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How Painful Relationships Affect Us

When we hear the word “trauma,” many of us think of one-time, intense experiences that occur suddenly and leave us noticeably affected. What many of us don’t think about when we think about trauma, however, is the more subtle kind that takes place in relationships. We don’t see the breakup we went through last year, or the painful fights we’ve had with family or partners, as “traumas.” We don’t think about those times we were shut down or ridiculed for trying to express our emotions. We don’t think about the times we felt utterly alone in our emotional pain, and no one showed up to be with us in it. We don’t consider the experiences we’ve had in relationships that chip away at our sense of confidence and self-worth. Frankly, we don’t see these events—commonly referred to as relational traumas—as being traumas at all. 

Why Relational Traumas Matter

I am here to tell you that relational traumas are not only traumas, but can have just as profound an effect on our wellbeing as capital “T” traumas. In many ways, relational traumas can be even more harmful, particularly those that happened when we were children. Often, they operate outside of our awareness, yet have a strong impact on our ability to feel safe and connected in relationships. They make it hard for us to share our real selves and our honest emotions. The result? We feel lonely and disconnected, but can’t pinpoint why. We hide our emotions and vulnerabilities, and resist reaching out for help. We struggle to let people know the real “us,” and feel perpetually unseen. 

Perhaps worst of all, we blame ourselves for these feelings of loneliness and disconnection. In difficult moments, we ask ourselves: Why can’t I just “loosen up”? Why is it so hard for me to connect with other people? Why do I feel so alone in my existing relationships? Why is anger, sadness or fear so tough for me to express? Why is it difficult for me to trust that someone could love and accept the real me? Why am I so needy and broken?

How Therapy Can Help

Let’s get one thing clear: you are not broken. Unresolved relational trauma, and the intense feelings that accompany them, have left you feeling stuck and alone, but you are neither. When we try to resolve relational trauma alone, it can feel like we are moving in circles. That’s where therapy comes in. My primary job as your therapist is not to “fix” you, but to be with you in your pain and your stuckness. Therapy is a space to look at your feeling of aloneness together, and to make room for whatever comes up. It is an opportunity to build the trust it takes to share the hurt, and to notice the change that happens when we finally do.

Curious to learn more about therapy? Contact me today for a free, 20-minute phone consultation.

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