Therapy for Complex Trauma and Attachment Trauma:
If your childhood memories include abuse (physical, verbal, sexual, emotional), physical or emotional neglect (benign, collateral, or intentional), abandonment, oppression, bullying, confused boundaries, death of a parent, taking care of a parent, taking the role of a parent, or…
Biologically, if you experienced periods of inflammation or autoimmune response in childhood, if your family has history of trauma or mental health struggles, or if your mother experienced trauma or high stress during pregnancy…
if a caretaker is recalled as ‘always angry’ (abusive), distant (neglect), needy/dependent (enmeshed), or…
if you struggle with anxiety (social or general), depression (darkness, heaviness, emptiness, lack of hope), shame (feel ‘weak’, ‘stupid’, ‘ugly’, ‘broken’, ‘less than’, ‘not good enough’, expecting/experiencing judgment), stuckness (frozen, numbness or separation from emotion, dissociation, rigid thought/behavior patterns, fatalism, persistent ambivalence about life choices, ‘learned helplessness’), or somehow always seem to repel others in social situations…
please read on.
Mindful Therapy for Complex Trauma / Attachment Trauma:
Anxiety, Shame, Stuckness
Complex trauma is very common and is known by many names (including developmental trauma, complex ptsd, childhood abuse, childhood neglect, borderline personality disorder, adult children of alcoholic or dysfunctional families).
It occurs when we adapt to or develop around early (especially ongoing or repeating), unbeatable, inescapable abandonment or oppression, with no support — when we split off from parts of self that came into the world with an organic belief that the world is good…developing new parts of self to help us navigate a world that appears hostile, uncaring, or unpredictable. This experience often leaves our bodies in defense mode, on guard, and unsafe. We feel uncomfortable in our own skin. Opposing ‘selves’ and entangled neural networks (love equals hate, as a simplified example) create internal conflict and ongoing confusion.
We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.
Trauma is a term used to describe the psychological wound following an event that shocks or overwhelms our body’s natural protective strategies/resources, resulting in an extensive recovery process that usually includes not simple reparation of old structures but creation of new organizational structures and strategies.
In contrast, ‘Complex Trauma‘…
In contrast, ‘Complex Trauma‘…
- refers not only to a single, identifiable, sometimes impersonal event, but to prolonged or repeated interpersonal injuries that accumulate over time. It sometimes represents a conceptual model of human development in ordered response to these ongoing injuries.
- often presents as symptoms including anxiety, fatalism, internalized oppression, and a broken/fragmented identity or inconsistent sense of self.
- is often diagnosed and treated as separate components — as anxiety, depression, ‘learned helplessness, dependence, ADHD, PTSD, IBS, addiction, personality ‘disorders’, and a whole range of physical or mental disorders.
This is everybody. We all endure traumas in life. Some find love and support in their families, mitigating the damage and finding ways to integrate. Others struggle to incorporate the pain, splitting or separating from overwhelming parts of self. The complex trauma of life brings with it a range of adaptations, including varying degrees of anxiety, depression, shame, and stuckness.
When we speak of trauma, we speak of unprocessed panic, of continually unmet needs, of controlling atmospheres or patterns of abuse or abandonment still triggered and physically activated by events in everyday life. For many, trauma reveals itself in a sense of ‘learned helplessness’ – the perceived/trained inability to function or adapt in this world.
These patterns might arise as PTSD. AND, they could just as easily be present in everyday anxiety/depression, expectations of judgment or failure, or numbness, inability to focus, excessive risk-taking, hyper- or hypo-sexualization, digestive problems, chronic pain, mood roller-coasters, isolation, a draw to fantasy, subservience, behavioral or chemical addictions, ability to appreciate events only in retrospect, fatalism, helplessness, perfectionism, rejecting or chasing others, over-analyzing, or a whole variety of nameable symptoms.
Trauma changes many individuals at a character-level. Many may carry vestiges of various ‘unfinished’ developmental stages, continually seeking situations that might somehow provide the missing and desired experience that they never got.
We can address the symptoms, or we can treat the source.
This is where therapy comes in.
Jeremy McAllister, MA,
Licensed Professional Counselor
Common Terms (to help those searching for specific terminology to find this website)…
Portland Area, Vancouver, Gresham, counselor, therapist, Male mindful-somatic, body-based, trauma, attachment trauma, childhood trauma, family of origin issues, Hakomi Therapy, EMDR, developmental trauma, complex trauma, CPTSD, DESNOS, adult children of alcoholic or dysfunctional families, childhood abuse, childhood neglect, adverse childhood events, family of origin issues, anxiety therapy, anxiety therapist, anxiety counselor, trauma counseling, trauma therapy, trauma therapist, individual counseling, couples counseling, relationship counseling, codependent, anxious attachment, borderline, avoidant attachment, fight, flight, freeze, dissociation, anxiety, depression, shame, stuckness, learned helplessness, Mental Health Counselor, Aetna, Regenece BCBS, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Trauma Counselor, Portland, Oregon
Weekdays: Mon-Fri 9am to 6pm
Weekends: First and Third Sundays of Each Month, 9am to 5pm
60-minute sessions: $150 (first session free)
Insurance Accepted: In-network with Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), Bridgespan, Cigna, MHN, Optum, Providence, United, happy to bill out-of-network as well, Sliding scale ($70 to $150) is available when insurance is not an option, depending on your household income and number of dependents.
Individuals or Couples (singles or doubles: romantic or familial – dating, committed, mother-daughter, etc.)
Complex Trauma (in self or partner), Adult Attachment, Anxiety, Panic, Shame, Stuckness, Inhibition, Social Anxiety, Personality ‘Disorders’, Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Homes
Model of Therapy
Mindful, Body-Centred, Integrative Psychotherapy
Internal/External Differentiation/Integration, Reconnection to ‘Self’, Movement, Purpose, Expansion, Actualization
Principles: The following principles reflect specialized training in Hakomi Therapy.
Mindfulness: a relaxed, present, alert, non-judgemental, observing state through which internal organization may be studied
Non-Violence: safe, accepting, non-forceful, cooperative exploration
Integration: differentiation and connection of previously conflicting parts (self-other, body-mind, desire/inhibition, inner-child/developed-self – any of countless parts identified in the present moment when confusion or struggle arises)
Unity: views life as a self-organizing, interdependent system containing and contained-within self-organizing, interdependent systems
Organicity: assumes that every system is self-directing and self-organizing, and that every part we have developed has honored the preserving of ‘self’ within a particular system
Truth: capacity to know, to name, to sit with ‘what actually is’
Change: the trust that change is constant and the futile attempt to contain it prolongs suffering
Choosing a Therapist for Complex Trauma or Attachment Trauma
So much of therapy comes down to connection between you and the counselor. Do you feel supported when you need it? Do you feel a non-judgmental challenge to step beyond your safety zone once that zone is defined? Does something in the mannerism or appearance of your counselor trigger positive or negative associations? How do we handle that when it happens? Are you reminded of someone you have known?
There’s no way to predict what will arise until you actually meet the counselor and experience whatever relational dynamic comes to the surface.
For those already struggling with anxiety or pain, the process of finding a therapist can feel confusing and overwhelming. It may trigger issues around authority, sense of safety, gender shame, or social anxiety – just to name a few. My first and primary goal is to find out where you’re comfortable – to assess your sense of threat and help you regulate your natural reactions. I am not here to change you but to discover and satisfy the sometimes subconscious needs and agendas of a whole constellation of conflicting internal parts – a process which often relaxes long held defenses, releasing your own natural ability to choose your place in this life.
Aware of the shame inherent in this culture and particularly in seeking out the help of a therapist, I aim at providing dignity for every person, making space for a core connection at a human level.
What we are about to undertake is an expedition together, a journey of discovery into the most secret recesses of our consciousness. And for such an adventure, we must travel light. We cannot burden ourselves with opinions, prejudices, conclusions — that is, with all the baggage that we have collected over the past two thousand years or more. Forget everything you know about yourself. Forget everything that you have thought about yourself. We are going to set off as if we know nothing.
~Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known
Complex Trauma and Stuckness
Trauma is everybody.
It is part of the human condition.
Our various natural responses to trauma are part of what make us so extremely adaptable to a wide variety of environments and cultures around the world.
While many of us tend to either romanticize or demonize the label of trauma, trauma is not who we are. Life sometimes exceeds our neurobiopsychosocial capacities. We respond to it, and we adapt to it. And sometimes we get stuck in the adaptation.
Trauma represents all our metaphors for structures of power, and it influences our sense of agency – our ability to pursue purpose and place. Whatever your relationship to trauma, none of us escape it. It has, in some way (sometimes positive ways), shaped each of our lives.
If you or your partner (individual or couples counseling) are experiencing normal psychological issues – general anxiety, social anxiety, depression, dissociation, grieving, social struggles, isolation, personality ‘disorders’, etc. – you may benefit from trauma-aware therapy…therapy where focus is given to your biological responses, to the schemas or meaning that form the foundation of how you interact with the world around you.
Many seek treatment for anxiety or for depression, thinking they do not qualify for trauma work or unaware of the ways past trauma changes present experience. While much of the work depends on the client and no counseling work can guarantee change, my approach remains flexible and accommodates a wide range of presenting issues, from grieving to PTSD. My goals include safety, stabilization, and gentle/challenging movement into the life you really want.
“We deceive ourselves to think that if we pulsate and vary our self-expression, we are unstable and unreliable and don’t know who we are. On the basis of this self deception, we go on to seek our identity according to the definitions of socially approved roles. We deny the changing patterns of our individuation by trying to maintain an unchanging image. But a rigid identity is not individuality. To affirm our individuality, we have to give up our search for static roles and attitudes and, instead, seek connectedness with our own pulsatory rhythms. To be an individual is to impress the world with one’s varying expression rather than merely to mimic the expression of somebody else.”
(Keleman: Vibration, Pulsation, and Streaming, p. 40)
Trauma Treatment: Reaction and Relationships — Home is Where the Nervous System Regulates
One of the greatest challenges we face in life is learning to regulate our own nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”, or more accurately: “flee, fight, or freeze”) amplifies and excites, while the parasympathetic (“rest and digest” or “feed and breed”) calms and maintains. Both act simultaneously to regulate your internal physical systems (breathing, heart rate, glands, etc.) in a way that helps you survive from one situation to the next. In trauma-focused psychotherapy, much of our time will likely remain devoted to recognizing your own bodily reactions. (For couples, this means learning to recognize signs of activation in your partner as well.)
Home is where the nervous system regulates. Our central nervous system affects so much of our experience — from digestion to memory, from cognitive processing to chronic pain. When we feel safe — when we perceive no threats or triggers in our immediate situation — our natural neurological system for social connection kicks in. We warm to others. We smile more. We are more likely to notice the smiles of others. We feel like our ‘true’ selves.
For those of us that have known any form of trauma, triggers may become abundant. We perceive threat — sometimes only at a physical, subconscious level — and our bodies respond accordingly. The social system disengages. Heart rate increases. Breathing becomes faster and more shallow. We stop salivating and digesting. Hands and feet may become cold as blood flows to central areas so the heart can more efficiently pump blood to the brain. Often, the people in our immediate vicinity cease to be seen as people and are perceived more as objects of threat, and our desire to communicate all but disappears as even neutral facial expressions may be perceived as expressions of anger.
Using guided/shared mindfulness practiced in session, my clients regularly report feeling more calm, fully relaxed, and as if a weight has been lifted.
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid.”
~Pema Chodron, Practicing Peace in Times of War
Bad Childhood Not Required
Complex trauma / attachment trauma /developmental trauma is not about parent-blaming or determinism. It’s not saying our past determines our future.
Our character (our organizational strategies) forms around early life experience. Experience includes both biology and environment, nature and nurture. It often includes abuse, neglect, or abandonment. These are not rare events. Nor are they always intentional. At times, a parent yelling can save a life. Sometimes neglect comes from lack of resources in the home. And abandonment by death is unavoidable. Many of us are biologically sensitive to social threats, and somebody else in the same household may not have perceived abuse. Trauma sensitivities can be passed biologically from mother to child. Trauma strategies can be modeled and internalized, ‘inherited’ through multiple generations.
Complex trauma does not suggest a ‘bad childhood’. It suggests brilliant adaptations to the natural pains of life.