Dr. Andrea Brandt is a marriage and family therapist located in Santa Monica California. Andrea brings over 35 years of clinical experience to the role of individual family therapist, couples counseling, group therapy and anger management classes.  Dr. Brandt is a recognized expert in treating a full range of emotional issues, including anger & aggression, anxiety & trauma, aging, relationships, work-life balance, workplace, and women’s issues. In her workshops, patient sessions and presentations, Dr. Brandt reveals positive paths to emotional health that teach you how to reinvent and empower yourself.  She emphasizes the mind-body-heart connection as a key to mental, physical and emotional wellness.

Upon pioneering a new approach to emotional healing, Dr. Brandt directed her attention to the study of anger management and conflict resolution.  In her book 8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness, Dr. Brandt examines strategies for overcoming a common yet debilitating response mechanism.  In her second book, Mindful Anger: a pathway to emotional freedom, Dr. Brandt explores methods to better understand and manage the powerful emotion of anger. You can learn more at her website.

In what ways do children internalize trauma, versus the way someone who experienced trauma as an adult would?

Since children are the center of their own universe, they believe everything that happens around them has to do with them. So if the child grows up around abusive, critical parents, they believe that they are the cause of the abuse and there must be something wrong with them if they are being criticized by their parents. As a child if a parent calls us messy and/ or tells us we don’t know how to take care of our things, we don’t question their judgement.

Adults internalize trauma very much like children. Something happens, perhaps the adult has a car accident and the brain gets impacted, and we experience a fight, flight, freeze response so the prefrontal cortex shuts down and sometimes we become speechless.

If for example the adult experiences a sexual assault, as they grow up they experience a lot of shame and that shame binds with all other feelings about themselves.

Both children and adults Must acknowledge their trauma and work through the feelings on a mind-body level and recognize the invisible demons they’re struggling with. Telling their story is important but it won’t be enough. The child and/ or adult must work through their symptoms, feelings and beliefs using body interventions, breathing and mindfulness and other skills that are available.

What are your thoughts on C-PTSD (complex PTSD) as a diagnosis? Should it be added to the DSM?

Since most trauma occurs during childhood because we think we are the center of the universe (and we are) I believe that it should be a diagnosis in the DSM manual.

When I talk about trauma I’m not just talking about an event that could occur in a loss of some kind; I’m also talking about frequent abuse and neglect. They are all traumas!

Can you talk a bit about the dynamics of families where the abuse has carried over into adulthood? How does this affect someone’s ability to let go of trauma?

I work with a woman in her 50s who grew up in a family where the parents were immigrants and they were very abusive to their children, especially the father. The father would yell and scream and sometimes hit his daughter. He also would use the silent treatment which is devastating to a young child who gets her sense of self from how the world is interacting with her and if dad decides as a punishment to not talk to her, she just feels lost and devastated.

Since the father was an immigrant, he projected all his insecurities, his feelings of adequacy and his shame on his children.

My patient was referred to me from the human resource person at her work. She did a good job; however, her interpersonal skills were very poor. She was very provocative in her conversations, and her anger would slip out at people at work as well.

As children we all want to love and have relationships and closeness with our parents even if that closeness is based on abuse. So for this woman it’s been really difficult for her to let go of the attachment to her father.

Even though the attachment to the father really creates so many problems with her job, her husband and her daughter, it’s still hard for her to work and let go of the feelings.

Her father’s abuse is all she really knows and that has become some level of empowerment for her and the only way she could be attached to him.

Using talk therapy, body interventions, mindfulness, journaling, and other skills to work through her trauma  feelings, we have definitely made lots of progress but she’s got a long way to go even now.

When is anger a positive emotion and how can it help trauma survivors heal?

Anger is a normal healthy emotion and is always positive when it’s expressed in a constructive and productive manner.

There’s a lot of sadness, despair, and fear with trauma survivors but there’s also anger. They’re angry at what happened to them and what they’ve lost. Many of them have lost the resources to stand up for themselves, to reach out for help as examples. So they can use their anger to empower themselves to regain these resources and skills.

Is the cycle of abuse likely to repeat itself when victims of childhood trauma become adults with their own families?

Absolutely the cycle of abuse can repeat itself when victims of childhood trauma grow up and have their own families, especially if the person hasn’t been in therapy to work on their feelings. As I mentioned in the third question about the dynamics of the family… that the woman I am working with is married with a child, and though she doesn’t hit the child or give the child the silent treatment, she does communicate in other ways that are very abusive and hurtful to the child and the husband.

So it repeats itself even if it repeats itself differently!

Is there a marked difference in the effects of a single traumatizing event versus ongoing abuse?

A single traumatizing event would be easier to deal with. Even though it might be devastating and severely traumatizing like a rape or seeing someone shot, it’s more contained than ongoing abuse which impacts the person’s early physiological and emotional core development and causes rippling effects for years.

Aside from struggling with expressing emotions, do survivors of trauma lose a sense of their identity?

The false self is a very clever coping mechanism; however, the price that people pay is also very high. Because you do lose your sense of identity. More  than anything we all want to love our parents and be loved by them. And we learn early on what feelings, parts of ourselves that our parents like and will approve of and which ones they won’t. Since we will do almost anything to get their love and approval, when we sense that we’re not going to, we get rid of a piece of ourselves: a feeling, a belief so that it’s no longer a part of us.

And sometimes we don’t even know when you are operating from a false self until many years into adulthood when something happens that makes us aware that this isn’t who we are, how we feel or what we believe because the false self is so much a part of ourselves.

Is it possible to fully heal from childhood trauma?

Since trauma by definition is both unbearable and intolerable, I don’t know that we can fully heal from trauma. I do know we can reverse the damage that the trauma caused. Researchers and psychiatrists have introduced us to the impact on our brain and our soul that trauma creates. So by our own natural neuroplasticity we can help survivors feel fully alive in the present and move on with their lives and we also need to help them reconnect with others by talking to them and allowing them to know and understand what was going on with them, while processing the memories of their trauma; we can use body interventions to help the survivor deeply and viscerally contradict their helplessness, anger or the collapse that was the result from the trauma; and of course some doctors will prescribe meds as well.

These processes can all be very healing.

 

References:

Brandt, A. (June 1, 2017). 4 Ways Childhood Emotional Trauma Impacts Us As Adults. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindful-anger/201706/4-ways-childhood-emotional-trauma-impacts-us-adults

 

 

19 Comments

  1. This was such an amazing article, I loved reading this. I’m glad that complex PTSD is becoming a more widely talked about issue. Many of us grow up with dysfunctional families and sometimes we don’t even realize it, but they have lasting effects. I think the term abuse has become much better understood as well, it isn’t always the classic alcoholic parent or physically abusive parent, there are emotional aspects too.
    There isn’t much I’d change with this article! The interview questions are great and provide great, insightful answers. I really loved the question about anger, because I think many of us are taught that that is a destructive emotion, but it doesn’t have to be. Great job!

  2. It always upsets me when I learn about kids being abused by their parents, whether it’s physical or emotional abuse.

    Do you think it affects the type of relationships people get involved in after experiencing abuse or neglect growing up? If so, what can be done to resolve these issues to prevent toxic relationships?

    1. I’ve read in a lot of different sites over the web that experiences as a child do indeed affect adult relationships. The general reasoning given was that children learn how to love from their parents as well and even look for people who resemble their opposite-sex parent for a partner. Children who have not received the proper love from their parents are also more prone to seek out that kind of affection in their future relationships.

      Personally, I think the individual themselves have to become aware of their own reactions and pursuits in relationships first, before they can start working on preventing possible toxic relationships.

  3. The silent treatment is a good example of abuse that isn’t physical, but not one I’ve heard mentioned before. It’s also interesting to see how anger can be a good thing.
    It’s good that the result of a series of traumatic events is being given a name.

  4. I loved reading this article, it really hit close to home for me – as my family has a history of abuse. I loved how well structured this was and how well it flowed, honestly. Although for some reason the transition from the introduction to the interview felt a little stiff and forced, but that might just be me. I didn’t even know complex PTSD was being debated on whether or not it should be in the DSM!

  5. Some interesting topics are introduced in this article: the silent treatment, C-PTSD on the DSM, the false self, and so on. I think bringing these topics to attention are crucial, as they help those who did not know or were denying it realize they were abused and that it affects them.

    The only thing I would add to this article is a summary. Lead us readers in a direction for discussion! With a topic like this, many things could be brought to light. In the end though, reading this article was great.

  6. I agree with what has been written. I think it would also be very beneficial and helpful to the therapist when the patient himself/herself is willing to come to terms with it and wants to change. Realising these things for themselves would definitely be a huge step forward for them already. You are doing such a great work, keep it up! 🙂

  7. I liked how this particular interview went into detail about how the way our parents behave towards us can affect how who we become and how we eventually interact with the world. I feel like many parents can only see how to nurture the best possible well-being and the best possible future for their children through their own experiences, using what I like to call the prevention of error method. A method where they try to prevent the children from doing this or that to avoid error. In using this method, they fail to consider other possible ramifications. Even when the children talk to their parents, more often than not, they will not be able to understand the frustration nor how to change their methods to ones that would benefit everyone. Of course it’s not really anyone’s fault, but I feel like more awareness needs to be brought into the view of the young and experienced parents alike. Many children in such cases personally do not know how to deal with such situations and severe consequences ensue.

    The particular point of losing a part of our personality because the parental figures do not favor it is an interesting and relevant point for many people who are struggling to find out who they are and where they want to go in life.

    Overall, the article flowed really well and was quite informative, but like another commentator mentioned, in just reading the introduction and then the interview there’s a bit of a rough transition. However, it wasn’t too noticeable to me because the interview matches the tittle.

  8. Very complex topic to address, but you’ve done a great job in introducing it here.

    The terminology used throughout, such as C-PTSD and the silent treatment, I’ve heard in relation to narcissistic abuse. That is, the silent treatment is one of many tactics that a narcissist will employ to manipulate and to control others; and C-PTSD occurs after prolongoned exposure to narcissistic abuse. In relating to childhood abuse, this article runs in alignment with what I’ve read about children raised by parents with narcissistic traits or with the disorder.

    I do feel as though the idea here is applied too broadly. In my own experience, my parents could be very critical and would use negative reinforcement as a means of behavior modification. So, using the example given, if my parents were to call me messy, it didn’t bother me. I didn’t Internalize it (so I thought) and I regularly challenged them. I wasn’t egocentric; I was and am someone too eager to point out a flaw (which would become a fault). I just had this sense that my self-concept is stronger and more based in reality than anyone’s overly harsh opinion.

    However, as an adult I’ve found myself using their language as my inner critic. It’s almost as if things caught up with me right at the beginning of adulthood. I shifted to thinking, “well what if there is/was validity in their judgements “. Then down the rabbit hole we go. Whereas I was self-assured and self-directed growing up, that attitude has been muddied a bit. My mental health issues make me more vulnerable to that internal voice, but I also think that my issues are, in part, because of my experiences.

    On the flip side, I’ve had enough healthy experiences with my parents and other adults within my family; in addition to having a solid sense of self as a kid which I think contributed to the bit of confidence that I had and was able to sustain which serves as a basis for my present growth process.

    Again, complex!

  9. This article is very well structured and handled, this topic is hard to address, but this was incredibly well written. The questions were all very good at sparking conversation, and the answers were helpful and informative. This is a very important topic, especially with all the debate nowadays with on how aggressive you should be towards children. I really appreciate this article, and I hope it gets shared to everyone who needs to read it.

  10. Wow. Author asks questions in a format that makes sense and is easy to comprehend. The answers, at least to me, were entire and instructive. This is a great read and beneficial to any reader.

  11. I have never thought of anger as a positive emotion, it always has destructive connotations to it. The thing is I hold the belief that when you are sad you should let a person be sad, if the need to cry let them cry until they don’t have any more tears, why can’t the same be for anger. As long as the anger is not used in a way that can hurt someone it should be perfectly acceptable for a person to let out their anger as a coping mechanism. In my own personal experience, the cycle of abuse in my family is continuing but also breaking in a way. My father was raised Vietnam and they have different customs when it comes to raising a child which include physical discipline. My father realized that this was not the way to raise a child and strived to be different, bit of course since this sort of parenting style was what he grew up with it sometimes slipped into his own, albeit intermittently. I feel as if I am also aware that this is not the way to parent a child and will also be a better parent to my own kids as my dad strived to be for his. So the cycle is present in each generation of my family but as we are starting to learn what is right and wrong it is lessening. I think your interview asked all the right questions and were incredibly interesting, it made me relate the topics to my own childhood as well, I really identified with the concept about a “false self”. As sad as the topic is, I love how you ended on a sense of hope and an inquiry on how people can move on from such devastating events.

    1. I also wanted to add on the topic of healing from childhood trauma, that it would be helpful if the individual in question had the chance to confront whoever instigated their trauma, they should. This would allow them to have closure and maybe mend that relationship as well, if that is what they wanted.

  12. I really liked how the differences of abuse experienced in childhood and later on were cleared up by pointing out the very true ways of how adults and children actually differ between themselves on a neural, developmental level that excludes the idea of their further trauma being the same. I’m not sure or at all very knowledgeable on the topic of C-PTSD, but what I can is confirm is that there’s probably a greater impact on both physically and mentally vulnerable individuals, i.e. children.

    1. NO….
      They will get denial…or some watered down FAKE apology…
      Abusers especially longterm abusers are anything from narcissists to genuine sadists…

      There is no such thing as “closure” for child abuse…only moving past it it in a reasonable humane way…

      People who had even adequate parents have no idea what some people have endured..even those of us who have “made it”…

      I have had friends burst into tears on hearing things that were “minimal”..and wonder how I am “SO NORMAL”..

  13. Really interesting article! I like the fact that abuse in households are being more openly discussed and that it is not just looking at physical abuse and the affect it has on children. Well done, and thanks!

  14. A very interesting article on a difficult topic.
    The interview was informative, although rather broad in its approach regarding childhood trauma. The article plays safe with the discussion, which is not a bad thing, since it still manages to inform the readers about the different kinds of trauma children can experience and how it will affect them later on in life.
    The topic of the false self was one I could identify with. When I was a kid, I experienced a trauma, and I had no idea how to handle it. My family chose never to speak or talk about the incident with me, which left me very much in the dark about that what happened to me was wrong. Growing up, I felt as if the incident was my fault even though I was the one taken advantage of and I didn’t know better. I adopted a false identity where I lived as if I wasn’t “that” girl; the girl who wasn’t taken advantage of. I didn’t acknowledge my trauma until I was much older and going into university. Then, I learned how to come to terms with what happened to me and how I could recover from that incident. It’s a history in my household that isn’t spoken about and acknowledged until now, but I’ve learned to find comfort and understanding elsewhere.
    Childhood trauma has everlasting effects that make up part of the person. But it does not define who they are are. People who came from abusive households could repeat the abusive cycle because they do not know better; it could mean that they are sick and/or in need of help, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad person.
    This article gives out some helpful advice, and good perspectives that could help educate people about childhood trauma and its latter effects.

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