Kay Simmeth Counseling Group

Individual and Relational Counseling, EMDR Therapy and Consulting

The Impact of Unresolved Trauma on Relationships

As you know, I am a passionate practitioner of EMDR therapy, along with the other therapists in my practice. We have all seen the effectiveness of EMDR therapy in helping our clients heal from past trauma. The article below will help you understand and recognize the negative role trauma scars can play in relationships.

In our experience, working through unresolved trauma is a hopeful and life-giving process. It brings a new way of seeing and being in our world that can infuse new-life into relationships.

I hope you will have opportunities to experience new life this spring!

trauma EMDR

The Impact of Unresolved Trauma on Relationships

Physicians use the word “trauma” to describe a serious injury to the physical body resulting from a sudden impact, such as an accident or a violent act. But you can also suffer emotional trauma, which can cause an equally painful wound to your sense of self as a whole, coherent being. Just like a wound to your physical body, emotional injuries also require care and attention so that you may heal.

When this trauma is left unresolved and your experience of yourself is one of not being whole—of somehow being broken—you are likely to bring the footprints of this to your relationships. To have healthy relationships, you must first have a healthy sense of your own being and place in the world.

Origins and Effects of Emotional Trauma

Emotional injuries result from any experience in which one feels that his or her life or well-being is endangered. These experiences might include the shaming of a young person by a parent or teacher, the molestation or beating of a child, the loss of a job or a divorce, a sudden death or life-changing accident.

Whether the trauma occurred in childhood or adulthood, it changes your experience of yourself and your world. If you were young when the trauma occurred, you will likely have more scars, because you were more vulnerable and had fewer coping skills.

Our human instinct is to protect ourselves. Often we do that by finding ways to cut ourselves off through denial that we have been hurt, dissociation from the painful event, or repression of the memory of the trauma. The symptoms of unresolved trauma may include, among many others, addictive behaviors, an inability to deal with conflict, anxiety, confusion, depression or an innate belief that we have no value.

The Impact on Relationships

Living with unresolved wounds and bringing all the resulting behaviors to your relationships is clearly not conducive to healthy, happy intimacy.

When your emotional health has been compromised and you soldier on through life without resolving the trauma that has occurred, the wounds will continue to fester. This will affect how you perceive and treat yourself and spill into your relationships with significant others.

When the trauma remains unresolved, there will likely be frequent triggers that cause an emotional response—behaviors on the part of others that unintentionally act as cues or reminders of the original trauma. For example, if you had parents who were emotionally distant or physically absent when you were a child and you felt abandoned, when your spouse comes home late from work you may feel powerless and rejected.

Your spouse (or your friend, relative, partner or colleague) may have only your highest good in mind, but when you see life through your scars, you experience attacks where none are intended. Likewise, when you see yourself as unworthy, you may not effectively express and preserve your worth in relationships.

The unresolved trauma is the filter through which you see the world and all your relationships.

Resolving the Unresolved

If you have unresolved trauma in your life, you are certainly not alone. Most trauma requires some kind of professional help to fully heal from its effects. Talk with a therapist to see what behaviors in your life may be related to an early traumatic event, whether you remember the specifics or not. EMDR therapy is a proven, effective way of addressing the wounds from trauma, even for unconscious memories.

Ways to Enhance Your Therapy Experience

  • Understand trauma and its effects. Read books about trauma and how to cope with its effects. Research other stories, YouTube videos or webinars about other’s experiences recovering from trauma.
  • Share your story. Write about your experiences in a journal. From telling your story you may discover the connections between what’s happening now in your life and what you carry with you from the past.
  • Let yourself feel. As Emily Dickinson wrote: “The best way out is through.” Experience your feelings rather than pushing them away—notice them and name them. Become aware of where the feeling is in your body. Your emotions can serve as information guides as you work towards healing.
  • Take time. All the time you need. We are not made the same, and we all heal in our own way, our own time. If the process becomes too intense, slow it down. Take a break.

The healing of trauma, just like the healing of a broken arm, is essential to a healthy, functional life. Moving towards a healed life and realigning with your own wholeness brings you more fully into the present, making room for connection, intimacy, and freedom.

Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications

Next Steps

In working with different kinds of trauma, we sometimes distinguish between big “T” Trauma and little “t” trauma. While big “T” Trauma refers to a powerful and overwhelming event such as a death or some kind of abuse, small “t” trauma refers to seemingly smaller events in our lives that have still created a scar from which we need to heal. Both kinds of trauma can require the help of a trusted counselor or therapist to really address the wounds that need healing.

Two books I recommend for more information about trauma are The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. and Coping with Trauma-Related Dissociation by Suzette Boon and Kathy Steele. You might also appreciate reading more about EMDR therapy on other pages of this site.

At our offices, we use EMDR therapy to help our clients work on diminishing the power of trauma scars. To schedule an appointment, call 818-681-6627. We believe that no person – including you — should have to live with the negative effects of trauma in their life.

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