Relational trauma essentially pertains to a constant violation of vital human connection, which in turn leads to deep-seated attachment injuries. Relational traumas include a vast range of interpersonal violations, including domestic violence, emotional and psychological abuse, entrapment, childhood abuse, rejection, rape, bullying, and complex grief that is deeply rooted in the unresolved loss of early interpersonal connections and relationships. The effect of undergoing such trauma is both profound and lasting. In many cases, relational trauma is the result of ongoing generational patterns that are unwittingly passed down to children.
Relational Trauma – Lasting Effects
Gerald Adler, a psychoanalytic theorist with extensive experience in the realm of relational trauma, suggests that an early failure in adequate nurturing and caregiving leads to a deeply rooted and voracious emptiness that disallows individuals from developing a sturdy and definitive sense of self. Because the relational bond between a young child and his or her primary caregiver so deeply impacts the healthy development of his or her brain, any degree of abuse or neglect present in this parent-child bond will be absorbed into cellular memory. This trauma will literally be imprinted into the brain of the child or infant, leading to recurrent patterns of trauma and dysfunction. Unless this relational trauma is resolved, the afflicted individual will continue experiencing intrinsic difficulties in the realms of both personal development and forming healthy and beneficial relationships.
The impact of early relational trauma compromises many areas of life. The individual will likely find that he struggles to relate to others and has a difficult time regulating his own mental and emotional health. He may engage in self-destructive behaviors and feel utterly disconnected from the world around him. He will likely fluctuate between a desperate need for interconnectedness and a deep desire to remain entirely autonomous – rejecting authentic human connection while striving to be rescued; saved from self. The difficulty he experiences in regulating his own emotions will manifest in behavioral problems, self-hatred, and addictive disorders. Those with unresolved relational traumas frequently turn to drugs and alcohol in attempts to cope with the fundamental sense of emptiness and isolation. Many individuals who suffer from this type of trauma will feel an utter hopelessness, believing that life is completely void of all purpose and meaning.
Giving and Receiving Authentic Love
Giving and receiving love in a functional and valuable way is an impossibility for those with unresolved relational trauma. This leads to a profound feeling of loneliness – and this underlying loneliness shapes all other aspects of life. However, when a patient begins a therapeutic journey of corrective connection, healing begins to occur. The therapist offers the patient the opportunity to develop a meaningful and supportive relationship, and allows him to effectively (and finally) process the causal, contributing trauma. He is finally in a safe enough environment to identify and experience all of the associated feelings that have long since been stifled and ignored. The relationally traumatized individual will thus begin the intensive journey of reversing the accumulated consequences of limbic system deregulation and somatization. Successfully repairing such deeply engrained fragmentation is a strenuous and difficult process – one that we at Next Chapter have extensive experience overseeing and facilitating. We believe that by offering our patients the positive affirmation and compassion that has so long eluded them, they will finally be able to formulate their own sense of personal identity while cultivating necessary life skills. And, of course, beginning to feel a part of something – beginning to relate with and authentically interact with other members of the human race.
The Next Chapter Approach
Loneliness is a byproduct of relational trauma – one that sufferers feel they may never be able to successfully overcome. However, with adequate therapeutic care and a safe environment in which to thoroughly heal from past abuse and neglect, individuals are more than capable of finding and embracing an entirely new way of living and interacting. We at Next Chapter are dedicated to helping our patients heal from numerous types of trauma – allowing them to live the fulfilled and meaningful lives they so deserve.