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.
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.
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. Sometimes we develop parts of self for the purpose of containing other parts, so we carry that internal conflict daily.
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 meanings/beliefs) that form the foundation of how you interact with the world around you, and to the internal relationships that so often mimic relationships we had with caregivers.
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 a life more desired, gradually heading into discomfort and finding tools and tolerance for it...eventually finding ways to provide genuine love to those parts of self that have felt impossible to meet in the past.
More on Stuckness...
"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. And this is one of the primary goals. To soften and allow movement of emotions and physical reactions that never completed or found witness.
"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.
De-Pathologizing | Top-Down to Bottom-up, Together
No matter what your previous diagnoses, none of us have 'disorders'. If these reactions were not ordered, they could not be defined and categorized into supposed 'disorders'. More often than not, extended / repeated interpersonal trauma creates very predictable and patterned adaptations. These are explainable, knowable, changeable. Sometimes we need the knowing first - the intellectual framework - to satisfy the protective survival brain before proceeding with the more experiential and vulnerable body / felt work that includes learning to gradually become more present to the emotions in ourselves that never received a true witness during survival moments...and to notice the bodily experience of gradually allowing emotions to move, draw attention, be seen, feel satisfied. Part of this work is internal. Part requires others, people that show us us how to meet ourselves as we track their bodily reactions to our felt experience.
"Trauma recovery doesn’t come from a specific tool, but from countless interactions with trustworthy, calm, loving and supportive human beings."
-Louise Godbold, Executive Director, Echo
As an attachment therapist, I'm tracking relationships, internal and external. How do internal parts relate to one another? How do you relate to the world? Which parts are showing up in the room? Which parts approach or withdraw (or become reactive, hostile, fawning, etc) in this therapeutic relationship or in romantic relationships?
Embedded in experience, most of us never step back to actually separate from ourselves and observe from the outside. We rarely recognize the current seat of our identity or feel any competence in moving that seat or differentiating Self from current experience. We miss opportunities to meet in ourselves the parts that we expect or demand others to meet, or the parts that we simply discard because we've assessed through experience that their needs will never be met. Complex trauma, when framed as attachment trauma, represents an absence of presence - a presence established internally by repeated exposure to external presence. When we notice extremes of insecure attachment, we can assume this witness was never internalized, because preceding generations possessed limited tools or capacity to remain present, often because their own traumas and stressors exceeded their resources. While we may live in flux, and trauma triggers so quickly return us to baseline strategies, stories, perceptions, and resources established in childhood, development of our own gentle witness provides access to an ability to distance and support self. Where many of us that seek therapy have internalized some punitive or abandoning witness, intentional practice and exposure to positive and present external witness provides a way to internalize gentle physical / emotional self-care and self-relationship at any age or stage of life.
Hakomi presents a gentle framework and a mindful-somatic process to unearth, meet, and release long-held beliefs/patterns. This, working easily in tandem with theories of multiplicity and attachment, provides and gradually instills a full-experience witness to reduce the unnecessary suffering of fighting against our own internalized rules and childhood structures.
For more on Hakomi, visit About Jeremy
"Hakomi" is a Hopi Indian word meaning, "How do you stand in relation to these many realms?" This was their ancient way of saying "Who are you?" and is an appropriate description for this therapeutic process, a process in which therapist and client explore the complex web of relationships which form our personal identities.