NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

How Traumatic Childhood Memories of Being Powerless Can Get Triggered in Adults

People are often surprised to discover that traumatic childhood feelings of being powerless can get triggered even when they're adults.  

Trauma: How Childhood Feelings of Being Powerless Can Get Triggered in Adults

Certain situations can trigger those old feelings from childhood.  Whether it's a work situation with a domineering boss or a relationship with a spouse who is a bully or other similar situations, these feelings of helplessness, fear, rage, and sadness can arise unexpectedly.

The following scenarios, which are composites of many different cases to protect confidentiality, are examples of how these traumatic emotions can get triggered in an adult:

Pete's boss, who was the company bully, tended to be domineering and demeaning with everyone who reported to him.  Most people knew from experience that his "bark was worse than his bite" and they didn't take his reprimands seriously, especially since he behaved this way with all of his subordinates and nothing ever came of it.  Rationally, Pete was also well aware of this.

Trauma:  How Childhood Feelings of Being Powerless Can Get Triggered in Adults

But whenever the boss called him in, Pete would tremble in fear and he found himself close to tears.  He couldn't understand why he had such a severe reaction--until he began therapy and he learned that these situations with his boss were triggering traumatic childhood memories of being abused by his father.

Mary married Alan because he was older and she felt he would take care of her.  But after the first few months of marriage, she began to see a different side of Alan that she had never seen before.  Whenever Alan got frustrated, he would lose his temper and raise his voice with her.  Not only was Mary surprised to see Alan react this way, but she was also surprised at her own reaction to his anger--she would freeze in her tracks.  She felt immobilized and unable to speak.  Part of her wanted to hide or make herself invisible.  It was only after she began therapy to understand her reaction that she realized that earlier traumatic feelings were being triggered of when her alcoholic father went into a rage and, as a child, she hid in the closet.

Trauma:  How Childhood Feelings of Being Powerless Can Get Triggered in Adults

These are just two of many examples of how childhood feelings of being powerless can get triggered in adults--often without warning.  When this happens and people don't understand what's happening to them, it can feel scary and confusing.

What most people often don't realize is that, even though they're adults now, these traumatic emotions are stored in the body and are there to be triggered in current situations.  The feelings can feel just as real now as they did in childhood.

Somatic Experiencing
Somatic Experiencing is a gentle form of mind-body psychotherapy that helps adults to develop emotional resources and work through the original trauma so that it is no longer there to be triggered.

During Somatic Experiencing people also discover the types of unconscious psychological defenses that they've developed to ward off these traumatic feelings.  As shown in the composite scenarios above, these psychological defenses aren't always adequate to defend against these feelings, which is why people are often triggered.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you think you're currently getting emotionally triggered as an adult by unresolved childhood trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help so you can live a fulfilling life free of trauma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples, and I've helped many adults to overcome trauma so they can lead fulfilling lives.

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.