Psychological Childhood Trauma Recovery

Childhood experiences can impact our current daily life and our ability to have healthy functioning interpersonal relationships. They can also distort our perception of ourselves and others.

When I am working with a couple, sometimes it is clear there are dynamics in the relationship stemming from experiences that predate the relationship. These pre-existing conditions often go unnoticed as a contributing source to the couple’s struggles – until, of course, they are pointed out by a therapist trained to recognize and address them.

Our Formative Years

We are all shaped into the adults we are today by our experiences during our formative years (birth to 18). Not only are our bodies physically morphing during this time, we are emotionally and developmentally morphing as well.

When a child experiences trauma, it can stunt – or even halt – emotional development. So while our bodies continue to grow and we begin to look like adults, there can be components of our emotional development that are underdeveloped or still childlike.

What is Trauma?

Research has shown that any experience that is less than nurturing during our formative years can create trauma wounds that, left untreated, are capable of hindering or preventing our ability to maintain healthy functional relationships as adults.

''Any experience that is less than nurturing can create trauma wounds that hinder our ability to maintain healthy functional relationships as adults'' Click To Tweet

Read that last sentence again. Any experience that is less than nurturing.

Some trauma is blatant and easily recognizable. Sexual and physical abuse are examples and we all know the horrible devastation they cause.

Other trauma however, isn’t so obvious. This ‘relational trauma’ can be very subtle and even unintentional. It can look like unintentional neglect or subtle manipulation. It can also look like a “lack of” – a lack of affection, or comfort, or attention, or appropriate limits. Though not blatant or intentional, it still can have a significant impact on our abilities to love ourselves and others.

The Effects of Relational Trauma

In short, it fuels self-defeating behaviors.

Issues like anger and rage. Or depression and anxiety.

It can cause persistent feelings of rejection, loneliness or inferiority.

Addictions. Fears of abandonment. Low self-esteem.

It can put you in a pattern of choosing people who are not good for you.

It can cause problems with emotional connection and intimacy in relationships.

Just to name a few.

Often, these self-defeating behaviors need to be addressed before couples counseling can be fully effective – and lasting.

Treating Trauma

Studies have shown that, to be effective, trauma must be treated experientially rather than just cognitively (learned with our brain), so it was important to me to have a program available here at The Marriage Place to help our clients do this important work.

We call it our Breaking Free Workshop.
''“Trauma must be treated experientially rather than just cognitively in order to be effective.'' Click To Tweet

The 3-Day Breaking Free Workshop

Based on the pioneering research of Pia Mellody, Senior Fellow at The Meadows and author of Facing Codependence (a great book by the way!), each 3-Day Breaking Free Workshop is limited to a small group – usually 3 or 4 – and facilitated by one of my most experienced therapists. The workshop provides a safe environment for participants to:

  • Explore the origins of their relational trauma;
  • Identify and recognize their adaptive survival mechanisms;
  • Learn how to release negative emotions rooted in painful experiences;
  • Re-parent the parts of themselves that have been shamed, neglected or abandoned; and
  • Reclaim their intrinsic worth

What to expect

I’m often asked what to expect from a Breaking Free Workshop. Well, in the words of our clients, it’s transformational, life-changing and healing.

Those are big words with lofty expectations and I’m always a little hesitant to use them because 1) I think – in general – they get overused and 2) every client’s experience is different.

But I’ve seen it time and again and still sometimes find myself amazed at the difference I see in clients after they’ve gone through a Breaking Free Workshop.

I had a client whose anger and rage were so explosive his wife and kids were scared to get close. When I saw him for the first time afterward, I noticed he even carried himself differently. He told me he learned he can feel hurt and express himself without yelling and screaming now.

It was certainly transformational. And life-changing – not only for him but for his family and for his marriage.

''When we’re afraid to bring up difficult topics with our spouses, we’re letting fear control the quality of our relationships.'' Click To Tweet

What you can do now

None of us had perfect upbringings. None. Some of us know this all too well.

Some of us had parents that meant well but were carrying baggage of their own and didn’t realize we needed something more. Or parents who, due to circumstances beyond their control, weren’t always able to give us what we needed.

Some of us got what we needed from our families but experienced trauma at the hands of another caregiver. Or neighbor. Or (fill in the blank).

Some of us don’t even realize yet that we didn’t get what we needed during our formative years.

But if you are dealing with symptoms of relational trauma – like the self-defeating behaviors I listed earlier – I hope you’ll consider reaching out and letting us help you address the source. There are coaches and counselors here at The Marriage Place that can help you find the answers.

Call us or schedule an appointment

(972) 441-4432 or Send us a text at (214) 431-5764

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6 thoughts on “Psychological Childhood Trauma Recovery

  1. Hi – another nice post.

    There is a lot to say about this topic but little gets said, or done.

    After 2 1/2 very difficult years of trying counseling/coaching/therapy – and I know this sounds unbelievable* – it dawned on me that I had been abused and badly mistreated as a child. I can’t even begin to say how disorienting, and in fact how discouraging, the last three months have been. I still have not really gotten to the place where I feel I can trust what I see or remember or think I know – both about the past and about the present. I have found a local therapist who specializes in treating this and hope for some healing but it’s hard and I don’t think it will ever be “fixed.”

    What I want to say, and the point of taking up space here, is that I suspect that a lot of “failed” couples (and individual) therapy fails because early trauma is not identified, confronted and dealt with. Those of us who were abused for a period of years are simply wired differently than other people, and not recognizing that is like trying to make a four cylinder engine into an eight simply by wishing and talking to it. In fact, it will never run like an eight. (Caution: I mean in terms of how it functions, not in terms of whether it can “work” right in the vehicle – so maybe I should have said trying to wish or talk a straight 6 into a V-6?).

    * I live in the Boston area, and have for almost 40 years. I lived through the collective disaster of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal. I can tell you that I never understood how someone in their 30s or 40s or beyond could “discover” that they’d been abused by an adult when they were a child. I don’t understand the science of this. Maybe it’s just a massive need, a survival strategy, to deny and obliterate the memory. Maybe it’s shame and social pressures.

    Then, for me at least, someone said something (I was actually listening to one of Terry Real’s books while exercising) and my world just stopped right there. I started connecting all the dots and realizing that my “normal” was in fact massively NOT normal. The takeaway for this paragraph is: please don’t believe that people who suddenly become aware of their history of abuse 20, 30 or 40 or more years later are making it up or engaging in some sympathy ploy. It’s real. Horribly, tragically, sometimes disablingly, real.

    And speaking possibly as a prisoner of my own experience, I think these things may be worse for men. We have been so totally socialized to stand up, take it like a man, stop that bullet. The head games that go with that are almost incomprehensible.

    1. Oh John, Bless you. I’m so so sorry you’ve experienced this kind of abuse and are now having deal with the ongoing ripple effect of it. Our minds are incredible tools and it is not uncommon for us to deeply bury the memory of abuse and wounding that we aren’t equipped to deal with as a child. I am thankful you’ve sought out help to guide you through the healing process. I do think society and stereotyping has often made it difficult for men to stand up and speak out. As Brene Brown says though, shame can not live in the light. Thank you for being willing to share your story and in turn, potentially help other men (and women) shine the light on abuse. Our Breaking Free Workshop has been a part of the healing journey for many. If it’s something that interests you as well, please give us a call. Wishing you happiness, Kim.

  2. A few more thoughts

    I will say that based on my own short experience trying to deal with trauma specifically, reading just doesn’t help. Might work for some – not for me, and I think this post is right on target when recommending an in-person, small group setting.

    For background, for whatever it’s worth to anyone reading this, among my childhood traumas are:

    – an environment that was devoid of any kind of touch or physical attention

    – an environment that was devoid of any kind of emotional warmth or support

    – an environment in which relationships with others were explicitly devalued

    – an environment in which the only way I could even attempt to get my parents’ attention was to be “perfect” (or as close as possible)


    – years of being whipped with leather belts and beaten with metal objects…hard, repeatedly, shamefully.

    In a really weird way, at least I now understand that a lot of the behavior and attitudes that didn’t go anywhere in counseling were not just bad habits. You could say that at least I came by them honestly (meaning, sort of, without any fault on my part – there’s the perfection thing again) by having them literally beaten into me.

    1. John you are again correct. Studies have proven that trauma must be treated experientially. You have to get both sides of the brain engaged to for the therapy to be effective, which is what our Breaking Free Workshop is designed to do. It’s based on Pia Mellody’s work, the industry standard for trauma therapy. Kim

  3. HI there, I very much interested in the breaking free program. But I’m not married. My exwife divorce me. Can you send me the course by email or something.

    Thank you


    1. Hi Claude, I’ll be happy to email you with additional information on the Breaking Free Workshop. Regards Becca

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