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.
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.
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.