One of the most difficult things about healing from trauma is how confusing and lost you can feel throughout the process.
Often times, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path!
Whether healing yourself or raising a child with early life stress and trauma, the lack of information and support can make it feel like you’re doing it all alone and probably doing it all wrong!
This is not what you had expected from life. You already feel like a failure, and not knowing what steps to take is a big stress that can paralyze you.
As you may notice other areas of your life being affected, you may start to feel stuck and trapped in your own life.
Your relationships are affected, friends and family may not understand what you’re dealing with. They may even try to give you lots of advice and share freely about how they don’t think you’re doing it the right way.
For me, the loneliness just kept growing! It didn’t get better until I learned what the environment and an attachment relationship needs in order to heal. Once I figured that out, I was able to apply it to my son and myself for healing.
After that, the stress of not knowing what I was doing or if I was messing things up more was gone.
I had the energy to go create a community of like-minded moms. Together we started helping other moms learn the principles of how to parent, and now having come through this, these are my dearest friendships.
I had the knowledge of where to start in my own work of healing my brain and body from the effects of attachment trauma compounded by life stress and trauma.
Many of you who have watched the videos and blogs I’ve shared have asked many important questions. In this blog, I will answer those questions.
They are great questions and I think you will find them very helpful.
Trauma Question and Answer Session
Question: My Significant Other Has Attachment Issues-
Thank you for so much insightful information on this tricky subject.
I have been in a relationship for 11 and a half years with a man whom I love very much. Recently his therapist (I have my guy’s permission to see the therapist when the therapist needs info from me versus info from my guy) told me he believes my guy has attachment disorder and has asked me to try to stay in the relationship because my guy needs me more now than ever. After reading about it this makes sense: my guy had a terrible childhood riddled with parental alcoholism, emotional abuse, a mom with postpartum depression and regular depression and a dad who was abused growing up so was no joy to be around either. The dad ridiculed my guy’s mom and was always blaming everyone else for his problems. It sounds like those growing up years were a nightmare filled with very little joy and no emotional security or safety.
My guy has rarely told me he loves me and yet we have some wonderful times together and in some ways we have some strong bonds between us. He can be very kind-hearted and when he does do things that are thoughtful they are extra special. I’ve known him since he was 33; he is now 45 years old and has never been married, doesn’t have children and has been in therapy for two years, which came about because he suffered a bad injury in May 2016 and has a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. I am one of the very few people whom he has allowed to stay in his life. When he was in the hospital he didn’t remember anyone but me for about six weeks and during that time he thought we were married (marriage was what I wanted; he’d been clear he did not want to get married in a conversation about three months before the injury). I have remained in his life with the hope that his therapist (psychologist) will be able to help him.
Is there treatment that is more immersive that actually WORKS that involves the couple (meaning he and I) or is it always a matter of individualized therapy? The reason I ask this is that the description you gave at the beginning of the article said, “Once you decide you would like to heal your brain and earn a secure attachment, you need to find one person who is willing to walk the healing journey with you. . . .there are qualities you need to look for: They need to have a secure attachment themselves; Be willing to call you out when you do or say something from an insecurely attached place; Be able to do it in a loving, understanding way that feels safe, strong, and protective. . . . In a calm, consistent way, they will need to be able to train you to see what is healthy since this is not natural for you.” seems in direct opposition to the kind of relationship normal couples seek to have and eventually I would like for he and I to have a normal relationship! I am not his mother and I don’t seek to be that. When you start talking about one partner training another partner to do something differently it seems to me you are treading on really shaky ground!
Please help me understand what other options are out there for treatment. I am getting nowhere trying to talk to his therapist about this who just keeps saying “we are addressing this in therapy” when my guy comes home saying they are talking about modulating his emotions and that’s it all the time. I know I am the one consistent, reliable, safe person in my guy’s life, but everyone has their limits and I’m getting to the point where I just am about to give up on him and say “You win. You are never going to heal and you are never going to be able to be healthy.” It is only in very dark moments that I feel that way and I never share it with him. I am being vulnerable with you because I’m hoping you know of an effective treatment option that is couples-based where I can be supportive but not be the one “training him” as you’ve called it.
I want him to always feel safe with me, but between the normal attachment disorder behavior and the anger management issues that come out of a TBI, I am really in a pickle of a place trying to stay in an “emotional safe zone” for myself with him, while also being there to be supportive of him and be a safe place for him. I do not feel I can ever truly share my feelings because the times I make that mistake he turns them against me because when I share my feelings he sees that as “Uh oh, she wants a close relationship and that scares the heck out of me!” so he does things to sabotage our relationship.
I want to say I really appreciate the questions you posed for someone with an attachment disorder to ask themselves. I think they are really important ones. I hope his therapist agrees; I’ll be sharing that information with his therapist.
I look forward to your response, Dr. Aimie. Thanks in advance
Answer: How well you describe the relationship difficulties when one has pretty significant trauma and attachment issues! This is tricky and many couples don’t make it in the long run because of this.
However, what I am hearing is that you would really like to make it work!
There are some great therapies to do as a couple when one has significant attachment trauma issues. Somatic experiencing therapy as a couple has been very powerful and works on the dynamics and “gut reactions” between the two of you as they come up.
I also want to step back and give you a bigger picture.
You will need to be consistent in order for him to be able to attach to you as an attachment figure, but it does not work the same way around. You, yourself, will not be able to use him as an attachment figure. This is very difficult, because this would be the normal thing to do in a relationship.
You won’t be able to go to him for emotional support, even though he comes to you for emotional support and regulation. This doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Find girlfriends, a mentor, or somebody who can be your emotional support person other than your partner… until he is more stable and secure in his attachment.
By understanding what his struggles and fears are, you will learn not to take things personally. Boundaries are also really important for you to have during this process so you won’t get hurt, as well as to help him work within normal relationship rules.
If he feels like he can hurt you, take advantage of you, or benefit off of you he will not heal in his relationship with you.
Work with him and his therapist to find a way to communicate these boundaries. Above all, in order to keep yourself healthy and be an attachment figure for him, you need to take care of yourself, while not letting yourself be hurt in the process.
This is hard, but it can be done and in a way that you do not sacrifice yourself.
Question: What If Things Don’t Work Out-
Are there support groups? I’ve been dealing with my step daughter for over 8 years and the struggle is so real. She was diagnosed at six and her brother at 4.
We still have her but unfortunately my step son distributed such horrible RAD symptoms that were a danger to others that he has since been removed. It’s so tough thinking I’ve tried everything only to still feel like a failure when things don’t seem to get any better.
Answer: Yes, you’re definitely not alone in feeling this way.
Sometimes, kids are too damaged to be able to be safe in a normal family environment. Sometimes, it’s not possible to change the family environment to what they would need to heal. To save the rest of the family, the sad but best solution is to send them to a treatment center.
For all parents of RAD children, it’s normal to feel inadequate and like a failure. Even though logically, we know we aren’t the problem and they have a severe disorder – just too severe in their PTSD and trauma issues.
Regardless of logic, this experience is a very emotional one for us, and logic is not often enough to keep us from feeling inadequate and grieving a huge loss of a relationship we do not have with them.
Being able to talk with others who understand completely because of their own experiences has been so helpful and healing for other parents.
Question: What Does Regulation Look Like-
I’m new to your channel and every video is resonating with me. I know this is a multifaceted issue but what types of things does the mother do to help a child regulate? I know I didn’t have this from my own mother and that it’s never too late to give it to myself.
Answer: This is a great question! Yes, regulation is very multifaceted but can be summarized as everything that a mother does to ensure their baby’s physical and relationship needs are met. I explain regulation theory as it relates to moms and children here.
The physical needs are easy to understand, although some mothers may not respond in a calm and caring way to the many needs a baby has such as being fed, changed, put to sleep, etc.
The relationship needs are as such: a baby is not prepared to face the world when it is born. It’s survival system can be quickly overwhelmed, and a baby will constantly look to its mother when a loud noise happens, or someone new approaches them. This is the baby’s request for the mother to regulate them.
By the mother’s touch, look, tone of voice, etc. the baby will then react correspondingly to the perceived threat. If the mother is either in her own world or not as emotionally connected to her baby, she will miss all of the cues that her baby is giving her, which the baby needs in order to help know how to respond or calm down.
So, there is calming down a baby’s activated nervous system in times of a stress or threat, but there is also times when the baby gets too excited and its nervous system needs to take a break to calm down.
If the mother does not allow for this temporary break in the relationship, because of her own abandonment insecurities, the baby will have an overactive nervous system that is part of attachment trauma and psychologically, it will start to feel that it’s job is to help calm down the mother.
These are just a few examples, but I hope you get the general idea of the relationship dynamics between a mother and her baby, which are natural and subtle, but when this doesn’t happen, it will result in attachment trauma and an imbalanced nervous system.
Question: I Am Beginning to Understand Myself, What Do I Do-
I am just hearing about attachment disorder and I feel like between this and learning about CEN (children with emotional neglect) I am starting to understand why I am the way I am.
My father and mother didn’t want me so I grew up with my grandmother who did the best she could but she was an alcoholic. From a very young age I identified in extremes. I attach to people so quickly and am so afraid to lose them I need them to be my best friend and everything or nothing.
I feel so worthless and unlovable and have no idea what to do with this. I isolate myself and wonder all the time how to be normal with other people, how to have friends and how to relax.
I get addicted to things easily like routines so I feel safe. I don’t know what to do. Can you recommend any resources, books etc?
Answer: Yes, your childhood experience is one that sets a child up for attachment trauma.
The attachment trauma would have occurred in the very early ages (by 12-18 months) as you would have picked up on the overwhelm of your parents feeling like they couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of you. My guess is that subsequent significant events occurred in your life that further piled onto the original attachment trauma. This is what happens in Children With Emotional Neglect. Emotional neglect is attachment trauma at its foundation and then further relationship trauma in the form of emotional neglect added to that.
This becomes a huge burden for the body that starts in early childhood. Your reaction at the time is very normal and you describe the mind and body effects of attachment trauma very well. Many people reading your story will be able to relate and say “That was me too.” Because of the common traits, I have a video on the addiction to excitement that those with attachment trauma can have.
The first step towards changing all of this and having a transformation in your life, relationships and health is one that you have already done: the awareness. A lot of people never even have this awareness so kudos to you!
Then, you need to start doing the work. I can give you general ideas of what I have found helps people heal, however, to give you specifics and a road map for what to do now and what to do later, I would need to know you and your story in more detail.
I can also easily tell you what does not work! Regular counseling and talk therapy will not help. Attachment trauma is preverbal and this is all a pattern established in your body and nervous system now.
Healing from trauma is not just a matter of “change your thinking.” Wouldn’t that be easy!
Our thoughts can point us to areas in our body, emotional brain and nervous system that have an imbalance and a pattern of trauma still stuck.
For you just starting out, there will be lots of areas where trauma has been stored in your brain and body!
As such, there are 6 core areas that you can work on to get started in healing from trauma. Your physical health – the actual biology and physiology of your body.
Look at your diet and your energy levels to help you figure out ways to make it as healthy as you can. Paleo diets seem to work best for people with trauma histories and working to heal.
Look at body-work trauma therapies including Neuro-developmental exercises, Somatic Experiencing, and yoga.
Movement is very important; however, we want to stay away from excessive exercise.
Art is able to access a lot of the emotional brain and when used at the right time in the right way, it’s a powerful tool for transforming trauma.
We’re starting a women’s group trauma class that goes over each of these areas and we will organize them in a way that it fits and makes sense for where your body is.
I hope this is helpful and look forward to supporting you!
If you have questions, I invite you to leave them here at the end of the blog so I can answer them.
I encourage you in your journey!