Trauma and Relationships Part 1: Trauma and Trust
When we have experienced a traumatic event or a complex and ongoing culmination of adverse life experiences, that often can leave us feeling overwhelmed, isolated and alone. It can be difficult to trust others, especially if your experience of the trauma was relational or occurred within a relationship.
Trust is essential for healthy relationships and it can be challenging to maintain if one or more partners are recovering from trauma. In this blog post, we will explore trauma and trust in relationships, and offer some tips for rebuilding trust after it has been damaged.
When we have experienced a trauma or series of traumatic occurences, such as childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and/or neglect, we understand that these experiences can affect your sense of safety and trust in relationships, and can even cause you to distrust aspects of yourself. For example, if you’ve experienced childhood sexual abuse, you may not trust your sexual boundaries or be able to trust your sexual response.
If you’ve experienced physical or emotional abuse, you may not trust your body (physical behaviors) to respond in a healthy way or your emotions to provide you the necessary clues to understand your current needs. If you’ve experienced trauma in your past or current relationships, this can mean that you are unable to trust your partner or partners, or that you have difficulty trusting yourself.
Trauma and Trust
According to the National Center for PTSD, trust can be defined as “…a feeling of being fully in control of yourself, your emotions, and your choices. It is the feeling of being secure in a relationship, knowing that you can trust your partner and your partner can trust you.”
When we experience a lack of trust, the safety and security that we might experience from a secure attachment can be potentially threatened. Trauma can change your basic beliefs about relationships and yourself, including your own instincts, intuition, your body, and your emotions.
It can be helpful to know that trust is an ongoing and dynamic process. Trust is like a muscle that can be strengthened by practice, exercise, attention and awareness. It can be strengthened by taking small steps towards a larger goal. Even if you have a history of trauma, there is hope in rebuilding your own sense of self trust and making changes in your interpersonal relationships to help you maintain healthy connections.
Common Trust Issues
Common trust issues for those who suffered from adverse childhood experiences:
- Overly submissive
- Overly critical
- Shy in social settings
- Overly critical
- Lack of trust in yourself and others
- Lack of trust in your feelings and reactions
- Fear of expressing your true self
- Fear of being rejected
- Fear of being hurt
- Fear of being judged
- Fear of being left alone or abandoned
- Lack of trust in authority
- Lack of trust in institutions
- Lack of trust in your future
- Lack of trust in the world
The process of rebuilding trust can be challenging. It can be difficult to know where to begin, and it can be a long process. Trust is important to healthy relationships. The power of a relationship is in its ability to help us to heal from trauma and provide us with a safe container, a context in which our experience can be processed and integrated. When you are in a relationship with someone who you trust, you can feel safe enough to let down your guard and be vulnerable.
Below are some questions to consider as you move towards rebuilding trust as well as suggestions on ways that you can rebuild trust in your relationships:
- What are your feelings about trust?
- What would it look like for you to feel safe and secure in your relationships?
- What kind of person would that be?
- What would you have to do to get there?
- What would you have to be willing to let go of?
- What would it mean to you to feel safe and secure in your relationships?
How to rebuild trust in relationships after trauma:
- Ask others for support (friends, family, partners, therapists)
- Know that you are not alone
- Reflect on your current values and set new goals
- Work to build new relationships and develop new friendships
- Regularly practice self-care
- Meet yourself with compassion and gentleness
- Understand your boundaries
- Communicate your boundaries effectively
- Imagine the future you, when you feel safe and secure in your relationships
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