Attachment theory and complex childhood trauma

E-CENT Blog post – 1st July 2020

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Trauma therapy, attachment theory, self-help resources, and the story of childhood trauma

How I worked on my own adverse childhood experiences, and used the resulting insights to help clients with childhood developmental trauma

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, at The Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT)

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2020

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Childhood amnesia about traumatic abuseSome therapists look for the source of their clients’ upsets in the client’s beliefs, as if the client invented their own belief system, independently of their parents, teachers, religious institutions, and the mass media – and as if their current beliefs and attitudes were not strongly impacted by their current socioeconomic environment, and the current physical state of their body and brain.

Last week I worked with a depressed man, Frank (not his real name), over Skype (not the actual channel of communication) about the fact that he is involved in an unhappy marriage. He is 57 years old, on his third marriage, and his current wife seems to hate him, or strongly dislike him; is willing to tolerate being married to him; but does not want to have anything much to do with him – (even though they live together in a tiny house, and have done so for about five years).

Frank’s formulation of his problem was this: “I want Josie to love me, actively; and to engage in passionate sex on a frequent basis!”

To me, it seemed pretty clear this this was like somebody who lives in Africa, and knows Africa well, wanting snow on the equator in August; or a cool breeze in the Kalahari Desert at noon.  Totally unrealistic; and this should have been obvious to Frank if he was “thinking straight”.  (But then “thinking” is another story!)

We are unaware of our childhood traumasIn my view, Frank seemed to be acting out a childhood problem of insecure attachment to this mother: an inability to get close to his mother, and to get the kind of pleasure and comfort he needed from her, 55 years ago!

Many of my clients’ problems seem to track back to childhood attachment issues; or childhood trauma; both of which are outside of the awareness of the client.

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I am currently expanding and updating my book on how to resolve complex trauma, caused by prolonged childhood abuse. The new title is this:

Transforming Traumatic Dragons:

How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach

Front cover Dragons Trauma book June 2020

This book began its life in an embryonic form in July 2011, as

E-CENT Paper No.13: Completing your past experiences of difficult events, perceptions, and painful emotions.  

The paper began like this:

Preface

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life”.  Virginia Woolf

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“Whatever you resist persists”.  Werner Erhard

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Window1The core of the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is built around the concept of “reframing your experience” of life, so that it will show up in a more tolerable and bearable way than if you frame it unrealistically, illogically and/or unreasonably.  Normally the client knows what the problem is.  It is available to their conscious awareness.  And the E-CENT counsellor encourages them to look at it through a variety of ‘lenses’ or ‘windows’, so they can see it differently. (Byrne, 2009b).

On the other hand, sometimes a client may have a problem buried in their past, about which they know nothing, and this buried problem – this ‘denied pain’ – is the main driver of their current depression, anxiety, panic, or anger.  With these kinds of archaic problems of repression, we use techniques related to the concept of “digging up” and “completing” that archaic experience; of “digesting it”; so it can be filed away in an inactive file, in the background of their life, where it cannot cause them any more psychological problems.

However, these two processes cannot be totally separated.  Humans are interpreting-beings. We cannot see our experience directly, and we cannot complete our experience of some kind of ‘objective reality’. In fact, when we are trying to complete an experience, we either see it through an ‘empowering lens’ or a ‘depowering lens’.  Therefore, we must never fail to engage in empowering processes of reframing our experience, as we are completing it. (This is especially true when dealing with old traumatic experiences).

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drjim-counsellor9Then, in 2016, I produced a book, entitled ‘Facing and Defeating Your Emotional Dragons’; which used the processes of ‘reframing experiences’ and ‘completion’, with the proviso that the reframing process must be mastered by the client before they ever attempt the completion process, in order to avoid re-traumatizing themselves.

I am now (in June/July 2020) updating that book, and expanding it, to take account of the insights and therapeutic processes of Dr Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score), combined with other influences, and my own more recent clinical experience.

The title of this revised and expanded book is this:

Transforming Traumatic Dragons:

How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach.

And you can read about the content of this book here:

https://abc-bookstore.com/how-to-resolve-childhood-developmental-trauma/

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PS: I would also recommend that you take a look at the following, rated information pages:

Recovery from Childhood Trauma: How I healed my heart and mind – and how you can heal yourself.

And

Also:

Freud, Mammy and Me: The roots and branches of a simple country boy. Volume 1 of the fictionalized autobiography of Daniel O’Beeve

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ecent logoThat’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for E-CENT

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