Relational trauma

What is relational trauma?

Relational trauma is trauma that has happened in relation to other people. Examples of this can be sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, bullying, war, torture and prison. It is intended damage caused by another or several others. This differs from random or so-called "not intended" trauma; such as natural disasters, serious illness or accidents.

If the trauma repeats several times over time, such as in the case of neglect, family violence, incest; i.e. persistent unpredictable threat of death or threat to integrity, it is often called "type 2 trauma".  

If the complex burdens occur over time, early in a child's life, especially where this occurs in close relationships and therefore affects the caring climate - the term "developmental trauma" is often used

Developmental trauma and/or relational type 2 trauma are the type of trauma most often associated with the more severe trauma conditions, where symptoms and functional impairment are more pervasive.  

The relationship itself at the center: the effect of relational trauma

It is not only the specific traumas themselves that are harmful to victims. At the core of relational trauma, it often is the very loss of a close supportive person, which is the essence of the pain. Feeling lonely and alone, without a stable experience of belonging and presence from another human being.

Encounters with pain and overwhelm, without access to another organizing mind; which can support, reassure, frame and create a coherent narrative around the experience. An understanding that is crucial to being able to restore balance in body and mind. The bad has happened and is over, now it is safe.

We understand ourselves through interaction with others

We develop our understanding of ourselves, others and the world through interaction with other people. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand how repeated offence, abuse or violence can cause a person to develop a negative image of himself, others and the world.

As basic rules of living or truths, which drives specific ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Such structures can be very robust against influence and corrective information: for example, experiences that indicate that you actually have value or that others are trustworthy and can stand up for you if you need them.

Many can thus identify with an experience of self-loathing, powerlessness and loneliness, not as a result of the trauma, but as something defective in themselves and their personality.

Trauma inflicted by adults who were to be cared for not damaged

In many cases, unfortunately, it is also the person(s) who should have been safe in the first place, who have exercised violence or abuse. This often contributes to complicate the effect of trauma on victims.

Damage in a relationship and recovery in a relationship  

Since the basic experience of a relationship trauma is separation and loneliness, in the face of something burdensome and painful, one can also understand why a healthy, safe and trusting relationship is essential on the road to recovery. The wounds that were created in a relationship must be healed in a relationship.

One could even argue that some types of adversity and difficult events actually turn into traumatic experiences, only if relational support is not available. A good, safe and supportive relationship is thus a kind of buffer against the effects of trauma on body, mind and soul.

It is also some of the active ingredients in the treatment of relational trauma. You can read more about this and other important elements in the treatment of relationship trauma here.

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