Trauma is a term used to describe the damaging impact that distressing events have on the mind. It results from the stress that exceeds a person's ability to cope with the resulting emotions associate with the stressful event. Trauma may result from one or many stressful events and can lead to serious, negative consequences. Trauma can come from abuse, violence, accidents, medical emergencies, or anything else that a person experiences as traumatic.
Traumatic memories are vivid because of the feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror embedded in them. They defile a person's beliefs about the world and their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. Traumatic experiences threaten one's survival and sense of security.
The DSM-V defines trauma as a direct personal experience of an event that involves:
- actual or threatened death or serious injury
- a threat to one's physical integrity
- witnessing a distressing event
- learning about unexpected or violent death
- serious harm or threat of death
- harm to a family member or loved one
Situational trauma describes single events, such as a car accident. There is usually no definable perpetrator. Depending on the person's support network and intrinsic resilience, the impact of the event might be short or long-term but is less likely to cause the same degree of harm as the other kinds of trauma described below.
Developmental trauma occurs in childhood (when a child is developing) and can include any sort of abuse or dysfunction. The level of trauma the child experiences depends on the severity of the violation and the child's general sensitivity/resilience. Childhood or developmental trauma often leads to emotional, cognitive, and physical illnesses. Data from over 17,000 patients in Kaiser Permanente's Adverse Childhood Experiences study indicate that a child who experiences four or more traumatic events is significantly more likely to abuse food, alcohol, and injection drug-user than the general population.
The frequent co-occurrence of childhood trauma and addiction is simple, but the resulting coping mechanisms can lead to chaos. For example, survivors struggling to manage the effects of trauma in their lives may self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or another addictive substance or behavior. The damage from trauma is often more manageable with sedating or stimulating drugs. Since trauma can change brain chemistry, it stands to reason that a person might look to addictive substances to fix the balance. But this is not a permanent solution and usually causes far more pain to an already-suffering person.
Healing from traumatic experiences is challenging work in itself, but it is nearly impossible under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Natalie recommends that clients recover from addiction before first. When they are healthier and more clear-minded, they can begin working with a therapist in individual or group counseling to address the underlying trauma that leads to addiction.
Relational trauma is the result of neglect or abuse, usually from parents or caregivers. Betrayal of trust can lead to disorganized attachment and its myriad of complications. If left untreated, relational trauma can complicate every aspect of an individual's social life; the individual will be unable to feel safe and secure when trying to make interpersonal connections or forming attachments. Untreated relational trauma can distort a person's self-image and can inhibit a person's ability to control their emotions.
One of the most common phenomena psychotherapists deal with is a chronic pattern of dysfunctional relationships. The person's partners share consistent similarities, such as physical and emotional abuse, unavailability, substance abuse, instability, narcissism, etc. Each relationship eventually ends badly because of those repetitive dynamics. After a while, such destructive patterns-objectively obvious to others-start to become apparent event to the client.
The therapeutic question becomes: Why would anyone persist in pursuing relationships that are doomed to fail?
Many psychoanalysts believe that the pattern stems from childhood. When the early parental relationship is fraught with frustration, disappointment, rejection, abandonment, neglect, or abuse, the child is in a precarious spot psychologically. In order to survive, the child must deny the reality of the predicament, as well as their intense anger, depression, and despair, Instead, the child hopes, that if only they can be good, perfect, smart, quiet, funny, etc., that will win over mom or dad and they will finally love the child unconditionally. The child mistakenly believes the problem with the parental interaction resides with them and that they, therefore, have the power to control and rectify it by changing into someone more acceptable. As long as the child clings to hope, they avoid sinking into despair, which would be devastating.
In adulthood, this childhood scenario is unconsciously and compulsively recapitulated. The inner child is still active and still seeking to turn the rejecting or ambivalent or emotionally unavailable or abusive adult into a loving one. Only now, it is no longer only the parent of the opposite sex, but potential love interests of the opposite sex that are targeted. These partners serve as symbolic stand-ins for the parent. Most adults have an uncanny attraction, kind of unconscious radar, for members of the opposite sex (or, in some cases, same-sex), who, in ways often initially imperceptible, resemble (psychologically, if not physically) the parent with whom they had difficulties. These partners are chosen unconsciously, of course. That is the nature of a neurosis. Who would consciously choose-and often remain-with a partner who is rejecting, unavailable, or emotionally/physically abusive?
How can someone resolve the annoying repetition compulsion? With great difficulty, unfortunately. To do so requires relinquishing the defense mechanism itself. The repetition compulsion defends against the experience of all those feelings we denied during childhood about our imperfect parents and ourselves; sadness, anger, rage, despair, hopelessness, hurt. Feelings that children are unequipped to cope with, and as adults that people continue to avoid, must be faced and the reality accepted. Healing entails the mature acceptance of the traumatic facts of one's emotional mortification, the causes, and consequences, as well as a resolute willingness to swallow the following bitter pill: the past cannot be changed, nor can the wound be undone. Clients can, nonetheless, allow themselves to feel the rage and grief over this irretrievable loss. The client may even-with some good fortune, time, and grace-find within themselves the capacity to forgive those whom the client feels inflicted the agonizing injuries. With this courageous, conscious acceptance, the repetition compulsion, like the past, loses its power over us in the present.
Treatment most commonly involves some form of talk therapy, while some therapists add drawing or writing to the therapeutic process.
Natalie Imbach has specialized training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy. In this form of therapy, the client is asked to recall distressing images; the therapist then directs the client in one type of bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping.
Other forms of therapy include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Brainspotting, and Emotionally Focused Counselling.
If you have suffered a trauma in your life or are battling addiction, Natalie Imbach will work with you to help you heal and live a fulfilling life.