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Monday, April 24, 2017

NYC Psychotherapy Blog: Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

As a psychotherapist who is a trauma specialist in New York City, I have written many articles about healing trauma, including: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and InvalidatedHealing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds That Are Affecting Your Current Relationships, and Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience.  In this article, I'm focusing on the healing effect of emotionally reparative relationships for people who have experienced childhood trauma.

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

As you may know, early emotional trauma can have devastating effects psychologically, physically and interpersonally.

Although you can't change what happened to you in the past, emotionally reparative relationships can help you to heal (see my article: You Can't Change the Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You Now).

What is an Emotionally Reparative Relationship?
An emotionally reparative relationship is a relationship that is emotionally supportive and nurturing.

Unlike the neglectful or abusive relationships that traumatized individuals had with parents and others in their childhood, these supportive people are there for them now.

These reparative relationships can be with a spouse or significant other, loving friendships, a close mentoring relationship, a loving pet and so on.

You can also have an emotionally reparative relationship with a skilled psychotherapist (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative to the Client).

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

Choosing Healthy Relationships is a Challenge For Childhood Trauma Survivors
The challenge for people who experienced childhood trauma is that they often choose people who will hurt or betray them (see my articles: Relationships: Are You Attracted to People Who Hurt You?).

Choosing hurtful or abusive relationships are usually unconscious choices.

Due to a childhood history of being mistreated, it's often difficult to know how to discern people who will be loving from people who will be abusive (see my article: Emotionally Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?).

The other major problem is that if ,when they were children, people couldn't trust their parents, it's understandable that they would wonder if they can trust others as adults (see my article: Adults Who Were Neglected as Children Often Have Problems Trusting Others).

Mistrust can lead to social isolation and shying away from relationships--both romantic relationships and friendships (see my article: Overcoming Social Isolation and Loneliness).

The Effect of Emotional Trauma Can Be Fear, Mistrust, Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation leads to loneliness.  So, every so often, to overcome their loneliness, they might open up to meeting someone new, hoping that this new person will treat them well.

But if they have little or no experience in how to choose healthy people to be in their lives, they haven't developed the necessary skills to make healthy choices.

In addition, the unconscious mind can be a powerful factor in being drawn to what's familiar.

So, if what's familiar to them is mistreatment, without realizing it, they often choose people who will be hurtful (see my article: Choosing "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again).

Choosing someone who is hurtful confirms their "reality" that people can't be trusted and opening up to new people will only lead to emotional pain.

It's easy to see how this could lead to an ongoing cycle from fear and mistrust to social isolation to loneliness to opening up (to overcome feelings of loneliness) and then to making poor choices again.  Then, the cycle starts again going back to fear, social isolation, loneliness and so on.

Eventually, many people, who are caught up in this cycle over and over, give up on relationships altogether.

They decide that it's too painful to open up to others and they remain alone.  Their thinking is usually:  It's better to be alone than to risk getting hurt again (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

This is very unfortunate because they don't see how their own unconscious mind leads them to keep choosing what's familiar and that if they worked through their early trauma in therapy, they could free themselves from their early history and make better choices (see my article: Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Doing Trauma Therapy to Overcome Early Trauma
While the thought of being in therapy to work through early trauma might seem daunting, it's far less daunting than the prospect of continuing to choose people who are hurtful or abusive or giving up on relationships altogether.

There are many different ways of working on early trauma.

In my professional opinion, the most effective modalities are mind-body oriented therapy, such as EMDR Therapy, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

Doing Trauma Work in Therapy to Overcome Early Trauma

A skilled trauma therapist will make sure that clients are emotionally ready to do trauma work.

This will include doing the necessary preparation in terms of developing internal and external resources so the work isn't retraumatizing to clients (see my article: Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy Before Working on Trauma).

As I mentioned earlier, you can't change what you didn't get in your childhood, so it's important to grieve for the abuse, emotional deprivation and major losses.

There's no fixed time when the grief is over, especially when the trauma involves multiple losses or mistreatment on many levels.

But, in most cases, with help in trauma therapy, the grief eventually subsides, which can feel like a big weight has been lifted from you.

Part of working on trauma in therapy is also helping you to develop the insight and skills you didn't develop earlier in terms of choosing healthier people in your life, so you don't continue to make the same mistakes, which lead to getting hurt again (see my article: Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships and  Choosing Healthier Relationships).

Developing Healthy Relationships
Choosing healthier relationships can include:
  • Developing friendships with people who are trustworthy, emotionally supportive and nurturing.  Healthy people can be there for you in ways that your family might not have been when you were growing up (see my article: Emotional Support From Your Family of Choice).
  • Choosing a romantic partner who is loving, kind and supportive, who will be there for you in good times and in bad.
  • Choosing wise people in the form of mentors, teachers or spiritual leaders who will provide inspiration, motivation and guidance.
  • Choosing a caring psychotherapist who will be attuned to your emotional needs and who will help you to overcome early trauma and to make healthy choices in your life.
  • Loving and caring for a pet, who provides unconditional love (see my article: Our Pets Help Us to Be Healthier and Happier).

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships
These relationships can be emotionally healing.  They can fill in the emotional "holes" that were left due to early abuse or neglect.  They can provide the nurturance and love you didn't get in your childhood.

Healing Trauma: The Effect of Emotionally Reparative Relationships

It's also important that these relationships are reciprocal.

In healthy relationships, the emotional support, love and nurturance go both ways.  It's not a one way street.

So, part of the work in therapy is also to learn how to be in reciprocal relationships.

This is important because many people who have had abuse or neglect in early childhood often become other people's rescuers (see my article: How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" in Your Family).

They're always the ones that others go to for help, whether it's emotional, financial or some other kind of help.  But they don't allow others to be supportive of them or they choose people who aren't capable of being supportive.

Other people who were traumatized as children hope to be the ones who are rescued (see my article: Overcoming Fantasies of Being Rescued).  They feel a need to be overly dependent upon others.

So, healthy, mature relationships include both give and take over time and aren't about rescuing or being rescued.  They are mutually supportive relationships.

Emotionally reparative relationships can help to heal the effects of early childhood trauma.

It's usually necessary to first do trauma work in therapy to get to the point where you feel open enough and ready to make healthy choices in relationships, so you don't keep making unhealthy choices.

Part of the work is grieving for your losses and healing from your childhood experiences, but also recognizing that it's possible to get love and emotional support in new relationships.

Healthy relationships, whether it's a friendship or a romantic relationship, include reciprocity so that it's a mutually supportive relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I've mentioned in previous articles, untreated emotional trauma can have serious consequences in terms of emotional and physical health.

Healing Trauma: Getting Help in Therapy

Untreated emotional trauma can also have a damaging effect on your marriage, your relationships with your children and other important relationships.

Rather than getting caught in a cycle of fear, mistrust, isolation and despair, you can get help with a skilled trauma therapist so that you can free yourself from your trauma history to live a happier 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 their trauma history to lead more fulfilling lives.

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.

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