Sometimes people ask me if a type of therapy I do, EMDR, will be helpful for them. I point out how EMDR was developed, what EMDR is for, and then I validate and reflect what relational trauma is and why EMDR can be helpful. EMDR isn’t the only modality helpful for relational trauma, but it sure is efficacious.
We may have an understanding of sexual trauma and physical trauma. However, not many folks know about things like relational and developmental trauma and it’s a lot of what I treat. Several of these types of incidents were previously called little “t” traumas and were known, overtime, to impact folks in body and mind in the similar ways big “T” Traumas such as sexual abuse could show up for folks in thoughts and body. Folks who for example grew up in a family with a child who required most of the attention due to having different abilities in the a country with few accommodations might feel not seen or even have difficulty relating, trusting, and feeling consistency from a caregiver and then later in adult relationships too. Another example of these types of traumas would be being yelled at, being separated from one’s primary caregiver, or having one’s emotions dismissed.
The reason we don’t separate these incidents into little “t” trauma v. capital “T” Trauma is that people misunderstood the first type of traumas to be lesser in intensity or impact and that’s not what we’ve found. I’ve been able to support patients utilizing EMDR and other therapies concerning these persistent and very impactful relational traumas where pinpointing specific flashbacks has been hard, but they know that there was a gap in the nurturance they needed. Some argue that the individualistic society we’ve created is why people feel separate from or unseen by their caregivers in the first place. Others feel if a caregiver cannot mirror or make room for their child’s emotional needs then that’s probably what was done to them. Yes, our society is sort of developed in a way that’s going to still have these traumas occur and yes trauma can be passed down and show up intergenerationally for some. This article isn’t to explain the many and complex origins of trauma, but if you’d like more of that definitely check out our Breaking the Couch podcast episodes on all things trauma and trauma recovery.
For now, I’ll stick to how to spot and address the stuff you didn’t know was a trauma. If you notice yourself having some of the symptoms and experiences that other trauma survivors have you might have experienced these other types of trauma that are less discussed or known. If you notice several nightmares, esteem difficulties, avoidance of certain things like places or experiences, or if you have trouble in therapy then you may have experienced traumatic experiences (TEs). Some people find out they had trauma in their childhood when they realize therapy isn’t super helpful for their panic attacks, distractibility, or on and off depressive mood. Don’t get me wrong, get all the help and support you need. However, if you feel like your therapy isn’t really touching what’s there you might find out if your therapist has done any trauma screeners. You can get to what and where the panic attacks or up and dow moods or distractibility were protecting in childhood and how to more effectively address them in therapy now.
If you don’t have a therapist but find groups supportive you can certainly process and discuss some of the ways you came up in authentic ways. You can share what you needed and didn’t get and let yourself be heard while you hear others express their stories too. If individual or group support/therapy aren’t for you or you can’t access therapies there are other ways to allow your nervous system to get some parasympathetic nervous system healing such as a daily practice of deep, slow breaths, sharing with a safe community member who understands trauma, or petting your pet. You can also let yourself be heard through recording your story with lots of parasympathetic breaks. This can be easier said than done, but recording the lack of connectedness or desire for a parent to mirror you can be helpful to figuring out how the relational trauma showed up for you.
If you’d like more on how to spot or address these less known types of traumas then just let me know in the comments and we can share more in a future article. If you want to get started with the therapy sale or for an EMDR intensive offering if you’d like quicker, more focused results then reach out today.