Complex Trauma

What we’ve experienced in the past impacts how we show up in the present - both in our relationships with others, and in our relationship to ourselves.

Trauma isn’t only what happens when a crisis event occurs

Many of us tend to think of trauma as a dramatic, one-time event. A car accident, a violent mugging . . . the kind of sudden and easily identifiable experience that can create deep and long-lasting scars. Those events create “shock trauma” and often leave symptoms of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) in their wake.

But “complex trauma” can impact us just as deeply.

What is complex trauma?

Complex trauma is created when there are ongoing, prolonged circumstances and relationships in your life that are harmful to you. Especially impactful are those that started when you were a developing child and that took place in primary caregiver and attachment relationships. This can happen, for example, if someone is growing up with a parent or family member who is alcoholic, struggling with other substances or disordered behaviors, depressed, experiencing any type of mental illness, emotionally unavailable, or who is abusive (including, verbally, emotionally, physically, and/or sexually).

With no ability to alleviate or leave what is hurtful and unsafe, and without the developmental support humans need at so many stages, the developing brain prioritizes relational survival at the expense of connection to ourselves. We become what we must to endure the pain. We don’t have what we need to become our own person. Adaptive strategies automatically take hold to help us get through the “environmental failure” we are growing up in. But those same strategies, when they persist into adulthood, can become significant barriers to being able to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, others, and the experiences life brings. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) alter the pathways laid down in the brain and research shows the long-term impact of trauma, especially in childhood, on mental and physical health (ACE’s Study, sources and information on Resources Page).

The call of healing complex trauma is to address the heartbreak of our disconnection from ourselves and to rediscover what was long ago forfeited without our awareness or consent. Equally important, is the addressing internalized self-blame and shame for the experience of not being seen, heard, and loved in the ways we all need; in all the ways that is our birthright when we come into this world.

The work of reconnection to yourself is challenging, but worth it. I have seen my clients journey from turmoil to relief and renewal.

There is so much freedom and peace that comes from being better anchored in who you are and having a better understanding of what you want. Living with unresolved trauma can fuel anxiety, stress, confusion, and a myriad of other challenging dynamics. But healing opens new doors and allows you to show up differently in your life.

“The courage it takes to leave behind what’s not for you anymore is the same courage that will help you find your way to what is.”

– Dr. Gabor Maté