NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

How Past Psychological Trauma Lives on in the Present

A history of psychological trauma often lives on in the present.  Among other problems, it can create problems with trusting others.  As a result, people with a history of trauma often have internal conflicts about entering into a romantic relationship.  Many clients come to therapy when their conflict between their fear and their longing for love becomes unbearable (see my article: An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

How Past Psychological Trauma Lives on in the Present

Most people want to form loving relationships, so conflicting feelings of dread and longing for a close relationship pose a painful dilemma.

When the source of the fear involves unresolved psychological trauma, people can't work it out on their own.  They need the help of a skilled trauma therapist.

Fictionalized Scenario: Overcoming Psychological Trauma
The following fictionalized scenario, which is a composite based on many actual psychotherapy cases (with no identifying information), illustrates how trauma therapy can help:

Ten years after she was sexually assaulted while she was on a date, Ann sought therapy to overcome her fears of socializing and developing relationships with men.

During the initial consultation, Ann told the trauma therapist that she was sexually assaulted while she was a senior in college.  All she remembered from that night was going to the local bar near the college on her first date with Ed.

Her next memory was of waking up in her dorm room feeling groggy, achy and bruised around her legs and genital area.  She had no recollection of anything that happened between arriving at the bar and waking up in her bed.

She said that when she confronted the Ed about about her bruises and her grogginess, he was very anxious around her.  He also gave her a vague apology but, despite her insistence, he refused to say anything more.  After that, Ed refused to talk to her anymore.

Ann told the therapist that she knew she had probably been drugged and raped by Ed, but she was so ashamed about the incident that she never spoke to anyone about it.  She was afraid that others would blame her for the assault. She imagined them telling her, "You should have been more careful" or "Maybe you drank too much."  As a result, she told herself that she would put the incident behind her and try not to think about it anymore.

But far from being able to put the incident behind her, from time on, Ann was fearful of meeting and dating men.  She only went out with men when she knew she would be in a group setting where she felt safe.  But even though Ann felt fearful of being alone with a man, she also felt lonely and she wanted to eventually get married and have children.

A couple of weeks before she came for the therapy consultation, Ann celebrated her 31st birthday with her women friends.  Although she had a good time, Ann was also aware that after her birthday celebration, each of her friends was going home to a boyfriend or a husband, and she was going home alone.  She was also aware that, at 31, she was facing her "biological clock" in terms of having children.

During the next several sessions, Ann and her therapist talked about Ann's conflicting feelings about getting involved with men.

They also talked about EMDR therapy, a therapy that was developed in the early 1980s by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. specifically to help clients to overcome psychological trauma (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain).

After the preparation phase of EMDR therapy, they targeted the memory of Ann waking up after the date where she was assaulted. While doing this work, Ann discovered that her negative belief about herself was "I'm powerless," which was how she felt that day and also how she felt whenever she thought about going out with men that she was currently attracted to in the present.

Over the next few months, based on the EMDR protocol, Ann and her therapist processed her past memories, her current fears and her anticipated fears about the future.

The work was neither quick nor easy, but it delved deeper and was quicker than talk therapy would have been.

After several months of EMDR therapy, Ann no longer felt traumatized by her memory and she no longer feared going out with men (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Overcoming Psychological Trauma With EMDR Therapy

A few months later, she was able to enter into a dating relationship with a man that she met at a professional meeting.  A year after that, she and her boyfriend got engaged.

The fictionalized scenario above was about a sexual assault, but there are many other types of trauma that pose obstacles in terms of feeling safe enough to develop a romantic relationship, including physical and emotional abuse, early loss of and unresolved grief for a parent, early abandonment, a prior history of infidelity or betrayal in a relationship, and other similar situations.

Usually, people don't make the connection on their own between their traumatic history and the obstacles that are getting in their way, and they discover the effect of their trauma once they begin therapy.

Experiential therapies, like EMDR and other trauma therapy, are usually more effective than regular talk therapy for overcoming trauma (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with a history of unresolved trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help from an experienced trauma therapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

By overcoming unresolved trauma, you can free yourself from your history so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with adult individuals, and I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples.

One of my specialties, as a trauma therapist, is helping clients to overcome psychological trauma.

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.