and De-Sensitization
Exposure is definitely an aspect of the trauma therapy work I offer. However, in my professional experience, this often happens without specific guidance or homework activities. You’ll naturally be triggered (i.e. exposed) to trauma reminders in all sorts of ways both in-session and in your regular life. For example, just being in the room with a male therapist (and assumed ‘authority figure’) can be exposure enough for some, especially when starting out.
Meeting the Unmet Needs
Working with me, you can safely expect that in one way or another we’ll be focusing on what you didn’t get from others in terms of support. This may be explicit or implicit in the ways we work with the trauma. Paramount among those unmet needs will likely be: safety, reliability, empathy, acceptance, and healthy boundaries.
We can’t change the past, of course, but we can change today and prepare for tomorrow. Throughout treatment, I’ll be with you each step guiding you towards behavior that reinforces resilience and strengths. You may actually surprise yourself with the strength that you do have and tap into that more readily with my support. I firmly believe that individuals find all kinds of creative adaptations to trauma – some helpful, some out-dated. My mission is to help you tap into your own wisdom, learn some new strategies, and put them into practice.
From this comprehensive and holistic approach, you can carve new paths to re-connection. There’s just one quick step to get started on that trailblazing.
Why I LOVE Helping Others Recover from Relational Trauma
The most memorable and rewarding clients I’ve worked with have one thing in common – relational trauma histories. People outside of the therapy world think I’m nuts for focusing on this issue. Well, you have to be a little scrambled in the head to choose to do a deep-dive into trauma on a regular basis. And yet…
What inspires me the most to do this work is my privileged role in helping clients gradually take risks to be seen and valued in a way never done before. Or setting boundaries and feeling secure doing so. Or knowing deep-down at their core, they are lovable, faults and all. I can find no more rewarding way to be of service than to journey where others fear to go.
Ready to Rebuild Trust and Connect Better?
It’s never too late to re-build trust and a great time to take the first step is right now. I know it can be scary to step outside your comfort zone if you have experienced any of the above issues in relationships. But there is hope. If you’ve taken away even a glimmer of hope from this page, please let me know what was helpful and how I might guide you further.