Childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, sexual assault, and abandonment, can impact a child’s ability to form positive relationships later in life. The way a child copes with trauma can form the foundation for his or her coping strategies throughout life. Maladaptive strategies can lead to depression, eating issues, anxiety, substance misuse, sexual difficulties, and even suicide. These behaviors, coupled with the fears associated with relationships, can make adult intimate relationships, and even relationships with family and friends, difficult at best. Pratyusha Tummala-Narra of the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College recently conducted a study to determine how trauma survivors navigate the choppy waters of adult relationships and how psychotherapy assists in that process.
Tummala-Narra assessed 21 adult participants diagnosed with posttraumatic stress. All of the participants had a history of some form of abuse, including childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse, sexual assault, or neglect. They were all enrolled in group or individual psychotherapy at the time of the study. Tummala-Narra evaluated how the participants adapted on three fronts: safety, new methods of relating to issues past and present, and their evolving sense of themselves. Regarding safety, the results revealed that even though most of the participants felt relatively safe in their life situations, they still had trust and vulnerability issues. Their relationships were impacted by dissociation and painful memories related to the trauma which decreased their feelings of safety.
The participants reported positive progress in relating to their past and present circumstances. They were able to successfully process their traumatic pasts, but still reported challenges in actively pursuing behaviors that they knew were positive. For instance, some of the participants knew that empathy and self-care were important to their healing, but were still uncomfortable engaging in those behaviors. In areas of sexual intimacy, anxiety was elevated among those who still felt uncomfortable relating to their partners. “Trauma-informed psychotherapy can be helpful with this task of translating insight to practice and with helping clients manage the anxiety that can often accompany this process,” Tummala-Narra said. Although the participants were enrolled in various types of trauma therapy, they all cited that in addition to support from friends and family members, therapy did give them the insight and encouragement they needed to change their thoughts and behaviors. Tummula-Narra hopes this study will demonstrate that survivors of abuse can overcome relational challenges when they are given the proper tools to do so.
Tummala-Narra, Pratyusha, Diya Kallivayalil, Rachel Singer, and Rhiannon Andreini. Relational experiences of complex trauma survivors in treatment: Preliminary findings from a naturalistic study. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice & Policy 4.6 (2012): 640-48. Print.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.