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10 Reflections on Relational Trauma Recovery Work

Observations of a relational trauma recovery specialist after a decade of work.

Erik Rosenberg/Stocksy
Source: Erik Rosenberg/Stocksy

For over ten years, I’ve been a relational trauma recovery specialist — a clinician who helps those who come from early childhood trauma backgrounds heal and move forward to create the best adulthood possible.

In today’s post, I want to share 10 observations on relational trauma recovery work that I’ve learned over the past decade in case any of it supports you on your recovery journey.

  1. Not having an accurate name for this kind of experience causes people to not see themselves or get the right kind of support. Relational trauma is the kind of trauma that results over the course of time in the context of a power-imbalanced and dysfunctional relationship (usually between a child and caregiver) that results in a host of complex and lingering biopsychosocial impacts for the individual who endured the trauma.
  2. Relational trauma recovery work requires a different kind of approach than “straight-forward” trauma work. My work is grounded in four principles: Research-backed psychoeducation, evidence-based skills-building, trauma-informed processing, and reparative relational experiences. Each of these pillars is, in my personal and professional experience, critical to attend to the complexity of the impacts of someone who came from a relational trauma background in a way that “straightforward” single-incident trauma therapy sometimes doesn’t address.
  3. You can be very “high-functioning” and come from a relational trauma background. This is why I feel it’s so important to define the term more broadly and help widen the perspective on who can experience relational trauma so more people can see themselves more accurately.
  4. Relationship wounds, but boy does it also heal. When our early wounds take place in the context of relationship, it’s through relationship – a certain kind of healthy, attuned, deeply caring relationship – that the biggest healing happens. To be clear, reparative relational experiences that support your trauma recovery do not just have to be with your therapist. You can have a deeply healing and reparative relationship experience with a good, kind romantic partner. With a loyal, loving, supportive best girlfriend. With a grandmotherly neighbor who watches out for you.
  5. We are geared for growth, wholeness, and healing. All we need are the right conditions to do so. Our brains, bodies, souls, and psyches naturally want to move toward healing, growth, and wholeness. When that isn’t happening, when we are stuck in maladaptive responses and patterning – emotional, social, physical, or neurological – we can support ourselves to move towards healing in a more constructive way by providing ourselves with the right kind of conditions for this. Creating the “right conditions” can look many different ways, but when we do it, it can deeply support our natural movements towards healing.
  6. Estrangements, disownment, and brittle, fractured family systems are unbelievably common. But most people think they’re the only ones. To illustrate how common strained and estranged family relationships are, consider this one example: Studies done through the UK non-profit Stand Alone suggest that 1 in 5 British families have some sort of estrangement within them.
  7. Estrangements don’t always last forever. You never know how time and personal work can change people and situations. It’s the reality that, even though you may be estranged from someone right now, even though a family-of-origin relationship feels devastatingly awful right now, it may not look and feel that way forever. People can get into therapy and do their personal work to shift and change dynamics. Time, age, parenting can soften you and your hurts and resentments. Death or near-death experiences can shake up circumstances and previously rigid patterning in family systems.
  8. You don’t have to put your life on hold until you’re healed. While I do think that, in some circumstances and for some people, it makes sense to pause pursuits or fully step away from the “world” to heal and cocoon and recover, it’s not always necessary nor even realistic. The work isn’t a linear, 20-step process with a concrete start and end. It’s somewhat never-ending and, moreover, it comes in waves.
  9. The work will come in waves. And it will take time. That’s okay. When you come from a relational trauma background, the reality is that your healing work to recover and move past your past will take time. And it will come in waves. And, quite honestly, at some level, you may always live with a constant series of little losses and griefs that get re-triggered from time to time. Your wounding didn’t happen overnight, nor will the attendant healing. But that’s okay. You can still move forward and build a beautiful life for yourself, even while you’re in the midst of the journey.
  10. There is no work more worthwhile than this because it will change the quality of our days forever. This is work that helps you show up for your life with more clarity and more enlivenment, work that can help you live a higher quality of life for the rest of your days. It’s work that helps you dramatically and positively shift and change your relationship to yourself, to others, and to the world. It’s second chance work. It’s happy(ish) ever after work.
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