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Working with Trauma

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

Many people coming into therapy have experienced trauma in some form or another and their psychological, emotional and relational difficulties may be a result of this, some may not even realise it!  I aim to create a safe space for clients to explore and heal their traumatic experiences and relationships.

What Do We Mean by Trauma?

Trauma can take the form of single significant events such as accidents, violence and other forms abuse, repetitions of such events over time.  Trauma can also be in the form of repeated emotional and relational injuries such as bullying or a problematic attachment relationship (see below) with parents.  For people who experience trauma of any kind it can have a profound impact on their lives, leading to a variety of mental health difficulties, problems academically, social and relationally.  A person who as experienced trauma will often lack a sense of safety, find it difficult to trust others or themselves, feel inferior or defective in some way experience intense shame about themselves.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD may be experienced by people who have been exposed to scary, dangerous

or shocking events either directly.  People may also be indirectly affected by such

events if they are close to the person experiencing them or a first responder.  A

person with PTSD will experience some or all of the following:

  • Frequent reminders of the events through flashbacks, ruminative thoughts, nightmares.  Often the person experiencing these will feel like they are back in the situation.

  • Avoidance of places, people, things or thoughts that might trigger memories of the event.  Avoidance may take the form of suppression of feelings through addictive behaviours such as alcohol or sensation seeking.

  • Increased anxiety

  • Altered mood

For some people with PTSD they can struggle to continue to live the usual lives, for others they may continue in their relationships and activities with reduced enjoyment and or performance. 

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and other somatic focused therapies can be very effective in treating PTSD.  Trauma Focused CBT is also effective.  Therapy combined with things like yoga, acupuncture, meditation, dance and other movement based activities have been shown to be the most effective.

Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c- PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions. feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world.

Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in adults or children who have repeatedly experienced traumatic events, such as violence, neglect or abuse. Complex PTSD is thought to be more severe if:

  • The traumatic events happened early in life

  • The trauma was caused by a parent or carer

  • The person experienced the trauma for a long time

  • The person was alone during the trauma

  • There's still contact with the person responsible for the trauma

As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child's development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older.

Adults with complex PTSD may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.

Attachment and Trauma

Attachment is a positive feeling and emotional bond towards another human being. Our first attachments are with our parents/caregivers and other family members. These attachment relationships will influence the ways we relate to ourselves and others/our intimate relationships/ our children.

When a child is upset, hurt, scared, etc. they turn to their attachment person with an expectation of being comforted.  The child’s distress is a signal to the attachment person to do something to comfort the child. We are programmed to respond in these ways (all mammals are). It is instinctive.

With time and repetition the child’s experiences of being cared for are internalised. What does this mean?

  • The child who has been cared for starts to feel comforted just by thinking about the (attachment) person.

  • They are comforted from within (it is almost like we carry the attachment person inside us ).

  • This is how we learn to manage our emotional states for ourselves (we have been taught by someone else).

  • It allows us to calm/comfort ourselves as adults when we have been upset/hurt/scared.

The relationships we had with our parents/caregivers influence:

  • Our attachment styles (N.B. They can vary and change over time).

  • How we deal with close relationships.

This is often most evident in:

  • Situations that cause us pain.

  • When there is a danger or fear of being abandoned.

The way a person regulates his/her attachment relationship(s) is of major significance for his/her life.

When attachment is disrupted by abuse, neglect, significant inconsistency, cold indifferent parents, over-involved parents etc. (insecure or disorganised attachments)  a child struggles to develop a sense of safety and identity.  Insecure and disorganised attachment affects the development of a fragmented sense of self; emotion regulation abilities; impulsivity and ability to inhibit behaviour; hyper- vigilance for threat; hypo-arousal of the emotion processing centres limiting recognition and understanding of others emotional states (limiting empathy); limited understanding and defensive avoidance of taking other people’s perspectives (theory of mind).

A child then develops coping mechanisms/defences to survive their environment. Later in life these defences remain and can cause problems because they are no longer relevant to the person’s adult life. From here can arise psychological, emotions and relational distress.

Therapy for CPTSD and other attachment trauma related problems often requires more complex and integrative therapy due the complexity of the problems that can arise. Such therapy will often involve skills development to reduce physical or mental symptoms of distress and a focus on emotions and relationships (Schema Focused Therapy and Mentalization Based Therapy)

Links to other important websites:


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