Cultivating healing: Navigating parental trauma with therapy

Navigating the intricacies of familial relationships can often be a challenging journey, particularly for those who have experienced trauma in their upbringing. As a therapist, I've been working with individuals grappling with the complexities of their relationships with their parents. It's a common phenomenon in therapy to encounter clusters of clients facing similar issues, although the reasons behind this trend remain somewhat elusive.


Over my years as a therapist, I've had the privilege of assisting individuals with various forms of trauma, including what is commonly known as the ten adverse childhood experiences: physical, sexual, and overt emotional abuse, overt emotional and physical neglect, living with a family member with mental health or substance use disorders, witnessing domestic violence, the sudden separation from a loved one, poverty, racism and discrimination, and violence in the community. 

More recently, I have been working with more clients who have experienced more covert forms of trauma. There's been an uptick in literature and media discussions around these subtler forms of behaviour or parenting styles. It's human nature to encounter a concept, resonate with it, and seek further understanding, making it challenging to dismiss newfound knowledge.

Therapeutic practice is an ongoing learning process. While formal education provides a foundation in therapeutic techniques, effective listening, human development, and behaviour, it cannot fully prepare anyone for the diverse range of individuals who seek therapy.

The role of a therapist isn't necessarily to fully understand each client's experiences, but rather to facilitate their journey towards self-discovery and problem-solving through attentive listening and gentle guidance. The client is the expert on their own life, and therapy serves as a platform for exploring the implications of their choices, fostering personal autonomy, and enhancing decision-making skills. Crucially, the therapy space must be a sanctuary where clients feel safe to explore their thoughts and emotions.

In my experience working with individuals who have endured behaviours such as gaslighting, covert narcissism, or codependency in their upbringing, I've observed the growing importance of seeking out therapists knowledgeable about these dynamics. The consequences of consulting a therapist or even a friend unfamiliar with these patterns can be detrimental, as evidenced by some disheartening quotes shared by clients:

Feedback from therapists or friends:

  • "You're not solely a victim, are you? There's a combative aspect to your demeanour."
  • "Labelling behaviour as 'passive-aggressive' is a serious accusation. Let's refrain from using such terms."
  • "It's not a deliberate action; they're unaware of their behaviour. It stems from their own insecurities. Consider their internal struggles."

Client reflections:

  • "I felt compelled to justify myself within the context of my abusive marriage."
  • "I felt blamed."
  • "I felt silenced and invalidated, as if I had no right to be angry, and should instead feel pity for them and endure the situation."
  • “They were the only person who didn’t expect me to negate my feelings and sacrifice myself by continuing a relationship with them – ‘because they are family’”.

The abuse I address here often masquerades as affection, leaving the victim conditioned to perceive it as such. Enmeshed relationships exemplify this dynamic, characterised by blurred boundaries, disproportionate reliance on children for emotional support, and a lack of emotional independence for the child. These situations are particularly challenging for the child, who may be told by peers, that such relationships represent the epitome of parental love. Consequently, the victim may internalise self-doubt, question their emotions, and engage in self-punishment for their perceived "negative" thoughts.

In navigating the complexities of healing from childhood trauma, it's imperative to listen to your own inner voice, acknowledging its validity and worth. Often, a significant indicator of childhood trauma is the persistent effort to persuade those who inflict pain to change their behaviour.

Therapy serves as a beacon of understanding and healing, without blame. It's a sanctuary where you can explore your experiences, cultivate self-compassion, and embark on a journey toward reclaiming your autonomy and well-being. By honouring and trusting in your inner wisdom, you can pave the way for profound transformation and genuine healing.

Additionally, it's important to recognise that hypnotherapy, often perceived solely as a therapy for behaviour modification, holds significant potential as a form of talking therapy for trauma survivors. Contrary to common misconceptions, hypnotherapy can offer profound benefits in trauma recovery. As articulated by Bessel Van Der Kolk in his work, "The Body Keeps the Score," hypnosis enables the brain to observe traumatic memories without succumbing to overwhelming emotions.

When conducted by a trauma-informed therapist, hypnotherapy becomes a powerful tool for navigating and processing traumatic experiences, fostering resilience, and facilitating healing. Of significant importance, however, is finding a therapist trained in trauma-informed approaches to maximise the efficacy of hypnotherapy in your trauma recovery journey.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Farnham GU9 & GU10
Written by Juliet Hollingsworth, MSc
Farnham GU9 & GU10

Juliet is a trauma-informed therapist. Her passion is helping people reach their potential through a combination of hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and transpersonal psychology.

Juliet works online and face-to-face with clients across the world. (DHP Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy. MSc Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal psychology.)

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