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Friday, January 17, 2014

Untreated Emotional Trauma is a Serious Issue - Part 2: Understanding the Impact of Trauma

In Part 1 of my article,  Untreated Emotional Trauma is a Serious Issue With Negative Consequences, I defined emotional trauma and gave examples of some of  the possible consequences of untreated trauma.  In Part 2 of this article, I discuss the problem of making a connection between the impact of childhood trauma in adult lives.

Untreated Emotional Trauma is a Serious Issue: Understanding the Impact of Trauma

Problems With Understanding the Impact of Untreated Early Emotional Trauma
As I mentioned in my last article, people who have early emotional trauma from childhood, often minimize the impact of the trauma in their adult lives because they feel it happened a long time ago or they don't understand the consequences of the trauma.

People who were traumatized as children often don't make the connection between what's going on in their lives now and what happened to them when they were children.

The following vignette, which, as always, is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates the impact of childhood trauma on an adult:

Joe:
Joe, who was in his early 30s, had no close friends.  There were people that he knew from college and kept up with on Facebook, but he spent most of his free time alone and feeling lonely.

Even though he was lonely and, in many ways, he wanted to have a girlfriend and close friends, Joe had a hard time trusting people enough to allow them to get close to him.  He talked to people at work, mostly because they approached him, but he never accepted their invitations to go out afterwards to socialize because he felt shy and socially awkward.

He spent most weekends either zoning out in front of the TV or playing video games.  Sometimes, he went to visit his mother, who lived a few miles away, but he often regretted these visits because his father was frequently drunk and verbally abusive with Joe and his mother.  His father's behavior reminded Joe of  how terrified he used to be of his father when his father got into one of his frequent drunken rages and would hit him and his mother when Joe was a child.

Even though he knew that, as an adult, he could now physically restrain his father if he had to, Joe still flinched whenever his father went into a drunken tirade and came close to Joe in a menacing way.  When they were alone, his mother would tell him that his father no longer hit her and, in fact, his father wasn't in good health because of his alcoholism.

During those visits, Joe could look at his father and see that he was frail, especially compared to what an imposing and intimidating figure he used to be when Joe was a child and he felt terrified of his father.   But even though he could see this with his own eyes, deep down, he still feared his father, and Joe had a hard time understanding why he continued to feel this way when he knew, logically, that his father was no longer a real threat to him.

Joe also knew that he had a fear of most people, even people that he liked from a distance.  Even though he was lonely and part of him really yearned for an emotional connection with others, a bigger part of him was too afraid to allow anyone to get close to him, and he just couldn't understand why he felt this way.

Over time, Joe's fears got worse.  He tried to understand why he felt this way, even with people that he thought he might like to get to know better.  He didn't understand what stopped him from initiating conversations with people that he liked at work.  He knew that most people in the office seemed to like him.

He knew, logically, that they weren't people who were actually dangerous in any way.  And, yet, whenever he imagined himself taking the initiative to start a conversation with one of them or accepting an invitation to go out with the group after work, he felt frightened.  It just didn't make sense to him and it continued to be an emotional dilemma for Joe.

Joe didn't make the connection between his early childhood trauma of living in a household with a raging and abusive father and his fear of connecting with people as an adult.  But he knew something was wrong, and he began to consider whether he should see a psychotherapist.

In a future blog article, I'll continue this discussion and discuss how getting help from a licensed psychotherapist can make a difference in overcoming emotional trauma.

Getting Help
The impact of untreated trauma can take its toll in many ways, including psychologically, physically and socially.  If you have experienced emotional trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional to work through the trauma so it no longer affects you and you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me:
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many clients to overcome the impact of trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com




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