NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma

Growing up as a child who was emotionally neglected or  abused is a very painful experience and has emotional consequences when that child becomes an adult.  Whether this is due to narcissistic parents who were so self involved that they were not attuned to the child or for other similar reasons, it is a lonely and hurtful experience.

Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma

Many adults who grew up emotionally neglected or abused as children feel inadequate or like there's something wrong with them.  They often feel flawed and that they're not lovable.

One blog post cannot possibly do justice to such an enormous topic.  There are many forms of emotional abuse and neglect.  The following short vignettes, which are not about any one particular person, are representative of some forms of emotional abuse or neglect:

When Betty was a young child (between the ages of 7-10) her parents would often leave her alone at home so they could go bar hopping with friends.  She was very afraid of being home alone, which is normal for a young child, and she would beg them not to leave her.  But her parents would dismiss her concerns, telling her she was "being ridiculous" and calling her "a cry baby" as they slammed the front door behind them.  Betty grew up feeling insecure and doubting that her needs would ever be met in any relationship.

John's parents split up when he was only four years old, and he remained with his mother.  His mother was bitter and angry about the breakup, and whenever she would get angry with John, she would look at him with disgust and say, "You're just like your father."  Then, she would withdraw from him emotionally, and he felt lonely and sad.  As an adult, John felt that any woman that he liked wouldn't like him.  He felt he always had to prove himself and go above and beyond so the woman he was interested in would like him.  He felt that no woman would ever find him lovable.

Mary grew up primarily around her mother.  Her father traveled a lot for his job and when he was home, he was preoccupied with work and had little time for her.  Mary's mother was a very beautiful and self centered woman.   The only time that she paid attention to Mary was when Mary was admiring or complimenting her.  Mary learned, at a very young age, that she had to subordinate her own feelings and sense of self in order to get her mother's attention.  As an adult, she was attracted to highly narcissistic men who were unable to take her emotional needs into account.

In all of this fictionalized brief vignettes we can see the damaging effects of being a child who was not seen or heard by parents.  Under optimal circumstances, parents who are emotionally attuned to their children see their children as individuals with their own emotional needs.  Emotionally attuned parents can take in their children's feelings with empathy and understanding.  Of course, this doesn't mean that they should give their children everything that they want without regard for whether it's good for them.  It means that they can set aside their own concerns for a while to understand their children's concerns.

There are times when parents might want to be empathetic and understanding but, due to life circumstances beyond their control, they're unable to.  For instance, if a single mother has no choice but to work long hours to support her children, and she's not around to be nurturing, the children can feel emotionally neglected:

After Edward's father left the household (when Edward was 13 years old), his mother had to take on three jobs just to make ends meet.  Edward's grandmother lived downstairs, but she was preoccupied with raising three small grandchildren, and she had very little time for Edward, who was her oldest grandchild.  He had to learn to cook for himself, wash his clothes, and take care of many household chores after school.

Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma:  Edward

When his mother was home, she was often exhausted.  Edward always knew that his mother loved him very much, but she no time for him.  She missed school plays that he was in and couldn't come to watch him at his basketball games.  One of his fondest memories was when his mother came to his high school graduation.  But, even then, he was painfully aware that his mother wouldn't get paid for that day at work.  In his first serious relationship, Edward had a hard time expressing his needs because he felt he wasn't entitled to have any of his emotional needs met, which frustrated his girlfriend.

As much as adults, who grew up under similar circumstances to the vignettes above, might understand intellectually that they were not to blame for what happened to them and that their feelings of low self worth are distorted, it's hard to overcome these feelings with just an intellectualized understanding.  

My experience, as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with trauma, has been that regular talk therapy, while it might be somewhat helpful, usually isn't enough to overcome these types of emotional trauma.

Many of my colleagues and I have discovered that a more integrated, mind-body oriented psychotherapy is much more effective to help clients overcome trauma.  This includes EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing.

These mind-body approaches are usually more successful where talk therapy is not.  None of these approaches is "a magic bullet" and there is still work to be done, but I find that, generally, these mind-body approaches work faster and in a more effective way than regular talk therapy.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist.

I provide psychotherapy for individual adults and couples, including EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis, and dynamic talk therapy in an empathic treatment environment.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.