Childhood trauma has strong effects and leaves multiple fingerprints on the mind and the body, usually for a lifetime. Traumatic experiences are not always physical; emotional trauma can be just as toxic. Psychologically, the child is often stunted in intellectual, emotional and social development. As adults, these survivors are unable to trust others. Because they fear relationships, they may seem detached, as if not needing others.
While corrective emotional experience was initially described as a key factor in longer-term psychotherapy, it also refers to a relationship with a key significant other in the person’s life who responds differently than the traumatizing agent. Over time, the traumatized person develops – after much testing – enough trust in the constancy and accepting, respectful response by the important other to their psychological needs that they feel safe in exposing their deepest feelings. When emotional situations similar to childhood occur, they can now be processed in a new, healthier way. This experience helps repair the damage produced by the traumas of the past. It can help the stunted personality become unstuck, grow and mature.
The power in corrective emotional experience is not found in a single magical event. One such moment is never enough. It is the relationship that enables multiple such moments to happen that allows the development of trust.
While long – term psychotherapy is an example of a corrective emotional experience, a consistently empathic relationship with a significant person in a survivor’s life can also be a powerful agent of change. This will never be easy on the significant other in the relationship, who will – over and over – inevitably bear the brunt of the anger and mistrust directed at them by the traumatized person.
However, through such a relationship and experiences, it is possible to overcome the results of serious childhood trauma – perhaps not completely, but enough so that a life that accepts love and rejoices in it becomes possible.
Dr Treisman talks about the importance of forging good relationships and effective society-wide systems when it comes to understanding and healing trauma. Dr Karen Treisman, a Clinical Psychologist, has worked across the globe with groups ranging from adopted children to former child soldiers to survivors of the Rwandan Genocide.