So how can we address the relational side of trauma while also helping clients process traumatic events?
In the video below, Terry Real, MSW, LICSW shares a case example to help illustrate how you might work with clients whose relationships are impacted by trauma.
Check it out.
Let me give you an example. So here’s a couple, extreme pursuer distancer, she puts up a wall, they both have terrible trauma histories. She puts up a wall and he gets aggressive and starts trying to pound that down. Or he gets aggressive and she puts up a wall. You can punctuate it either way. I say to her, “When does the wall come down?” And she says, “Well, when days go by and he calms down and he’s soft and he’s gentle, then we can talk about it.” Because that’s the solution. Let’s see if we can make that happen in a matter of minutes, not days.
So now I move to him. Why is he so aggressive? I say to him, and he was this big burly guy, I say to him, “I don’t know, I’m making this up, but I’ll bet, on the other side of her wall, there’s a little boy in you that feels really abandoned and shut out and helpless.” And he goes, “Bingo.” I’ve got this on film too. You can see it. This is an exact transcript of what happened. He goes, “Bingo.” And I go, “Tell me what happened to you?” And he goes, “Well, I was abused as a child.” He’d never said this to his partner. I say, “How were you abused?” “Sexually.” “Tell me about it.” “It was my aunt.” “What happened?” “It went on for about four months, about six incidents, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” “How old were you?” “Seven.” “Who did you tell?” “No one.” “Why not?” “I don’t think they would’ve done much.”So I went back to him on the other side of her wall and I listened closely to the language. “How do you feel on the other side of that wall?” And he says, “I feel like I don’t matter. I feel like there’s no one there. I feel like no one cares. I feel like there’s no one to tell my story to.” Literally he used those words. So catastrophic trauma, his aunt being sexually abusive to him on three or four specific occasions, that’s catastrophic trauma. Does he have to debrief from that? Absolutely.
But what about the trauma of not having anybody to tell? That wasn’t three or four times. That was millions of times. And guess what? When he’s behind this person’s wall, his girlfriend’s wall, the aggression isn’t because he’s being violated. The aggression is because he’s being shut out. He is not being triggered by his aunt’s catastrophic activity. He’s being triggered by his family’s pervasive chronic neglect. That’s trauma. And that’s the kind of relational trauma that most of us encounter every day in our offices. Both have to be dealt with, but both have to be respected as traumatic.
For more strategies from Terry (and other top experts) on working with relational trauma, join us for the final free session of the Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma. This week, we’ll get into practical strategies for working with patients whose trauma triggers problems in their current relationships.
Sign up for the free broadcasts here.
Now, we want to hear from you. How do you plan to use Terry’s ideas in your work with your client?
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