Trauma: Breaking Relational Chains

Updated: Nov 29, 2019

Trauma is an terrible experience, that unfortunately, many people go through. However, when discussing the concept of trauma with them, it has been my experience that it is not uncommon that those who have experienced it not to see it this way. Furthermore, they may lack a connection between what has happened to them and the patterns of relating to others in their lives leaving them stuck to repeat unhealthy ones. Why is this?

In my experience there are a few supporting factors, though there can be much more. For this article, we will focus on those that I have seen most common in my clinical work, the connection between trauma and relationship patterns, and how to change this.

Before we discuss how we understand the impact of trauma, we must first talk about what it is. The the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition) gives a more expansive definition as related to diagnosing of trauma-related disorders. However, we will utilize the a basic definition for the sake of this article's focus. Merriam Webster defines trauma the following ways:

A : an injury (such as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent

B : a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury

C : an emotional upset

Additionally, trauma can also be:

Acute: A single event (such as a car accident or sudden death of a family member)

Chronic: Occurring over long periods of time (such as domestic violence or childhood abuse)

Complex: Multiple different kinds of traumatic events (someone who has experienced the death of a family member, sexual assault, and a car accident)

The key to understanding trauma is that it generally involves the sense of powerlessness. Something happened that was out of one's control. This does not necessarily mean something had to directly happen to that person. It could be witnessing an event, or hearing about a close friend or family member who it happened to. However, the idea of powerlessness still occurs. This can lead to a host of thoughts and behaviors (both conscious or unconsciously). In my work, I have often found that people might change their behavior but not really understand why until examining the trauma.