Trauma Recovery

Trauma Recovery
Trauma Recovery

Trauma Therapy & Healing Your Heart

Why Trauma Is So Hard To Get Over Without Therapy

Psychological Trauma shakes us at our core. It is the impact of frightening, dangerous, and/or life-threatening event(s) that leaves us with symptoms long after the event has happened. 

When many people think of psychological trauma, they often think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. An example of this is the impact of war on a soldier. Or a person who has experienced rape living with anxiety, flashbacks, and night terrors.

Complex Trauma

But did you know there is a condition known as complex trauma (often synonymous with attachment trauma or relational trauma)?

Complex trauma is the effects of repeated negative events during childhood such as physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect,  abandonment and loss, and exposure to stressful family situations. 

Complex trauma can be worse than a single-event trauma and be hard to get over without therapy.

Let me explain. As children, we have a poor understanding of what happens to us due to an immature brain. In addition, adverse events that we experience get logged into our brains and bodies as experiential and emotional memory. 

The connections between our executive functioning (thinking brain) and our limbic system (emotional brain) are not strong in childhood. As a result, we are not able to make sense of, regulate, and integrate adverse experiences. The earlier the experiences the more this is true.

experienced trauma as a child

As adults, we may know that we have experienced trauma as a child. Or we may not realize that what we have experienced was trauma. Regardless, we can have the adult effects of trauma such as anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, and stress-related health issues and not fully grasp why or how to overcome it. 

Given that we needed to protect ourselves the best we could as children, we thankfully developed protection mechanisms (also known as psychological defenses) to ward off overwhelming fear and insecurity. 

These protections served us well, but as adults they cause us to suffer because the relationship landscape has changed. 

I often explain it to my clients this way. Think about a map of Washington DC in 185I. Although it was a great map then, used in DC in 2023 you would have a hard time getting around. It’s kind of like that when we think about relationship maps as a child and as an adult. 

And we have blind spots as adults to these protective mechanisms. Why? Because, fortunately, they have been conditioned to protect us from fear, and bad things that have happened to us in the past. But unfortunately, we can relive the past as if it is still happening. And the conditioning of the protective mechanisms is hard to see, shake, and give up due to our survival instincts. 

It reminds me of a riddle. What is the last thing a fish is likely to see? Water. 

Trauma Recovery
Trauma Recovery

ISTDP & Trauma Recovery

In my experience, ISTDP is one of the most powerful treatments for trauma recovery because its focus is on getting to the root of the problem: helping a client tease apart and begin to see and feel their genuine selves apart from the conditioning (from adverse events) that causes them emotional suffering. 

intensive videotape training

With many years of intensive videotape training, the ISTDP therapist is an expert at seeing and tapping into your innate strength and power, how your mind and body work together, understanding protection mechanisms against strong emotions, the ability to help regulate anxiety, and the ability to help you face their avoided feelings.

Maya Angelo once said, “When I knew better, I did better”. The therapist, through both explicit and implicit processes, can help you see what you can’t see and help you through the process of experiencing what you instinctively avoid (remember protection mechanisms). 

Explicit means telling you things about yourself directly, and implicit means showing you healthy relational behaviors through experiential modeling. 

We all negotiate explicit and implicit knowledge in our daily lives. An example would be when we want to tell someone something very important (explicit) but may struggle to know just how to say it (implicit). Both are important for effective communication.

Experiential trauma therapy

When we work together, I help you address your attachment trauma experientially, in the here and now. This helps you notice and feel things about yourself, and work through them in ways that many traditional trauma therapies are simply not able to accomplish.

It is like learning how to ride a bike. Someone can show you how to ride a bike, and someone may teach and demonstrate to you how to ride, but until you get on the bike and risk falling over and getting hurt while being coached, you never really “learn”. 

And through the whole process, you are in charge. I am working for you and there by your side. We do nothing without your wish and intention to get better. I may be saying things and guiding you, but you made the decision to get on the bike and you are peddling. 

In this way, ISTDP is focused on “character” change (or revelation) and not just symptom reduction. Character change? What? Now I know what you may be thinking. That sounds weird, are you going to change my personality or who I am?

Of course not. It is actually about revealing who you are. Too often, and I think we therapists are guilty of this, we freak out when we hear the words personality or character when applied to mental health. 

What these terms mean (and I do think we should find better terms) is that we would be working at a level that is more about your natural style and behaviors.  Some of who you are are what you are born with and some are what you have learned. 

When we do this kind of work, it is amazing to see how my client’s anxiety, depression, stress-related health issues, and relationship difficulties start to lessen and even fall away.

Understanding Relational Trauma

Relational trauma can be hard to deal with and damaging for a lot of reasons, many of which work together to make healing complicated. Here’s why.

For one, these traumas most typically happen in childhood. Children are very vulnerable to psychological abuse due to an immature brain. Children also do not have the executive functioning to make sense of these events. 

Secondly, these traumas can be especially damaging because the threat happens in the context of a relationship. Studies in neuroscience and interpersonal neuropsychology are increasingly learning about the terrible psychological impacts that childhood trauma has on the brain. 

Thirdly, these traumas most often occur with the adults in our lives that we love and care about the most. Having the person you rely on to live and who you may love to be the very person who causes the trauma is particularly damaging. It creates terrible inner conflict because we want to naturally protect those we love, but also harbor rage or anger toward them. 

Fourth, children are not exposed to these traumas just once time, but are exposed repeatedly sometimes over years. In a cruel kind of way, it is the opposite of “practice makes perfect”. Repeated exposure has a way of cementing memories into the brain, particularly when we are young.

Why Trauma Therapy Often Fails

It is not about “parent blaming” or digging up your past. It is about focusing on your current distress and helping you move forward in life. 

People with serious complex trauma are often the ones who get lost in the mental health system, going from one psychiatrist or therapist after another, never getting effective help. They are often the ones who have treatment-resistant anxiety and depression, the ones who have had multiple relationship failures. The ones that come in with Migraines, back problems, and irritable bowel syndrome. 

It is my opinion that too many therapists are not trained well enough to do complex trauma work. Yet complex trauma is fairly common among the people we see and many therapists treat this condition. I have supervised and trained enough “highly seasoned with many years of experience” therapists to appreciate this reality. 

Something that I explain to many of my clients is that knowledge about yourself and your history is often not enough to overcome the impacts of complex trauma. Many who come to me say I talked about my childhood with my previous therapist but I still have serious problems.

Jack N. Tawil, Annapolis Psychotherapist

Getting To The Root Of Your Trauma

Like a native American quote: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. You need to be immersed in the process, you need to experience yourself deeply with someone who understands you at many levels and will leave no stone unturned in helping you.

Too often traditional therapy is too in love with telling and teaching. It makes the Therapist feel like an expert over his pupil. Quite simply, this is not healing in human relationships. In fact, such a stance can lead to a reenactment of dysfunctional relationships in the past. “I know what is right for you and you will bend to my will”.

Get In Touch With Me

If you’re ready for this kind of support, I would welcome the opportunity to work with you. My services are cash-based and I am accepting clients now.

My office is in Annapolis, MD and you can reach me for a consultation by calling (410) 562-9647 or sending me an email at mail@annapolispsychotherapy.com.