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  • Fe Robinson

The Resilience Impact of Developmental Trauma

The difference between Trauma and Developmental Trauma is one that I often find myself explaining to clients. We can be traumatized by a single or multiple events in adulthood without having had developmental trauma, and, for some people, adult trauma can add on top of developmental trauma, with there being a relationship between the experiences. The distinctions between trauma types are sometimes important in helping clients make sense of their experience.

(Trauma is) “a one-off event that has made you fearful for your life or physical integrity and has left your brain in an (understandable) state of threat.” Laura Tinkl

For many people who have experienced trauma of this kind, for example accidents and trauma through work, treatment may be quite straightforward because they also have other helpful memories of the world being a relatively benign and safe place. These resourceful experiences result in ways of being that can be used to bring an integration of the trauma with what else they know to be true, resolving the ongoing distress. The way I help clients with this is by using EMDR therapy.

Developmental trauma adds complexity to our experience and symptoms. In Laura’s words, repeated adverse events in childhood can result in a situation where for a client “their experiences have led them to believe that the world is not a safe place and that others cannot be relied on to keep them safe.” This attachment difficulty can impact the way we perceive ourselves; our self image and our core beliefs about ourselves and the world. Our brain wiring is shape by the experiences we have, if we have felt unsafe, unseen, powerless and/or helpless we may be very sensitive to perceived threats in our relationships and in our physical environment. Through our responding way of being, we may, outside awareness, accidentally invite the same patterns to be repeated in self-fulfilling prophecies that traumatise us again and again.

Developmental trauma impacts resilience. It can undermine the resourcefulness and resilience that might otherwise have grown in us, and this can make adversity harder to cope with, and leave us open to being more easily overwhelmed and traumatised.

Effect trauma treatment is not process driven, it’s not about rigidly following protocols. It’s about working in a dynamic partnership, client and therapist together, to understand how it is that the client came to be the way they are and how their experiences have shaped them. Where needed, resourcefulness and resilience can be built so that it’s possible for the traumas to reside in the past where they belong. Where developmental trauma has occurred, we can not simply use trauma approaches to integrate what isn’t already there, we must build the experience of safety, of attunement, of relationship in the room. Then, the past and the present can become distinct and symptoms can be alleviated.

For effective trauma treatment of either single/multiple incident adult traumas, or developmental traumas, or both, I recommend finding a trauma therapist who works relationally and is prepared to formulate holistically, with body and mind.


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