CoMpleX TrauMa

What is trauma?

Trauma is an experience that happens too soon, too much, or too fast for us to handle, or when there was an absence of what should have been provided. As a result, our systems are overwhelmed and we can’t find resolution. Trauma is very common!

We may experience trauma because of having had a challenging experience, or because we’ve grown up in a challenging environment. Trauma can affect multiple generations in a family or culture. We talk about complex trauma when we’ve experienced abuse or neglect usually throughout our childhood.  

Complex trauma is relational trauma, meaning it results through our relationships more so than events. Sometimes it’s the ‘little t’s traumas’, the small ongoing things that happened to us and make it less visible than the ‘big T traumas’ such as overwhelming or life threatening events.

Read more about Complex trauma in my blog

How do I know if I’m experiencing trauma symptoms?

Working with complex trauma may unfold when people struggle with specific issues such as addiction, anxiety, depression, chronic shame and low self-esteem and it turns out that these symptoms can be traced back to unresolved childhood experiences. This often occurs in my work with people. We work on addictions and often our addictive behaviours trace back to childhood experiences. Trauma is a common human experience!

Trauma can affect us in many different ways, including physically, emotionally, mentally.
You may be experiencing symptoms such as:
• Difficulty sleeping.
• Feeling on edge, hypervigilant, unable to relax and be at ease.
• Uncomfortable around people.
• Struggling with nightmares or flashbacks.
• Frequently feeling emotionally distressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.
• Struggling with chronic body tension, digestive issues or similar physical ailments.
• Recurring intrusive and unwanted memories.  
• The desire to withdraw from life and from others, never feeling quite safe in the world.
• Difficulty regulating our emotions.
• Needing to find unresourceful ways (such as addictions) to cope with emotions.
• Feelings of chronic shame, worthlessness and low self-esteem.  
• Difficulty sustaining healthy relationships or unable to feel close to others.
• A sense of numbness, shut down-ness, or of not being connected to our body. 

Healing from complex trauma

Everyone’s journey to healing is different…

Trauma recovery is very individual depending on a person’s experience. Everyone has unique life experiences and also unique preferences so there is no one size fits all approach.

Read my blog about my personal trauma recovery journey as only one illustration of what a recovery journey might entail.

Recovery is possible...

Despite having had a troublesome past or seemingly intractable present-day challenges, every person can thrive and get better than well! 

Growth and transformation is within everyone’s reach. There have been many studies on post-traumatic growth and resilience, which show that people can and do experience amazing recovery from trauma and often experience a sense of resilience, meaning, strength and motivation growing out of their journey... But it can be a long journey for many of us. 

Compassion, trust, safety and no judgment…

As a therapist, working in a trauma-informed way means that I approach working with you not from the perspective of ‘what’s wrong with you’ but rather, ‘what happened to you?'. The symptoms we have usually are adaptive strategies that we have adopted to survive! 

Being trauma-informed also means that I seek to provide you with a safe, trusting relationship, offer choices and work with you in a collaborative and empowering way. It’s about you and what you need and working in a compassionate, non-judgmental and respectful way.  

Learning new skills…

It’s important to equip you with skills and resources to feel safer in the body and support yourself emotionally and soothe and calm your nervous system.

Trauma recovery works best when we work both from the ‘bottom up’, meaning that we pay attention to body sensations and the body’s messages, as well as from the ‘top down’, which refers to cognitive, emotional and behavioural aspects.   

It’s also important to help you find activities that you enjoy and can pursue because new and positive experiences change the brain and heal old, challenging experiences. Same with relationships. Building healthy and safe relationships in the present heals the relational trauma from the past.  

"It's Not uNusual to ExpeRience a sense of Resilience, Meaning, stRength and Motivation on your jouRney to RecoveRy."

Vanessa Kredler

Internal Family Systems (IFS)

My favourite modality for working with complex trauma is Internal Family Systems and I’ve had some 
wonderful results in my own personal therapy with IFS.
IFS is an evidence-based psychotherapy modality developed by family therapist Schwartz in the 1980s. 

Based on systems theory, IFS holds that the mind in its natural and healthy state is a multiple entity composed of many parts that operate as an inner family system. 

These parts possess a full range of emotions, thoughts, sensations and beliefs and under ideal circumstances grow into complementary roles as a person develops. 

Like many spiritual traditions, IFS also says that everyone has a central core, the Self, which is not a part. It’s more like a wise and centred entity, a Higher Self. 

When we have experienced challenges in life, our parts often take on extreme protective roles. In other forms of therapy, we might call these defense mechanisms. 

Such protective strategies can lead to unwanted outcomes, which IFS sees as well-meaning attempts at restoring internal balance rather than pathology. 
Parts are categorised as exiles and protectors. Exiles are young parts that have experienced trauma and hurt and carry overwhelming feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and sensations called burdens. 

Protectors banish these young parts out of awareness to protect the system from unbearable emotional pain. Protectors embody either the role of managers or firefighters. 

Managers are proactive and help the client to function in daily life through roles such as working hard, pleasing people, perfectionism, and inner criticism.

Firefighters are reactive and focus on immediately suppressing any emotional pain of exiles through extreme strategies such as addictions, rage, self-harm, or suicide. 

The goal of IFS therapy is to heal and integrate protective and exiled parts to enable Self-leadership of the internal system. 

Rather than eliminating parts, IFS seeks to relieve them of their extreme roles so that their original talents and strengths can unfold in the system. 

Acknowledgement of Country
I recognise the history, culture, diversity and value of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and acknowledge their Elders past and present.

I acknowledge that sovereignty has never been ceded, and support reconciliation, justice and the recognition of the ongoing living culture of all First Nations people by providing welcoming and culturally informed services. 

Embracing inclusivity and diversity,  I also support a culture of inclusion, respect, choice, voice and diversity and am committed to supporting all people to be mentally well and engaged in their communities.