Women's Counseling Center of Denver - Online and In-Person Therapy
The Impact of Unresolved Trauma on Relationships
 
Physicians use the word “trauma” to describe a physical injury that results from a sudden impact. But we can suffer short or long-term emotional traumas as well. When we lose a key relationship or something that means a lot to us, or when we experience betrayal, abuse or neglect, it injures our hearts. And like a wound to our physical bodies, emotional injuries also require care and attention so that we can heal.
 
Origins of Emotional Trauma
Emotional injuries can result from past or present events. In the present, we may face the unexpected ending of a significant relationship; the death or departure of a loved one; the end of a certain stage in life; or verbal, physical or sexual assault.
 
In our childhood, we may have experienced an absent or distant parent; a teacher who insulted our intelligence, appearance or athleticism; or we may have experienced neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
 
After emotional traumas, we need time to process, grieve and heal. This takes time, and isn’t easy. It can be tempting to try and avoid the grief or other uncomfortable feelings. We may even try to gloss over the fact that there’s been a trauma at all.
 
It’s All Connected: The Impact on Relationships
Sometimes instead of feeling and grieving, people who have experienced emotional traumas may try to numb their emotions. They may distract themselves with activities such as food, shopping or other addictive behaviors; tell themselves that they just need to “suck it up”; have unpredictable emotional or behavioral outbursts; or put themselves down for struggling.
 
When we fail to face things head-on, they often come out sideways—first, in how we perceive and treat ourselves and then in our relationships with significant others.
 
For example, if your parents were distant when you were a kid or often left you alone and you felt abandoned, you may have never stopped to consider how that experience has shaped you. Years later, when your spouse has a habit of coming home late from work, you feel powerless and rejected…..without realizing it’s connected to your early years.
 
One way to begin to tease apart this pattern is to notice when “this isn’t that.” Sometimes a spouse coming home late from work is just that. But, frequently, we fail to notice the connection between a situation that’s “triggered” us, and the original trauma at its core.
 
Resolving the Unresolved
If you have unresolved trauma in your life, you are not alone. Here are some ways to start addressing it:
 
  1. Tell your story. A helpful way to release the hold unresolved trauma has over your current relationships is to tell its story. You can write it yourself in a journal, or ask a trusted friend or counselor to listen and bear “witness” as you share what happened and make the connections between what’s happening now in your life and what you’ve been carrying with you from the past.
  2. Consider the meaning of what happened. There is a way to think of your experience as more than injury. This is why some people speak of their lives as a journey or a path: it’s an empowering way to make new sense of your story and everything you’ve been through. Maybe there’s also a hidden gift in that experience: you are now a survivor; or are stronger, more alive, or more compassionate as a result. What is the message or “life lesson” for you?
  3. Develop emotional resilience. As Emily Dickinson wrote: “The best way out is through.” Like any other skill, emotional resilience develops through practice. Start by noticing and naming your true feelings, whatever they are. Try to identify where your feelings are in your body. Are they in your throat? Your heart? Learn to accept your emotions as information guides and as the first step toward healing.
    Unresolved trauma traps us in a place where we play re-runs from our past on top of our current relationships. When you work to heal that trauma, you move more fully into the present, making room for more connection, intimacy, and freedom.

    Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
 
If you'd like to work through trauma you have experienced, please call today to schedule your appointment at
303-370-1399.

 
Women's Counseling Center of Denver
Kim Wagner, LCSW
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 735
Denver, Colorado  80209