What is Emotional Trauma? How Can a Trauma Therapist Help You Heal?
by Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Psy.D., LMFT
Is the legacy of a traumatic experience interfering with your life?
All too often, trauma from your childhood and from your more recent experiences can affect your relationships, creativity, performance, or productivity.
Deep down, you can sense that the essence of who you are is hidden beneath layers of challenging emotional experiences. Old and painful emotions (which you may or may not be aware of) find their way into your present. It’s as if your past holds you hostage and makes you repeat unfulfilling or painful stories.
When you’re trapped in emotional trauma, you can’t show up in life. It interferes with you ability to connect, be you, express yourself, or offer the world your full presence and authenticity.
Underneath the trauma is the truth of all that you are – your own unique, imperfect human beauty. Sometimes, you see through the fog of past trauma and get a glimpse of who you really are and what you could be, but that sense of comfort within yourself is all too fleeting.
Can you find emotional freedom and live and create your life with all that you are? If you healed your past, what kind of connections could you have? What would you create or accomplish?
Many times people think of trauma as some difficult or frightening experiences that result in hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares. While these are symptoms of severe emotional trauma (generally referred to as PTSD), trauma comes in many shapes and forms…
What is emotional trauma?
Emotional trauma is anything that happened to you in the past that keeps you from accessing your full self and creating a fulfilling life now in the present. Trauma traps you and interferes with your ability to act from a sense of agency, connect authentically, or get in touch with your creativity.
Trauma imprisons you in emotional pain and can take the form depression, anxiety, or addictions.
Trauma comes in many shapes and forms, including emotional deprivation, rejection, to abandonment. Feeling unloved and carrying around a sense of “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not capable,” and “deep inside, I’m always scared…” compounds over time.
And then, there are more severe abusive experiences like of emotional abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect, being bullied, sexual abuse, and violence, all of which that can result in what is called complex trauma.
You don’t have to have lived through a particularly horrific or tragic event to bear the imprint of trauma. Repeated experiences of being shamed or judged as a child are traumatic experiences. Ongoing feelings of being unseen or misunderstood can also be a cause of lingering emotional trauma. Maybe you were left alone without love or attention, way too often. Being rejected over and over again as a child or having your feelings constantly dismissed, minimized, or mocked can stick with you today.
It’s traumatic to be raised by adults who couldn’t be emotionally attuned to you, who couldn’t be trusted to offer comfort, safety, and love. Being constantly invalidated, unseen, and silenced is a source of trauma. Feeling like you cannot safely engage with others and discover the world around you is trauma, too.
Emotionally traumatic experiences can leave a long-term imprint on you. Such trauma is at the root of most cases of depression, anxiety, addiction, and social anxiety. Unresolved trauma can also be the cause of performance anxiety and creative blocks.
What happens when you live with unresolved trauma?
Trauma causes emotional fragmentation.
When we experience abuse or neglect, humans have a tendency to repress the parts of the self that got hurt and deny the feelings associated with such pain. Over time, this repression keeps you from feeling like a whole and integrated human being.
When a part of you gets left behind or feels broken as a result of this fragmentation, the core of what you are feels like it’s shattered in pieces.
If, for example, you didn’t feel loved in childhood, you may feel empty and unworthy of love as an adult. These feelings of “I am not loved” or “I am not worthy of love” are too much to be tolerated in your conscious mind, and, as a result, you repress them.
From that repressed place, you start behaving in unhealthy ways you might not fully understand or using defensive strategies, to avoid “feeling unloved.” But, the harder you try to shove those emotions away and deny they exist, the more persistent and intrusive they can become. You will end up expressing feelings that emerge from the repressed part of your psyche. Your words and behavior may seem difficult, volatile and even irrational. This is what many trauma therapists call the language of emotional trauma.
As a therapist for trauma, I can promise you that the denied parts of you want to be heard, healed, and integrated in your whole self.
The Signs of Emotional Trauma
Signs that you’ve suffered past trauma and a suppressed part of you wants to be integrated into who you are might include:
- constantly seeking love
- feeling unable to love yourself
- self-destructive behaviors and thoughts
- being attracted to emotionally unavailable partners
- not letting in genuine love and sabotaging a healthy connection
- repeating self-defeating patterns and being unable to change them
- trying to fill in your emptiness with food, shopping, sex addiction, drinking addiction, or other addictive behaviors.
- All humans need authentic emotional connections. We all need to be heard, validated, seen, accepted and to feel safe and able to trust.
All of our human emotional needs are all connected and interrelated. There is a natural, synergetic relationship between them. The deprivation of one of these needs affects all other aspects of our life. We cannot develop healthy relationships, develop our skills and creativity, or achieve greater productivity when we have experienced the kind of trauma that cuts us off from our sense of wholeness and integrity.
Are you struggling with emotional trauma?
You may wonder if you have suffered from emotional trauma because you have symptoms like anxiety, depression, addiction, or relationship struggles. You may recognize that you have trouble loving yourself or finding a partner who loves all of who you are. You may feel incomplete or a persistent sense of emptiness. Or, you may feel stuck in some aspects of your life.
Even if you cannot name a big traumatic event that happened to you, it is important to look at the repeated hurtful, moments that happened in the past and still impact you today. A series of repeated painful experiences or a history of abuse can leave you emotionally fragmented and cause a number of trauma responses that limit your ability to feel connected, satisfied, and successful in life.
Fortunately, therapy for trauma can help you successfully heal from post-traumatic stress or old emotional trauma. Emotional trauma healing is possible.
Why Choose Trauma Therapy?
Psychotherapy is very effective in treating and healing trauma. You can work through the emotional trauma that has been limiting your relationships and creative growth, and hindering your professional growth or performance.
There are different types of therapy for trauma. If you want to see long-term, stable healing that comes from the inside-out then you need to see a trauma therapist who is experienced in a number of complementary approaches to trauma therapy.
In our sessions, we will dig into your history of trauma, both the big, difficult events and the experiences that might seem small in comparison. We’ll uncover how elements of your past blocking are you and work through the emotions and stories. I will help you heal from your past through proven techniques including:
- neurobiology of trauma
- psychodynamic/psychoanalytic approaches
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
A skilled trauma therapist knows how to be attuned to your unique needs and your personal transformation journey in order to help you heal from the inside-out. Healing trauma is both a science and an art.
You May Have Some Concerns and Questions About Trauma Therapy…
I have been coping with difficult aspects of my childhood and my past for my whole life, do I need a therapist who specializes in trauma if I just want to reduce something like anxiety?
When we commit to healing ourselves, we create a more beautiful, joy-filled world for ourselves and others. Healing needs to happen on every level, including childhood wounds and past traumas. Traumatic cycles can continue to repeat if we don’t address them. You may have been trying to deal with your trauma on your own, but ignoring it can often lead to hurting yourself and others. Unhealthy responses and coping mechanisms tend to perpetuate trauma, which also tends to be transferred to the next generation, perhaps to your own children. You can stop perpetuating trauma. You have a choice.
If you are an artist you may feel: “If I go to see a therapist for trauma, I won’t be able to use my emotional pain to create or perform.”
What if, as successful as you are, you are actually stuck in emotional patterns that are stunting your creative growth and emotional growth? Imagine how much more creative and productive you could be if you took some steps toward healing. Or, how having healthier relationships can change in your life. You will never know what you’re capable of if you never give therapy a try. As you heal, you’ll have access to a more rich emotional life from which to create or tell your stories. Also, you can stop bringing emotional pain into your life and to those you love. As a result of healing your past trauma, your own long-lasting sense of wellbeing will imprint on those around you and the world. Living in pain to be an artist is an outdated myth.
Isn’t trauma treatment expensive?
It’s true that therapy can be an investment, but I invite you to think of it as an investment in both your personal and professional future. You can stop repeating self-defeating cycles and heal emotional pain. Reducing the symptoms of trauma and learning better coping mechanisms will lead to a happier, healthier inner life, which will, in turn, will enhance your relationships, creativity, accomplishments, and performance.
If you are an artist with a history of trauma, I’d like you to know that psychotherapy for artists is one of my areas of expertise. A significant part of my practice is devoted to helping creatives and performers. Learn more about what I have to offer when it comes to Psychotherapy for Creatives, Performers, and Fine Artists.
Schedule Your Appointment For Trauma Therapy
If you are ready to begin the road to recovery, I offer a free 15-minute consultation by phone to discuss and see what is the best therapy for trauma and how it might be that is appropriate for you. You can reach me at 310-424-0292, or through the contact page.
Have you struggled a long time with low self-esteem? Are your feelings the result of poor treatment as a child or has something more recent left you questioning your worth? The external pressure to be more and do more can wear down anyone’s self-esteem. Especially if...
A part of you wished you were more successful in your career, your relationships were more fulfilling, maybe live a fuller and more meaningful life. But, something is holding you back to really investing yourself in your life, career, or relationships... Much of what...
The truth is, you know you’re talented and you appreciate your artistic gifts. When you are in your emotional creative spaces - where you get in touch with your talents, skills, and your inspiration all coming together in one - you transform into an artistic...
Many highly creative people have been bullied as kids. Are you one of them? Perhaps you loved singing, writing poems, dancing, making fashion, or being innovative in other ways as a child. When you were young, you invested in yourself fully in a creative endeavor....
You might feel as if your life isn’t all that you hoped it would be. There is an inner voice that tells you, “You could create and accomplish more. You could have more fulfilling relationships. You’re capable of more.” Somehow, your life isn't a full reflection of...