How do some traumatic experiences establish deep beliefs and ideas?

How do some traumatic experiences establish deep beliefs and ideas?

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Disclaimer - My terminology might be wrong.

How do some memorable experiences that are traumatic or tough, make the brain form some values. Is there a way to establish core values so strongly ourselves through any manual methods? (without needing to go through traumatic experiences)

Childhood experiences have a greater impact than events later on. It is cognitive structure forming time, with a still strong biological background. Also, the child might see itself as vulnerable, thus willing to form bonds with any protective thing that might appear (Giller, 1999):

Chronic early trauma - starting when the individual's personality is forming - shapes a child's (and later adult's) perceptions and beliefs about everything.

Severe trauma can have a major impact on the course of life. Childhood trauma can cause the disruption of basic developmental tasks. The developmental tasks being learned at the time the trauma happens can help determine what the impact will be.

Children can recover to leading normal lives after traumatic events, but not all of them. It gets worst if there are continuous traumatic events (Giller, 1999):

Although most return to baseline functioning, a substantial minority of children develop severe acute or ongoing psychological symptoms (including PTSD symptoms) that bother them, interfere with their daily functioning, and warrant clinical attention. Some of these reactions can be quite severe and chronic.

We go with defense mechanisms to protect ourselves. They might get repressed in our memories but never really fade-out. It is not consensual that it is OK to break down these defenses and make people revive those traumatic experiences. Thus, i do believe you are in a psychodynamic therapy or others. And no, it is not the only way to "reprogram" the brain. There is also cognitive , behavioral, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which are problem focused, making you relearn the correct way to think/behave in problematic contexts.

CBT for trauma includes: learning how to cope with anxiety and negative thoughts, managing anger, preparing for stress reactions, handling future trauma symptoms, addressing urges to 'self-soothe' with alcohol or drugs and communicating and relating effectively with people (National Centre for PTSD, 2008). The CBT model when used with survivors of child abuse usually focuses on the 'here and now' rather than revisiting the trauma itself (Henderson, 2006).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques have been shown to be effective in treating children and adolescents who have persistent trauma reactions. CBT has been demonstrated to reduce serious trauma reactions, such as PTSD, other anxiety and depressive symptoms, and behavioral problems. Most evidence-based, trauma-focused treatments include opportunities for the child to review the trauma in a safe, secure environment under the guidance of a specially trained mental health professional. CBT and other trauma-focused techniques can help children with cognitive distortions related to the trauma, such as self-blame, develop more adaptive understanding and perceptions of the trauma.

I'd hint that in a context which triggers some childhood trauma (even if it is in a deep layered reasoning), it still keeps that memory being fed, forbidding its physical memory-disposal. Learning the correct reasoning will make these memories fade away eventually.

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I have been hurt by so many people in my life and sometimes when I think back on it I think that a large part of this comes form placing too much faith in one person and then them not living up to the super high expectations that I have placed on them.

I know that much of this is not their fault. I would not feel so let down if I had the confidence to place all that trust in myself and not trying to leave it up to someone else. I am working on all of that but I want to be able to depend in others and not be so let down all the time, but maybe I can’t have that until I can fully find that in myself.

I hope you can find a true sense of self esteem and keep working on your ‘self’. I know what you mean being able to feel validated by another would be nice, but we all are individuals with our own stuff, knowing this is scary but sometimes knowing this is a start. Goodluck


We are unfortunately living in a place where too many times we hope in selfish people, often they may not be deliberately trying to hurt you but in pursuit of there own basic need they become insular and therefore hurtful. my concern was your comment on having too high a standard for people to meet, that is like saying we should scrap gold because we can’t find an adequate touchstone to measure it’s its the touchstone that is faulty not the gold. we often feel our standard is out of reach when in fact we are no longer the norm and we find ourselves in a world where only the brave few can asail the bar we set. But that’s not to say we won’t meet a record breaker So do not lower the bar because one day that record breaker will bring home the gold x


This is the classic example of how the things that happen in your life when you are younger can carry over and continue to hurt you when you are an adult. You may not even realize that this is where this pain comes from, but for most of us I think that this would be the clear beginning of that loss of trust and those feelings of pain and complications that come from that.


My sister had an affair with my boyfriend of 3 yrs at the time while I was in the hospital. Then 10 yrs later my next bf had an affair with my best friend all the while knowing what happened to me before. It threw me into a major depression both times. I almost commited suicide the first time. How does a person regain trust after that.


Who would be most hurt if you were gone?

Your pain is totally valid. I don’t know how to gain trust after that — I really don’t… The burden is that those of us with trust issues who keep being hurt, need to trust again in order to fully live life… Can I ask you a question – How many people in your life have not perpetually screwed you over? Maybe you can think about people in your life you can trust. And just really look at a romantic partner’s behavior and how assuring they are of you, after you find time to open up. In your case, you’ve been especially wounded, so I recommend therapy, and extreme self gentleness. Do you pray? Go to a quiet place and pray to God or your Higher Powers about this. A response may come in the form of a gust of wind, a ray of sunshine, a strange and unfathomable response you receive through your emotions, something akin to a shudder – a voice…. If you experience your mind yakking away, I would ignore that if I were you! Or, you may get no answer… which is an answer… it’s the God’s saying: “In order to answer this, we need to show you something in your daily life, my child. We love you.” and then you would need to pay attention to and read the situations life presents to you. I really respect your story, and I’m deeply feeling for you. I’m sorry that people have hurt you so bad – that’s just terrible.


You are obviously a spiritual person and I commend your faith, on the first general comment, “how do those who have been hurt trust again” My immediate response would be to say it’s about faith. Faith in . exactly what is wrong? trusting? or failing to be trustworthy? if you go down the road of feeling in the wrong for trusting, how do you get back? However, if you believe in the good of human kindness then you must see that is who you are and your heart is so true and it trusted one that wasn’t, So we have to trust in our pure intent and except those we meet may not be the same, but that shouldn’t change the standards we set ourselves.

re- the second part, you say in effect, you need to be on the lookout for signs of affirmation from God, in a sense be open to the influences around you. I ask you to consider: why does God refer to himself as a father? was your father so vague in his council or his affirming his love? In most cases the answer would be no, my father was clear, I didn’t need to look for signs of unconditional love it was just obvious. If god was a “father” to all mankind wouldn’t he who is much more than a mortal man make his own love obvious? How then? if it is common knowledge that God knows our question before ever we ask, our heart before it even feels it, then surely it stands to reason he can put a thought in our head. prayer isn’t just for praise its a two-way conversation, my father would not expect me to do all the talking, why would the heavenly father. I in no way criticize your comments or your belief, just something to consider.

I’ve learned over the years, you get what you expect! If you expect bad in your relationships, you will get bad! If you expect good, that’s what you’ll receive. I think most times those most of us who trust issues struggle with negativity and lack the ability to be positive!

This I do not believe. ..
A child that is raped or molested does not have any positive or negative perceptions of a person that does such an act especially if it is a stranger.
They do not expect or deserve any of that.

Susan S

My husband and myself have been married 32 years, we both had our wild years and got through them. I feel like he is doing something now, but he won’t admit it. I would be crushed .

I don’t agree with this either. very non sympathetic and easier said than done. It’s more complicated for others than just positive thinking.

WOW! whole heartedly disagree. that’s laying blame and not helpful at all. When people are hurt it’s not because they were asking for it because they are negative. external situations happen in life that have a causal effect and effect a person’s inner world. Their expectations, their self-worth and feeling left with anger when a person violates their values. This statement implies guilt and suggests an individual should feel guilty and responsible for external factors that they had no control over.


I’m sorry I try to be a positive person, and I have known my share of maltreatment, but what a lazy ignorant comment..just the very first few words “if you expect bad, you get bad” So please educate me on one aspect: where exactly does expecting bad start in a human life? maybe 1 out of a thousand are born expecting bad? or we learn to expect it as kids? teens? Adults? No human being deliberately expects a bad relationship..No we become protective of our hearts because bad has happened, thus we are more cautious and hence why this blog exists.


I’m 29 lost my parents at 19 6 months between then dad taking his own life n me finding him leaving me with no family and eventually homeless with no family issues from that have made it near impossible to fully trust in relationships I enter..always thinking I will be left alone again..been cheated in before which doesn’t help either…tryd therapy but didn’t do much…how do u tryst again?


I wish I knew n could tell you that we can grow to trust others again. I’m sorry for all your loss n pain. I gave up on love a while back, cannot trust what ppl say, suspicious of their agenda as I’ve been used n abused all my 40 years. I’m a recovering addict, have C-PTSD, depression…finding life getting harder with age, ie socially backward now…suicidal thoughts most days, feel ungrateful n shameful for still bein alive, diagnosed with cancer just before my 40th bday last October. I hope there’s a way for us. I’m really struggling to find hope. I have much intellectual curiosity about trauma etc, yet lack the self-belief or -love to want to try.

The Team

Thank you for your comment, Michelle. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at

Warm regards,
The Team

The best I can give u is to trust in Jesus. Search the scriptures. Start with Psalms 23 and Proverbs. I’ve been through so much and have even doubted at times. He is all I leant on, he got me through. I know a lot of people say stuff like this, but I’m dead honest.


That’s the most ridiculous thing to tell someone who is suffering. Reading scriptures is obviously not going to help someone that holds no religious beliefs. Stick to medicine and science people.

Please don’t feel like you have no value, We don’t know each other personally, so I couldn’t have an agenda. I really know how you feel, you have had so much go wrong in your life to the point it’s expected. I know if you follow through by going to the website you were given,you are going to find someone who understands, I know how your feelings inside, not being able to really know that someone is really listening makes us feel unloved, not wanted, and we give up. No, I am not a therapists, but I do know there aresome people that don’t want to listen to us, who think. she has finally gone off the deep end, there are a lot of self sinnered people walking the face of this earth, and some of them don’t want to be weighed down with a nother persons issues, but let something happen to them, and it’s a major catastrophic episode BUT DEEP IN MY HEART I KNOW THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO WANT TO HELP US AND WHO REALLY CARE. BUT, THEY WANT FORCE US TO CHANGE OUR LIVES WE HAVE TO REALLY WANT IT, YOU ARE ALREADY TAKING THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP AND THAT IS REACHING OUT AND SHARING HOW YOU FEEL.
you need someone to listen and that needs to be a professional, who can help you by giving you the tools to get back on your feet, so nobody will ever be able to make you feel like you are feeling now You are valuable. PLEASE LET ME KNOW HOW YOU ARE DOING.


Hang in Michelle! Just the fact that your a human being is enough to forge onward. It can really stink the pain you have. I have a lot too. I try to find things I can do to feel good about…even if I move an ant out of
ways harm. Or visit someone who can’t get out..just saying xo


Wow, you have had your heart handed to you on a platter. Your parent dying is life…your father taking his own life was selfish but he must have been truly distraught. He made a choice to jump, so to speak and either did not think what his loss could do to you. You have hope or you wouldn’t be here asking “How?”. Take that hope and find someone that needs love as much or more than you do. Give what you need. That will build your bank…so to speak. Find a puppy, child, homeless person, shy person etc….reach out. Pray for guidance and peace. I will keep you in my prayers and thoughts – I’m healing as well but not from the depths that you’ve been handed. Reach out and believe and I will be doing the same.

My father didn’t want me, my mom and grandma raised me. I didn’t make friends very easily. This left me feeling that I am not good enough for anyone. I have a boyfriend and I do love him very much and I know deep down that he will not cheat on me. But I get jealous of every one he spends time with, even of our families. I get jealous when he chats with other women. I live in constant fear that he will meet someone better than me and leave me. He is such a good person but my issues is destroying our relationship. I tend not to trust men but “over trust” women. I understand where this comes from but my boyfriend doesn’t. He says I either trust him or don’t and that I can’t blame my past for how I am now.

Hey there,
I just wanted to put it out there that I completely resonate with what you said and I am curious to see how your relationship is now (as it has been two years) Have you had any success moving through those tough emotions?


Oh my…you just described my personal issue! Because of a terrible relationship with my father and elder brother, I subconsciously don’t trust men and over trust women. It affects not only my relationships but also work, I even stopped accepting job offers if my boss-to-be is a male, because I already know how uncomfortable I feel when reporting to a male boss and how it creates a weird hostile dynamic between us. Not to mention that I’m 31 and have been ruining all my relationships because I always suspect/expect the worst (a feeling which I can’t control because it is driven by my subconscious) and tend to break the relationship before I get betrayed/fooled/hurt. Then, a few months later I look back and realise how stupid I was and that no one wanted or planned to hurt/leave me…

I’ve had trust issues which are now beginning to make relationships and friendships difficult. I was raped when I was 18 in Australia. My friend who I was travelling with at the time immediately met a boyfriend and wanted to stay put, leaving me to travel alone – this was when I was raped in a backpackers. I never told anyone until a few years ago (I am now 25). Since then I have been attracted to emotionally unavailable men who do not want to settle down and commit and find myself getting more hurt. I find it hard to let people get close to me and get to know the real me. The real me is really vulnerable, hurt and sad, but I don’t want anyone to see her. I’ve had boughts of depression each year since it happened and have been getting help. This year things have been looking up but I do not see myself ever being able to trust someone properly enough to be the real me.

See a therapist and talk about all of this. You obviously recognize that you have trust issues, and you recognize that your past traumatic experience has affected you in a terrible way. Talking about this with a professional will allow you to open up those wounds, and let them heal the right way. It will allow you to learn how to trust and bond with another. It will teach you to let go of what happened in the past, and empower yourself.

Michelle H.

How would I gain trust in boyfriend if hes cheated twice in less than 1.5 years, then given me more if a reason to not trust him by deleting over 40 cell phone calls in less than a months time to a so called client, and always having an excuse why I cant see his cell phone bill. And he gets mad when I say I dont trust him. Any ideas.

If he is going out of his way to HIDE something from you, then it is more than likely because he is doing something he shouldn’t be doing, right? If it has been just 1.5 years and he has already been unfaithful twice, there is absolutely no chance he will ever remain faithful. It is just a matter of time before he finds the next girl to cheat with. Also, honestly, if you even have to check his cell phone bill, then why are you with this guy? He might beg and cry to stay with you, but can you honestly ever see yourself marrying and having children with this guy? Do you see yourself taking care of your children while he is off doing God knows what? Michelle, staying with him only compromises YOU, your self worth, and not to mention your happiness. Why date someone like that, if the future he offers you is so damn shitty, and that is all he will ever offer you. Learn to love yourself MORE than you love this guy.


I am wondering if you have any suggestions as to types of therapy specifically suited to deal with trust issues? Or would therapy be more successful based on what the patient prefers?

I tried going to therapy but didn’t realize my underlying issue is a complete lack of trust–so I quit therapy, because I felt I couldn’t trust the therapist (her behavior gave me reasons not to).

I’ve lived like this for 30+ years and have developed excellent coping strategies to avoid trusting anyone and they feel perfectly logical, warranted and necessary. But at the same time I realize completely that they are the #1 obstacle to me living a fulfilling life. In fact I have zero support (no close friends, alienated from family, no relationship with coworkers) because I simply cannot trust anyone at all.

What’s the best approach in this situation, please?


My last therapist was an AA quack and instead of teaching me coping skills and rebuilding trust she would throw religious and AA rhetoric at me. I have since learned this person was unprofessional and unethical. However. my new psychologist is respecting my need to leave religion and AA out of my therapy. It’s working!


I’ve been with my boyfriend for a little over a year now and he’s older than me by 4 years. He doesn’t trust me at all ever since an incident happened where I was speaking to him on the phone and ignored him for a guy I was attracted to. Ever since this incident he’s been keeping a close eye on me and it’s caused me to lie to him constantly, I could say I’m going to the park but really I went to the mall, and things like that. I get distracted here and their and he’s hated the fact that I don’t listen to him. I also accidentally checked another guy out in front of him. I also don’t listen to his instructions he could ask me to do something his way and I go ahead and do it my way instead and he hates that. I don’t mean to do harm to him at all I do care for him and I want to gain his trust back and lately it’s feeling like it’s impossible. He talks about his ex constantly about how much she appreciated him and listened to him and respected him and I never talk about my ex like that with him. I’ve been trying so hard to change and listen and do things he’s asked me to do but it’s like no matter what he still talks about the past. It’s been so hard that if I miss one phone call he won’t talk to me for two days. What can I do here to gain his trust back. I wish I could go back through time so bad and erase those last two incidents. I never meant to hurt him so bad. Sometimes I feel like I’m still growing I don’t know much about serious relationships and this is my first. But I do know that this is someone I want to be with and I want to work hard to get through anything with him.

Tania, I’m not a therapist or anything, I just am told a lot that I give good, straightforward advice. So I’ll cut to the chase.

You either need to sit down with your boyfriend and tell him all of this or you need to break up with him. Possibly even both depending on how the conversation goes. Hopefully for you, since I can tell you do care about him, it won’t go poorly. This is just my opinion from what you’ve said on here so there are probably other factors going into this but I felt the need to say something. I, personally, have very low tolerance for any sort of ridiculous jealousy though, most of the stable couples I know don’t have any jealousy going on in their relationships and my happiest/healthiest ones never had this issue.

Just sit him down and calmly tell him you want his trust back and that you never meant to hurt him but now he’s hurting you with all of his comments about his ex. That you care about him a lot and are willing to work at this but he needs to realize that he doesn’t have anything to worry about because you’re choosing him. And it’s getting to the point where you feel as if you have to lie to him just so he won’t freak out (which is actually really really bad, you might want to look at a domestic abuse screening test – i like the one on the red flag campaign’s website). That he needs to work on it too.

To be honest, I’m more worried that you may possibly be in an unsafe situation, but like I said, I can only tell from what you’ve said. But to me, these are all big red flags and I’ve seen them before with a friend’s ex who eventually became abusive.

So please, please, please be careful and it really might not be worth dating him. It’s your first serious relationship and there will be others who may be better for you. So that’s my advice but I’m hoping for your sake that he’s just being petulant and not potentially abusive. Stay safe and good luck.


I have recently seperated from my partner of 4 years due to my trust issues she is the best thing thats ever happened to me and we are both working together to try and make things work i never used to have trust issues until my last partners broke my heart by cheating and the woman i am speaking about was married in a very aggresive relationship and we got together while she was still with her husband my last partner i was with for 7 years and thought she was the 1 until 1 day she came home and sat me down and told me there was some1 else i was gutted and could not believe it i later found out she had been seeing this other person for over a year my partner b4 her i was with for 2 years 3 months b4 we split she found out she was pregnant only for me to find out it was sm1 elses !! My heart and soul is with the lady i have just split up with we have a 21 month old daughter and she is the most amazing little girl in the world as for the lady she is 1 in a million ive never met any1 like her nor have i ever felt like i do wen im around her she is the air i breath but i still feel like im just waiting for things to go wrong when she goes out with friends i cause arguments and accuse her of doing things with other men i try my best not to say anything but i cant stop and she has taken it for so long she cant cope and i am totally heartbroken that i have made her feel this way but the things that have happened and how we got together i find it hard to trust any1 she has told me she loves me and she wants to make things work and i want to aswel ide do anything to get my life bk with the woman i love i want to say ive never hit her or anything like that this is all in my head and i need help so please can any1 help me save my relationship its all i have and i want to do everything i can to fix it thank you

Hey everyone. Let me start from the beginning…my first bf ever was my sophomore year in high school he was also my first intimate relationship. After about a year I find out he has been sleeping with my older sister (4 years older, he was my age) the whole relationship. I was in denial first but eventually I became attracted to someone else which gave me the courage to leave him. It’s now 9 years later and I have been with a guy who for 2.5 years now and just 3.5 months ago he finally confessed he cheated for in the beginning of our relationship (in the first 2 months of our relationship ) I have forgave him for it and have been trying to move on but I have been having super bad trust issues ever since. I had a feeling that he did cheat in the beginning but never had facts. I believe my trust issues originally come from that first guy and then recently returned since I found out I was cheated on again. I don’t know what to do..the guy I am with now has asked me to marry him and I accepted but we are still having huge arguments over me not trusting him. Will this feeling ever go away. I don’t really know what to do anymore. Honestly, I know he isn’t cheating now…weven live together. ..he doesn’t hide his phone and he knows and saw how bad it hurt me before. Is it just me. How can I learn to trust again??


I’ve been with my boyfriend for 2+ years and recently found out that he had been talking to his ex, via email, text and calls last year, behind my back. We are happy with each other, but have issues. I found that out when I went home for a little bit, I went about it wrong and read his emails and found them. During that time we weren’t emotionally connecting like we should’ve and that’s why he did it. He said he just wanted to feel like he mattered to someone. Anyways, it’s been 5 months since I’ve found out and it’s still so hard to forget even though I forgive him. I always feel like he’s cheating and I constantly accuse him even though he’s been nothing, but open and honest with me. He’s changed so much and he knows what he did was wrong and how much it hurt me, but as much as I try, I can’t shake it sometimes. It’s killing me inside. I try so hard to not fixate and to not feel that way, but I can’t help it sometimes. He says that it’s getting to the point where I’m pushing him away and where he’s starting not to care and I don’t want that. I know that not letting go is what’s hurting our relationship. I really do, but what can I do? Would therapy help? He’s not ready to be without me and not ready to walk away and neither am I. I can’t keep doing this. Help!


I feel the same way you do Kaileigh… and I think it will soon send me insane…my husband has never cheated on me physically but I believe someone can cheat on you emotionally too…by confiding in another of the opposite sex when you’re in a relationship of your own. sometimes I feel I love him way toou have and I suffocate him with it that he needs to just get away from me. I always have these doubts at the back if my mind that I am not beautiful enough or good enough for him to want to stay with me and I tend to voice those thoughts. Unfortunately it is ruining our relationship cause I just cannot be at peace not trusting him 100%.
I cannot give any advice but would really love to get help too…I don’t want to lose my husband.

I think I know how both of you ladies feel! Although I don’t have a husband that has been emotionally unfaithful, I do have major trust issues from my past and from issues to do with mine & my husbands relationship (read my post from yesterday!) And even though there has not been infidelity in my marriage, it doesn’t stop me from thinking it could happen! Because it has happened to me in the past.
I have never, in over 14years, been able to trust my husband when he is partying and I’m not there to ‘watch over him’!! Lame, I know! I’m the first to admit that!!
I do think the only way to work on this is by admitting your problem and seeking therapy. I have been to therapy in the past & it’s something I will seek out in the very near future again! Getting some outside support, I think, is necessary and involving your husband isn’t a bad idea either, if he’s up for it. The other and actually more important idea would be to trust in the Lord’s will for your life. By turning to the bible and other Christ followers for support, I believe tremendous growth can endure. Good luck ladies! May the Lord bless you with the freedom of full trust!



I have just recently decided not to trust anyone any more. I have had that many friends lie, use or forget to invite me to events I just can’t go there anymore. I have never really trusted anyone in my family because it was a large one where you were fed and clothed but no love or protection was really given and the bully’s of the family were allows to do what they liked. My parents literally only had eyes for each other and those children that made them look good. I recently found out my mother corraberted a lie my sister, her favourite, to keep her happy, with my other siblings. She didn’t think I would find out. My father either shoots the messenger if you try to stick up for yourself or totally supports my mother without question. I’ve cut them off and have very little contact because I feel like such a fool thinking that telling the truth and trying to do,the right thing including trying to find a middle path would work. I suddenly realised I was the only one trying. I’ve been to therapy, I’ve tried to undo and learn new ideas and behaviours etc. But so much damage has been done that I have given up trusting anyone anymore. I would much rather be on my own and limiting contact with others than trust again. I don’t know how to do it and I don’t know how to get through it so it’s better this way.

I am so frustrated with trust issues right now. I don’t know how to help my boyfriend get over them. He claims they have come from an ex that he had been with for two years. He said she used him, lied to him, and things got violent at times. I literally went through the same experience from someone else but I have no trust issues whatsoever. I don’t honestly believe he would hurt me and it makes me upset that he thinks I would hurt him. I don’t know how to keep having a relationship when there is no trust coming from one side.


I was in a really bad relationship for over 4 years, I was cheated (with friends and family member), verbally abused, used and lied to as a result I can’t trust anyone. I don’t have a single friend not even when trying so hard. I’m in a new relationship with someone I really like but as much as I tried to be open and communicate I can’t seem to avoid having problems because I don’t trust him. He lied to me before and that burst out my insecurities, checking his phone and even asking him not to talk to any other girl because that’s the only way I feel in peace. I understand is not healthy and I would like to fix this issue. What is the best option for me?

I grew up with an alcoholic father that hid his addiction (or tried to!) and when confronted, either lied about drinking or would promise to change. It wasn’t until recently he actually admitted he had a problem and has started counselling. After a crazy binge episode where my sis & I had to call an ambulance for him – our mom was out of town! (I’m 34 & never knew life without a closet alcoholic dad!)

My only ‘real’ boyfriend in my teens cheated on me numerous times over a 3 year span. He would also break up with me then we would get back together – always at his convenience.

When I met my husband he was into very occasional cocaine use, which he knew I was not ok with, and slowly stopped using (maybe 5 times in an 11year span) It has now been 3.5years since he’s last used.
We have been together for 14.5 years, married 10.5 of those years and have 3 cutie children. My husband really is a family man, wonderful husband & father. But I do have a very hard time trusting him. My gut aches and full on anxiety kicks in at the thought of him being out in a party scene with out me. He has given me a couple reasons not to trust him but nothing infidelity wise and over 3 years since his last cocaine use. Things like, not being home on time for an appointment, smoking cigarettes at work when he has said he wasn’t going to smoke anymore or ‘one’ drink turning into an all nighter. He has a conscience and has always come clean with me when he’s made mistakes. My problem is I wish I could be cool with him saying he’s going out for a few drinks with friends, but I’m not…ever!! I can never sleep when he’s out drinking and have full on anxiety attacks when he doesn’t come home at a reasonable hour! My mind always sways between he’s using cocaine, cheating on me or just his well being. Help.

Hello, I have read what you all have written, and I’m alone like a lot of you are, my story is your story, I thought nobody could ever understand or know how I feel. I have never been in this place where I am now. I know I am the only one that can pick myself up and try to make sense of how I got here, and I know that I have to put my pride in check, and ask for help. I don’t drink, or do drugs, but yet I still beat myself up, and blame myself for everything, and I worry about every thing. I realize by reading what some of you have written , that we are all here because we have lost trust and emotions by physical and/ or emotional abuse, and yes I have experienced all of it, but knowing that I’m not alone and others have these same feelings,made me realize tonight that what I’m feeling is real,and each and everyone of you are hurting deeply. like me.So I want you to know that what I’m writing comes from my heart, if someone walked up to me right now and said I can give you three wishes right now, any wish for anything. wealth, a long life etc, etc. MY first wish would be that each and every one of you would be whole again, because I know how you all feel, because I feel some of those same feelings, my second wish would be that I could go back to the day I was put in the orphanage, where everything began, the fear,not feeling wanted, not feeling loved,that feeling of being lost and helpless,and then I would ask for my last wish which would be that my life would be filled with nothing but positive loving nurturing people.and I would always be full of joy and happiness with no problems! But since we all know that’s impossible to have that happen, All I’m wanting now is to learn how I can have all those things and more, to be the person I was born to be, and live the life I was given. I know this isn’t the way living is suppose to be. I need somebody’s guidance who can give me as well as all of you the tools if you will to understand that we all have lost our way, and we have to face the past, not live in it, to be able to be mentally and physically well, then we all can be better friends, mothers girlfriends, wives, but we can’t be better to anyone, until we learn to like and love ourselves and find our true selves. I feel these things deep in my heart, I just don’t know how to make it happen, DON’T GIVE UP, WE ALL STILL HAVE A CHANCE TO LIVE, LAUGH. AND LOVE AGAIN. I AM READY TO ADMITT I NEED HELP AND HOPE ONE DAY WE WILL BE ABLE TO SHARE ON THIS BLOG WITH SOMEONE ELSE THAT WE MADE IT AND THEY CAN TOO. ALL OF YOUR STORIES TOUCHED MY HEART, AND I HOPE MINE HAS TOUCHED YOURS AS WELL.



It is nice (but also very saddening) to see all of the comments here from people just like me. I am recently out of a 2.5 year relationship with a man that I never trusted. The days leading up to the ‘final show’ were horrendous and the night before he left, I left him for several hours (drinking). I didn’t cheat, just wanted him to feel alone like me. He was begging me to come home to him but when I did things were just the same. Argue and fight over the mis-trust issues only to end up with him leaving the next day. I haven’t seen or heard from him since that day (three months today) but I did find out that he actually took the greyhound to be with a woman only days after the split. they were already ‘in love’ and have now gotten married – so I know that he was lying to me the whole time while trying to make me out to be crazy. We had been arguing about my concerns of ‘infidelity’ for months, these arguments eventually turned physical – he would get irate when I would question him. I have been through many of the same things that are written here in my life (at a young age) alcoholic father who would hurt my mother, molestation from friends of my family and/or family members, an alcoholic/abusive husband by the time I was 17….only to be divorced by 18. Into a 25 year relationship with a crack addict (my beautiful daughter’s father)….to doing crack myself and losing everything. I like to tell myself that think that I believe I am a smart, beautiful woman….but I know that is just another lie that I tell myself. When I have tried to go to counseling to work on myself really trying to get to the bottom of the reason for the way I have allowed my life to turn out – all the counselors want to say is get addiction counseling. The reason that I drink every day now is that I want to numb all that has happened to me I really want help and can’t seem to find it. I am always researching and came across this site today. I just want to live a normal life…I am 44 years old and feel like I am stunted. I know there is a way for me to be happy and trusting again but I just don’t know how to get out of my own way. Thanks for letting me share and if anyone has found or has a suggestion for counseling that is not strictly ‘addiction’ counseling, please reply or comment. We all deserve a wonderful life full of trusted family and friends! I hope you all find what you need too.


I can’t believe what I’m reading about everyone that’s going threw the very similar situation as I am. I was married for 18 years this June with a man I truly love. But the worst off it all I was being manipulated, and controlled all these years. And being put down during my childhood, by my family. I had 2 kids one has already left home a year ago cause of all the fighting me my husband was having, after convincing me and my kids he was having affair with a teen which was not true. That is where I lost my trust in him, he would denie so much and then admitting it to many times. It got us into domestic violence and lost our other child for a month or 2. After everything start working out. It quickly got turned again he always had to be right no matter if I had proof or not. While that was happening I start noticing difference in his personality he had to have everything his way. No communication always silence when we had issue about each other or our last child. So I end up suciding myself I end up in hospital for 4-5 days with no calls or visit from him. When I got home we end up arguing again. So I left with my kid. Next day he was gone, and got hold of our child a week after this have happened 3 month ago, and I have put full faith in him and myself that it would work out slowly so I tried myself to communicate with him but no way. So I did give him his space, and now he is trying to put a peace bond on me away from him and my child. Even though I’m not doing a thing to him or our child. I am struggling so much I don’t know what to do. Cause I can not trust or believe anyone anymore.

Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get me. Never again. ..


My best friend too my bf away from me


I was always trust with all my friends and I believe then till my best friend that I was close to her for years but then she took advantage of issues that we had and took him away from me he left me for her and they made roumers abut me but also she took my friends away from me but worse part was I cryed my self to sleep every nigh for month and my sister saw what was happening and she kept saying to me friendships Doest exit but I didn’t believe her and I believe my best friend like Idot
Then I started collge and met new friend but my old best friend went same collge we had figh and lot of issues year went and we sorted out our issues but after that I didt like same cheerful person it was like all happens evaporated from me
Year went and my new were there for me but I had a strong friendship with April and she was all way there for me and I trusted her and I felt like I could tell her everything abut my best friend and what she did .
Months went by and out friends was getting stronger thogh thick and thin
Another year went pass and we were finishing our second year in collge
And our friendship was still strong and tho be honest she was a first person I trust in long long time till not so long a go
I was talking to my old friends sand she revealed that April was with her boyfriend 8 years even when we started collge
But then they broke up they I fell on foot with tears running down my face i felt like the trust that we built shattered in one second other truth.
I asked abut and she said all she it was true and she sorry and she told me that she tell me everything abut their realationship but I wasn’t interested since they I could trust her because she had lies written all over her face and when she looks at me she see a trustful best friend that she can tell any think but in realty it empty vessel were trust used to be.


i am only just realising now that i have got trust issues and each time i think i like somebody to start a relashionship with i ruin it by asking too many questions and accusing them od being dishnest with me,
im now putting this down to my childhood my own mother lied to me until i was 12 i was told my stepfather was my real dad, but when i was 12 i got told i had a real dad, i tryed to find him, and when i finaly did track him down he had died a few weeks before so i never got to meet him, how do u trust anybody when u cant even trust your own mother to be truthful with u ?


I am almost 32 years old, have been through three major relationship cataclysms with each one taking more of my soul than they left with me. The last one was always going to be the last one in my mind before I ever met this woman, and I explained all of that to her before anything even looked like happening between us. In fact I was extremely reluctant at that point but over the course of six months she slowly broke me down and I fell in love with her. Within the day she had let another man into her house and her life and I was out and alone. It has been a year since this occurred and despite my best efforts the apparent threats plaguing every facet of my life are only getting worse. I see a lot of comments here saying that one must love and trust themselves before expecting it of others and that is most certainly true, however I actually hold myself in very high esteem… I make it a central point of my life to be the most compassionate, loving and understanding person I can possibly be and I’m proud of my achievements there. But I never see that in anyone but myself and the alienation created from trying incessantly to be this good person has caused me to withdraw from essentially any and all social interaction, and I only speak to those it’s impossible to avoid for the most part. I don’t understand how striving to be a better person can destroy ones life, but it has happened nonetheless. I can’t lower myself from this because the result would be shame and hatred of myself for turning myself into the very things that I hate, and have hurt me in the past, but continuing on this path it seems can only lead to further alienation. It has been at the point where suicide looks like the only option, alternating to fearful visions of murder in order not to take it out on myself… In short I have no idea where to turn, so I’ll just leave this here and see what happens…


I found this to be helpful, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone seeking the advice of a spiritual leader for anything other than concerns involving superstition.


I already had trust issues, but recently was betrayed by a family member, so now I feel like I am back to square one. I don’t know how to trust people without getting burned, and I know it keeps me from enjoying relationships because I always feel that I must be vigilant and not tell people too much. The person who has betrayed me has twisted things that I said years ago and lied. And this same behavior has been with people who are supposedly Christian.

Zeth L

can i fully trust a friend.

Fif 17

Lovely page, Stick to the very good job. With thanks!.

I’m cutting straight to to chase. Basically I have a boyfriend and he’s had trust issues with me ever since a little incident. We exchanged passwords with eachother for particular social medias and I found something that he sent his ex and I brought it up. Ever since then he’s lost trust with me, not willing to talk to me, little things like not sending love hearts not saying I love you as much and he keeps saying to me that “trust is like a piece of paper you can scrunch it up and when you straighten it out it can never be perfect again” but I don’t know what to do I love him and I don’t want to loose him. I need a way to overcome this because it can cost our relationship.

At age two my mother broke one leg, and the sister broke the other right after. I don’t ever remember any female doing anything for me, ever. My mouth is slightly different than most, it isn’t deformed or anything, so females make the same faces at me wherever I go due to their own insecurities…..41 years worth of torture. I’ve been approached once in my life by a female, and was scared to death. Last night at a bar with live music, many were interested in me it seems, I’m considered cute, but I’m utterly crippled, and when a woman’s intuition fires when they detect something, they never are cool enough to go against it. One sat near me at a table so we were the only two, she was like, it, but again, I have nothing. I’ve never had a girlfriend, or a friend that is female, again, not a one has ever done anything positive for me….I’m what you call up shit creek. Men I tend to overly trust……females I trust not in the slightest bit for anything. I can’t trust females to even be in my presence.


Hello, right now I am having friendship issues. Umm.. a few months ago, my friend, lets call her K had a dream about my friend, J. Friend K told my other friend, friend A about the dream. You see, friend J is like the “role model” in our class, our class president, im vice president. When friend j is choses as a group leader, most of the time she speaks with a really cold voice, a scary voice, most of the time but not every time but she doesnt really talk like that when talking only to us, her friends.Okay, so friend K told friend A. Friend K said that in her dream, friend j was speaking with a cold voice. I dont really remember cuz it was a few months ago but i think friend k said that in the dream friend j said “its all your fault”… ? I dont rwally remember but something about those lines. At that time, there are a few times in class or when3ver we pass friend j, friend j wouldnt talk to us or look a horrible look, like a glare but only sometimes, mostly she smiles. So, after friend k told fri3nd a. Friend A suggested that(here comes the worst part) to confirm the dream, they should give fri3nd j the cold shoulder. I honestly dont know why she thought of that. Me friend J and friend a have been friends for 9 whole years and thats more than half of our lives! So, they did it. Their plan was to do it for one day but, because of some messups it became a week and turned into a month! After that month friend A told friend J what they were doing. After that, friend J hasnt really been talking to them bu4 she is still talking to me. My friends want to talk to friend J and say their sorry but, friend j keeps giving them horrible an mean comebacks. Im also affected because the smile she gives me looks so fake and plastic it makes me feel hprrible to the point wherein i could cry. I really want to resolve this problem, what shpuld i do if she doesnt even wanna talk?


I have a much different perspective. The Bible itself tells you to be aware of people because they are not always who they appear to be. The devil is real and he corrupts individuals on a regular basis so asking a person to simply trust someone is basically leaving yourself open to manipulation. When it come to trusting a person I think it’s something an individual has to earn. Only so much trust can be given to a person, Why should it not matter to you how another person can alter your life or your perception of reality once you’ve given up yourself and possibly all of the things you’ve earned which give you your self-esteem and confidence. Not everyone has the ability to rebound from such devastating losses, so I think “Trust” can be a double edge sword used for the purpose of manipulation and can also cause a person to be relatively naive. Power tools have a purpose as well and they’re good for something, but they also come with a warning label as well and you use it at your own risk.


I don’t trust people because i feel like they are just looking for something to gossip about or will just tell the person trying to start a fight and just recently I lost a friend because of trust issues

i have trust issues and i believe they started from childhood. I have been hurt by my 1st boyfriend who dumped me for my cousin. My second boyfriend impregnated someone else. My varsity bf, well i had to find out that he was getting married to someone else. My baby father, who i was engaged to had 3 other babies with 2 different mothers, he also impregnated someone else whilst engaged to me. My heart can no longer trust nor love, i have been rejected people that meant well and hurting others by taking their emotions high and leave them hanging. i developed erratic behaviors, my career life is blossoming but when coming to matters of the heart, i do not know how to love not trust. I tried church but have been hurt in in church when i trusted a pastor and he started hitting on me………. i have come to admit that, it is not about learning to trust but learning to accept that we will get hurt or even hurt others. This is how life is and we cannot change anything about that. The thing is, all of us here will learn how to trust but we will get hurt again, it is inevitable. We should just learn to accept that getting hurt is inevitable. It will happen, one way or another.


I have been with my partner for nearly 10 years. Throughout our relationship we have had ups and downs usually connected with my lack of trust. We recently seperated and I moved about 200 miles away with the intention of trying to keep a long distance relationship going. Prior to leaving we both knew we still loved each other, but knew we couldn’t keep on arguing. We’ve tried to maintain contact via Skype, but, that tends to end in debates about things posted on Facebook etc. Since leaving my partner has applied to be a model, bought a load of new sexy clothes and nightwear, asked to put away the few items of clothing away of mine that I left in the wardrobe and regularly cancelled Skype chats because she was too tired. To more ‘sane’ people perhaps this might not be a big deal, but in my mind it feels like she is moving on. I’m due to go back and see her in three weeks – I can’t wait, but I am also extremely nervous about how things will go and finding it so hard to keep rational through the time away. There’s a lot more to it all that that, but you can get the picture. Trust is hard and this is the most I’ve ever tried to hold onto something. I’ve just finished a years worth of therapy, I’m living with my sick brother and elderly Dad, have no job, no income. I’m getting and feeling old, have a pain in my stomach and generally feel like beep.

I had a childhood with some abuse – by females. Not talking about every day but often enough. Most were family members and my mother hit me a few times, out of anger. She apologised but it never erased the scar that it left. I already felt emotionally abandoned and neglected. If I was sick I was yelled at for being a burden and/or because of my mother’s insecurities. She linked her entire identity to me and my brother, growing up. We validated her existence. Then at 8 I was molested by a female doctor. In my teens I was groped by a woman. It was “funny”. I was told it wasn’t a big deal. If I were a female, and the attackers a male, then they’d be in jail today. But if your attacker is a female, there’s no justice for you. That is where my trust issues come from.
I find myself in a weird situation. I am not attracted to men but am not able to trust women in relationships. I trust males completely and have many male friends as well as female friends. However, I want a girlfriend/wife and like most liberal “snowflakes” find it infuriating and wrong to not give women complete trust and equality but still don’t trust women enough to make a move in the dating world. As far as female doctors are concerned – no. Not happening. But I know that the first step in breaking this prison I’ve built around myself, that makes me miserable, is opening my heart and taking the risk of molestation and sexual abuse again. I have gotten to be good at communicating this with female healthcare providers at least. That is one of my tactics in dealing with it. I tell them that I have an abusive past and tell them my boundaries (which includes no touching me and having a male chaperone or trusted nurse present during any examination. No intimate exams ever for any reason, though, by women. All clothes must stay on.) I find that females are not keen on these rules, some citing that it’s too difficult to adhere to these rules while staying within their time frame and that it’s easier to get a readily available male doctor. A large number still take it as being sexist, which I guess it is in some ways.
The tactic that I also use in extreme cases is I go in and expect to be molested/sexually abused. I may even tell the female that she can just get it over with, that when if she doesn’t, I can leave in 4 minutes and be pleasantly surprised.
Now, usually when/if I explain that I expect her to be mean and abuse me, she will find someone else. I’m guessing that legally unattractive to treat a patient who expects you to molest them and equally as disheartening to treat a patient who refuses your kind, personable care and doesn’t trust your professional judgement either – especially if you’re nurse or an assistant who is more or less expected to spend upwards of 30 minutes with patients and build a more personable relationship.
As for girlfriends, I guess I’m OK without one. I often miss having one but then I don’t miss the fact that I would always think she is going to leave me for someone else or hurt me.
I wish I knew how to break this negative thought pattern aside from telling myself that my current situation is great. Even therapy hasn’t helped. Mostly because the therapist basically said, “It’s OK to be honest and set boundaries but you have to hit the ‘reset’ button and give women a chance again. They’re not all your mother or aunts. Most female doctors aren’t like that and don’t want to be put into that category. Just try it once and it gets easier with every subsequent time.”
I’m good at taking risks. But this is a huge one. Five minutes will could undo everything I’ve worked so hard to undo.

I don’t know if I have trust issue. I have never dated anyone. My childhood, adult life , studies are all smooth. Some days back, my friend asked me on a date. Like all other time, i rejected him without any reasons. We discussed why we can’t go on date. Then, he thinks that i do have trust issue. Can some one have trust issue without any traumatic condition or failure or rejection.

you can have trust issue but remember its from the past. learn to live today and judge people with youre experience with them today else your are locked in the past

It feels too bad to see a person you once trusted blindly in a totally different light. Someone who betrayed you and is no longer worthy of the confidence once given to them, but perhaps not everyone will deceive you.


I find it interesting that so many comments are about people IN relationships. I can’t help but feel a bit sad because my lack of trust in others (with accompanying shame) is so debilitating, I don’t have any close friends and I’ve long given up trying to date. All of my relationships are superficial and any close/romantic ones give me immense levels of anxiety and doubt, to the point I avoid them or bail early on.
I think it’s a combination of the family I grew up in, and the environments I found myself in afterwards–the people there simply weren’t trustworthy. I wonder if I had been trusting and compassionate, instead of vigilant and doubtful, it might have bore more fruitful relationships. Now, I’m in a better place with better people, but the trust issues persist.
Like others with trust issues here, I used to believe, “Well, they weren’t trustworthy, so why should I put myself in the line of fire?” or, “See? I trusted people, and they just hurt me. Therefore, it is wiser to be less trusting henceforth.”
I think we can’t see the times we undermined trust-building in relationships, which is what can cause someone to act in ways that break our trust. I’m not saying it’s completely our fault rather, mistrust breeds mistrust and it tends to have a snowball effect. It is never one-sided and I think we need to be honest about the ways we could be hampering our chances at happiness and successful relationships.
Recently, I’ve had a falling-out with what felt like the first friend I had. I’ve been having a difficult and emotional time recently and he’s not very responsive and doesn’t acknowledge it, so I’ve talked with him a few times about how this hurts me and why. He did make some effort the first couple of times, when I was having a bad day, to at least ask if I was okay instead of just sort of avoiding me. Except I can get very withdrawn and experience a freeze response in those situations due to past trauma, so I was not responsive and he went back to what he usually does, i.e. not touching the issue, which made me more upset, and less responsive/angry, which made him upset and less responsive, and so on.
I was so busy being hurt I couldn’t see there are all kinds of things I have done to erode the relationship and any closeness/trust we had. I always dismissed his compliments, I was unresponsive when he tried to connect while I was upset, I don’t accept his help–among other things that demonstrate I don’t trust him.
What we with trust issues need to realize is by not trusting people, we are in often subtle ways rejecting them and not treating them with compassion and connection. It eats away at the foundation of relationships and we must recognize our own hand in it. Sure, he hurt me–but I also hurt him. Nobody is winning. Much as we don’t want to put ourselves out there, we can’t live full lives until we do.

IM looking for a little advice on starting a new relationship, that happens to have totally random problem but trust problem none the less. Been friends with a woman for 1.5 years since we met we have both been attracted to each other but due to outside issues never acted upon the attraction. This past month we started a relationship , she asked me out and everything was going fine. About 10 days into the relationship she began to bring me around her friends, we met with some friends for a quick dinner and made plans to go out the next weekend. the next week the restaurant we went to was very crowded and uncomfortable. Small tables and tall chairs. I mention this because I had just had Surgery a few weeks before and it was difficult to find a comfortable position to sit. I had already taken my medication for the pain only having Tylenol left to take, and did not have any more. The pain was unbearable and I ordered two mixed drinks. upon leaving the restaurant I was fine. we went to a bar to people watch and dance a little. after a few drinks it was time to leave My girl went to get her car, and when she came back one of her new female friends walked up to me and began kissing me. My girl was furious with me, the only problem is that I did not remember the advances at all. i’m not a heavy drinker, I had take pain pills and obviously to much to drink. I was not fall down drunk but I do not remember the kiss. My girl walked into the bar as her friend was kissing me or started kissing me. Basically we have talked about the Kiss, she has forgiven me but she cant put it past her right now. its has been over a month since it happened and i’ve done everything right to try to reassure her that this was not my normal behavior, I do not drink heavily and all my life i’ve never blacked out like this. it was obviously due to the medication and alcohol. She tells me she still likes me but cant have a relationship with someone she cant trust, She is worried about this happening again maybe when she is not around to find out about it. I understand her concerns, believe me I feel I ruined what would have been a beautiful relationship. we connect on so many levels and understand each other but now I fear all is lost. She has even told me that she see me going above and beyond to make sure she is happy, but she Is having problems getting past this.
I’m trying to let time pass to help heal and just keep being myself, but I fear I will be to pushy to keep the relationship, or what is left of it alive. I’ve spoken to friends of mine, more than 30 years and they all said that she should be a little understanding, and work with me on the. But its not her fault its mine. my girl did nothing wrong, I did. My judgment is clouded by my desires and feelings, I feel as if we should be able to work this out. I genuinely care about her and want to make it work. Is this to large to get past, am I expecting to much to soon. i don’t even know how to start other than to apologize and do better.

MIchael S.

I am unable to trust, that is I expect betrayal, abandonment or pain from everyone. My ability to trust was shattered multiple times. I should have been able to trust teachers to guide and help me learn. Instead I received zero help and I struggled and I still struggle to learn. From there, my friends abandoned me or rather their parents told their children (my friends) they could no longer be friends with me because my parents divorced (1974). And I was told as much by my former friends and their superior parents – many of whom divorced themselves within 10 years of my parents divorce. The next level of trust was broken just by the divorce and all the hatred expressed by both parents. Because they both seemed to hate each other and I was too young to chose, I began to go numb and stop loving either one – and then everyone including myself. The next level of broken trust was I learned my dad was unreliable and really didn’t want anything to do with me while at the same time mom checked out with prince Valium and later with prince Xanax. Finally my dad destroyed my ability to trust by completely abandoning me. I haven’t received a card, letter, phone call or message from him since I was 9. During my entire grade, middle and high school I was basically friendless, shunned, bullied and ignored. Not one single teacher encouraged me or directed me or tried to help. No counselor even tried to help me understand the world – they were just checking boxes not helpful at all (Yes Mr. Thompson you specifically wouldn’t listen when I tried to get help). I have undergone 1000’s of hours of therapy to handle depression, anxiety and try and learn to trust again. But I have never had any luck developing a level of trust with a therapist to actually get anywhere. And three of the therapists actually abandoned me (one by suddenly closing practice another by changing clinics without telling me where they were going and one said I don’t see any progress so I can no longer try to treat you). I have taken more than 20 combinations of medicines – some worked a bit but had side effects that made continuing them impossible most of the medicines just made me more numb and killed my energy. My inability to trust others makes me push others away before they can hurt me – which means I have zero friends. I am often terrified by others. I anger easily. I lash out when people don’t listen. I truly hate being alive. I still have zero trust except that someday I will die and the pain will end. I am still numb and unable to feel anything other than pain and anger. I am not optimistic about anything. I go to sleep hoping to die and wake up disappointed to be alive. The link behind childhood trauma and the impact on adult personality is strong. I am one example in the extreme. After more than 30 years of getting nowhere with therapy and medicines. I am at a point were I have completely given up and accepted that I will always be miserable, friendless and alone. And with that acceptance I have found a bit of peace. I really hope that my deep depression, anxiety and other ailments will put me in an early grave. At least then the misery of my life will be over.

Kim Z

What does it mean when someone draws you a diagram with three circles with both spouses in the middle circle?
and says: no one is getting in…not sure if this is meant to be a strong boundary of protection, is it okay or not okay?

Your Attitudes and Behaviors

Therefore, in the end, your beliefs and values directly influence your attitudes and behaviors. By digging deep into your character and understanding these concepts, you can determine why you act a certain way. And the best part is, you can go the other way as well. If you don&rsquot like how you act in a specific context, you can identify the root beliefs and values and shift them to allow for different actions.

This means that you must first decide what you want to do, which implies creating a vision for yourself or setting up goals to achieve in the future. Then, break those goals into their constituent parts and identify if your current set of values and beliefs is supportive of them. If they aren&rsquot, you simply cannot achieve them. That&rsquos because your decisions and attitudes will not drive the right behavior that would lead to those goals&rsquo accomplishments. Only when your beliefs and values are aligned with your goals can you be successful.

As I emphasized above, beliefs and values are learned they are not hard-coded into our bodies in any way. We learn to love or hate others. We learn to love or hate ourselves. All are driven by our life experiences and by merely being human. You&rsquove lived some of these for so long, and you&rsquove practiced them, perhaps unconsciously, so much that some of them have formed into habits and drive your rituals. When you take a more thoughtful approach to decide what your beliefs and values should be, based on your life vision, things change&mdashyour attitude shifts, and with it, your behavior, and, ultimately, your outcome.

Psychodynamic Theory, Perspective, and Key Concepts

To truly understand psychodynamic therapy, you need to go back to its roots. While this type of therapy has changed over the last century, it is still built on the foundations of some of the earliest work in modern psychology.

In the late 19th century, Sigmund Freud was working on his grand idea of the human mind and the theory of human development. His theories laid the foundation for decades of psychological research and practice.

While many of these theories were eventually found to conflict with hard evidence gained through scientific research, they formed the basis for psychodynamic theory and sparked a bold new school of thought that still exists today, in a modified and updated form.

He proposed that the human mind is composed of three parts:

  1. The id, which consists of instinct and forms the basis of the unconscious mind
  2. The superego, or moral component that houses our beliefs of right and wrong
  3. The ego, the mediator between the animal instinct of the id and the enlightened moral thought of the superego (Haggerty, 2016).

Freud hypothesized that these components grew out of certain stages in childhood development. He believed humans are born with the id, develop the ego as a toddler, and add the superego around the age of five. Freud’s hypothesis led him to the logical conclusion (based on his theory) that one’s personality is firmly rooted in their childhood experiences.

While Freud believed that each component formed in each human, the development of each component could be significantly influenced by one’s environment and family relationships. These factors could contribute to the development of a healthy sense of self and effective functioning, or they could trigger the development of neuroses and dysfunctional or distressing patterns of thought.

Whether the development led to positive or negative patterns of thoughts and belief, Freud held that that which truly drives human behavior is buried deep within the human mind, in what he termed the unconscious mind.

Freud theorized three levels of the mind:

  1. The Unconscious: this level is where our instincts, deeply held beliefs, and many patterns of thought and behavior reside we are not consciously aware of anything at this level, but Freud believed the contents of the unconscious mind make up the vast majority of who we are, what we want, and how we behave in order to get what we want.
  2. The Subconscious or Preconscious: this level is between the conscious and unconscious, and can be called up to consciousness with a purposeful effort from the individual the contents of this level are just below the surface of consciousness.
  3. The Conscious: this is the level at which we are fully aware Freud believed this was the level with the least defining content, the level that makes up only a tiny sliver of who we are.

Based on this theory, Freud insisted that to truly address our issues and solve our problems, we must dig deep into the unconscious level. This is where we store our unspoken values, the beliefs we do not even realize we have, and the patterns of thought and behavior developed in our childhood.

Psychodynamic Theory of the Mind. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

While psychodynamic theory has outgrown many of Freud’s simplistic ideas about human nature, many of the assumptions that underlie the psychodynamic approach are reminiscent of Freud’s work:

  • The unconscious mind is one of the most powerful drivers of human behavior and emotion
  • No behavior is without cause—all behavior is determined
  • Childhood experiences exert a significant influence on thoughts, emotions, and behavior as an adult
  • Important conflicts during childhood development shape our overall personality as adults (Freud, 1899).

Freud’s theories directly support the methods of psychoanalysis, but also help form the basis of psychodynamic theory and inform the methods and techniques used in today’s psychodynamic therapy.

Changing the beliefs to change personality

So how do we go about changing our beliefs? The first step is to become conscious of the beliefs that are shaping your personality. Once you’ve identified them, then you need to dig into your past and understand why you formed these beliefs. This is the hard part.

The process of formation of beliefs happens unconsciously and that’s why we feel powerless before them. But once we make the unconscious conscious, we start gaining real power.

Identifying the beliefs that you want to change and understanding how you formed them is enough for you to break free from their clutch and not let them control your behaviour. Awareness is like a fire which melts away everything.

Try understanding it this way. Suppose you performed poorly at work this month and this disappointed your boss. He wants you to make amends in the coming month.

But he doesn’t give you any performance report and doesn’t point out in any way what needs to be fixed. Will you be able to fix anything if you don’t know what went wrong?

Absolutely not! You need to know what went wrong in order to fix it. In addition to that, you need to know how and why it went wrong. Same is the case with human behaviour. Unless you don’t understand the underlying mechanism of your behaviour, you won’t be able to change it.

Adlerian Theory: Understanding The Individual

Adlerian theory refers to a psychological practice built on the belief that, as unique individuals, people should be validated, connected, and made to feel significant. Adlerian therapy focuses on the entire individual, not just the parts that need improvement, and regards the personality as strongly influenced by the role one played within their family of origin, which is reflected in part by birth order.

Alfred Adler, who was an ophthalmologist before he entered psychiatry, created his theory in the early 1900s after parting ways with Sigmund Freud. Much of his theory is based on the importance of having a sense of community. According to Adler, individuals who feel that they belong will act cooperatively and form healthy, loving bonds with others. But those who feel like outcasts will act out to express that feeling of inadequacy. Thus, an essential goal is help those who feel like outsiders create community.

Alderian Theory&mdashA Sense of Belonging

As discussed above, one of Adler&rsquos main beliefs was that people need to feel that they belong. People are their best selves when they feel connected to and loved by those around them. This is especially important in families, which are the first communities most people belong to. When a family member feels that they are not appreciated, they will act in unhealthy ways. This may include withdrawing, competing, or giving up altogether. Feeling discouraged will increase this behavior and may cause the person to become isolated from their family.

Many times, parents will punish children&rsquos poor behavior. This discipline may eliminate the behavior, but Adler believed that it could also lead to other forms of acting out. He maintained that "a misbehaving child is a discouraged child" and that individuals act out when they feel unloved, devalued, or unsupported. Therefore, by embracing the child fully while using appropriate discipline, the parent is more likely to see an improvement.

Understanding Unique Beliefs

Adler believed that when we take time to analyze where our personal beliefs come from and how they influence our behavioral patterns, we can start taking steps toward growth and healing. In particular, looking at the ways we seek validation and acceptance are key to understanding our behavior. The ways we look for a sense of belonging from those around us are not static. They can be changed with time, dedication, and therapy. But according to Adler, it is first necessary to understand where our beliefs come from, based on our childhood experiences.

As discussed above, children&rsquos behavior reflects their need for validation and acceptance. When a child isn't given attention for positive behavior, they are likely to seek attention for negative behavior. They might break something or fight with their sibling to gain the parental attention they crave, even if it's negative. Their belief system then becomes internalized, and the child carries that type of behavior into adulthood.

Accepting the Individual

Adlerian theory views each person as a whole individual as opposed to just a collection of behaviors, beliefs, and influences. Adler stressed that we must study the entire individual, as this is what will give us clues as to where growth can begin. If we were to focus merely on negative behaviors, for example, then the person in question might feel that their other qualities don't have value. But when we highlight good qualities and show the person they are valued, negative behaviors and beliefs can be slowly replaced.

Just as adults improve their behavior when they are made to feel valued and appreciated, so do children. When we celebrate our children&rsquos accomplishments and highlight their talents, they have less need to gain attention through poor behavior.

Adlerian Theory in Therapy

In therapy, Adlerian theory benefits clients by helping them understand the root of their behaviors, how they can change their view of themselves, and how they can change their view of their childhoods. This happens in four steps with a licensed therapist.

At the beginning of therapy, the therapist engages the client in developing a close relationship. They establish goals and boundaries before diving into the real work: building a foundation of trust.

Next, the therapist encourages the client to talk about their experiences, emotions, behaviors, family, upbringing, and drives. This information helps establish how the individual&rsquos current behaviors came to be. Was there a significant life event that made them feel ashamed or guilty? Did this event push them into the shadows or cause them to become quiet to avoid feeling stupid? This assessment helps the therapist understand the current behaviors and beliefs of the client.

The third step is for the therapist to offer their insight into how past experiences may have shaped the client&rsquos current beliefs and behaviors. It is ultimately up to the client to agree or disagree with the therapist&rsquos interpretation.

Finally, the client is reoriented . Together, therapist and client come up with a new interpretation of the clients&rsquo past and strategies that they can use to change their life in positive ways. This new, positive perspective can give clients the confidence they need to work toward their goals. Having shed the weight of shame, guilt, or lack of self-worth, it is easier for the client to move toward growth and fulfillment.

The ultimate goal of Adlerian therapy is to show the client that they have control over their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Early beliefs about inadequacy or lack of control can be transformed into new beliefs that the client does have worth and their opinions matter. Once clients are shown that old beliefs don't have to determine their current lives, they can more confidently move forward.

How Can Adlerian Therapy Help?

Adlerian therapy can help individuals gain confidence and make better decisions. It can aid clients in being independent without the fear of failure. Though failing is a part of life, constantly feeling like a failure due to an internal belief can interfere with daily living. Once that fear is addressed and overcome, it is possible to live one&rsquos best life and form healthier relationships with others.

Ultimately, the goal of Adlerian therapy is to replace long-held negative beliefs, which leads to becoming more self-reliant, confident, and socially empowered. These achievements in turn lead to healthier decisions and relationships. Though this type of therapy takes time, replacing those beliefs can open up a host of opportunities for that person that they didn't think possible.

How It Doesn't Help. This type of therapy is not for people who expect quick results. It also doesn't cater to those who only want to be in therapy for a brief amount of time. Adlerian therapy takes effort, dedication, and commitment. While it can help the individual transform into a healthy and happy adult, it doesn't happen overnight. (And in truth, most therapy will take the same effort.)

Another limitation is that Adlerian therapy involves a deep dive into early life events. This exploration might be off-putting to those who do not wish to confront childhood memories that are painful, upsetting, or disturbing. Since it is important to establish the reasons for current behavior and thoughts, Adlerian psychotherapists insist on establishing a childhood timeline. This might not work for some individuals.

Individuals who do not wish to challenge current beliefs will also find this type of therapy to be difficult.

Where to Get Help. To take advantage of the help Adlerian therapists can offer, you can contact a licensed therapist who utilizes Adlerian theory. For child development, there are many childcare facilities available to the public that follow Adlerian theory.

For help that starts at the click of a button, follow this link:

Read more about Alfred Adler and his theory in the following articles:

Who Can Adlerian Therapy Help?

Research shows that Adlerian therapy can successfully treat any mental disorder. It can be used on its own or in combination with other forms of therapy, including play therapy and art therapy. Adlerian therapy with a licensed therapist can help children, adolescents, or adults, and individuals, couples, families, and other groups.

The Benefits of Online Therapy

As discussed above, Adlerian therapy with a licensed therapist can help individuals of all ages with mental disorders. But symptoms of disorders such as depression and anxiety can make it difficult to attend in-person sessions. This is where online therapy comes in. You can access BetterHelp&rsquos platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don&rsquot have to pay for costs like renting an office. BetterHelp&rsquos licensed therapists have helped people with various mental disorders. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

&ldquoToni is awesome! She responds daily and she reads through every single word that I type. I know this because she provides me feedback on absolutely everything. That's something that I truly appreciate. I know she cares and loves what she does. It shows. It's a blessing to have a counselor who pays attention and is focused on what I have to say and what I'm feeling. I had been close to unsubscribing in the past but stayed because of Toni and her desire to help me through my life circumstances.&rdquo

&ldquoRene was assigned as my counselor and I couldn't be happier with his support. I've been working with him for about 2 months now and he's helped me get through some really dark times. When I first signed up for BetterHelp, I was experiencing depression unlike any episode I've had before. Rene gave me the tools and advice I needed to get through those days and that I can use anytime I feel those thoughts creeping back. I look forward to our sessions and can't thank him enough for the support and motivation he's given me. I highly recommend working with Rene!&rdquo

Sigmund Freud's Theories

Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939) was the founding father of psychoanalysis, a method for treating mental illness and also a theory which explains human behavior.

Freud believed that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. For example, anxiety originating from traumatic experiences in a person's past is hidden from consciousness, and may cause problems during adulthood (in the form of neuroses).

Thus, when we explain our behavior to ourselves or others (conscious mental activity), we rarely give a true account of our motivation. This is not because we are deliberately lying. While human beings are great deceivers of others they are even more adept at self-deception.

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Freud's life work was dominated by his attempts to find ways of penetrating this often subtle and elaborate camouflage that obscures the hidden structure and processes of personality.

His lexicon has become embedded within the vocabulary of Western society. Words he introduced through his theories are now used by everyday people, such as anal (personality), libido, denial, repression, cathartic, Freudian slip, and neurotic.

A Take-Home Message

Those in search of a counselor have numerous research-supported options from which to choose. This article has described more than 12 such approaches, which vary in terms of underlying philosophical theories, treatment approaches, and counselor styles.

  • Rational Emotive Therapy is a good choice if a client needs a directive therapist to help with irrational beliefs.
  • Existential Therapy is a good option for dealing with a sense of meaningless and lack of purpose.
  • CBT Exposure Therapy is an excellent choice for combatting phobias and PTSD.

Numerous counseling types are also available for individuals dealing with depression, anxiety, loss, or trauma (e.g., Interpersonal Counseling, CBT, and EMDR).

For couples, possible counseling choices include Holistic Counseling, the Gottman Method, Reality Therapy, and Narrative Therapy.

Finally, for students, there is a wide gamut of counseling possibilities that apply to everything from early behavioral problems to college-level achievement and substance use issues. Examples of counseling approaches for students include Reality Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy, CBT, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy.

The most crucial point to remember when choosing a counselor is that you find a provider who meets your unique needs, as a good therapist–client match is a crucial predictor of successful counseling outcomes (Bernier & Dozier, 2002).

We hope you found this article useful. For more information, don’t forget to download our three Positive CBT Exercises for free .

Healing Hell Trauma: Psychological Treatment for Religious Indoctrination in Fear of Hell

Religious belief in hell fills the waking moments and dreams of untold numbers of people with terror, many of whom seek therapy to break the nightmarish fear. Treating hellfire trauma requires knowledge of the client’s religious indoctrination and upbringing, as well as the psychological mechanisms that reinforce the fear. The prognosis appears to be positive in my experience working with clients, a major or total remission of hell-related fears follows deprogramming of the beliefs that cause the fears, along with treatment of trauma and techniques for managing affective overwhelm.

In fundamentalist religions, believers in hell were taught to dread hell in early childhood, raised with a belief in eternal physical fire and psychological torture that felt as real as your belief in gravity. As the fundamentalist religious child learns to walk and talk, s/he learns to fear eternal torture by fire as a punishment for her less-than-perfect thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions. If it takes root, this all-pervasive, deeply engrained fear can alter human psychology at fundamental levels, making basic cognitive processes and everyday decisions feel like a matter of life and death. During the early years of human development, as the child’s brain develops, the psyche is growing a foundational psychological navigation system, forming neural networks that “hardwire” patterns of emotion and behavior adaptive to survival in the world. An unsafe psychological environment can cause anxiety disorders, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health emergency strategies to form as adaptations to the situation that is registered by the mind as an ongoing, extreme threat to survival. A religious belief in eternal torture taken seriously constitutes an unsafe psychological environment, reinforcing the threat of extreme violence worse than death as a constant reality.

Thus, hellfire indoctrination may be a root trauma in a client’s life, changing the way the brain responds to life in general. Treating it may also facilitate the resolution of seemingly unrelated problems. When survival is a constant issue, the brain’s fight, flight, or freeze fear response is frequently triggered. During the flight response, the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands are overstimulated, pumping large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol and the stimulant adrenaline into the body. A person may experience excessive psychological and bodily anxiety. The brain is trained to habitually activate this response, as neural pathways are formed to facilitate or “hardwire” it, increasing the speed of onset and intensity. Thus, it may be triggered frequently and in an exaggerated way in response to other distressful situations unrelated to fear of hell. A disordered level of anxiety, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive personality configurations may develop. The fight response may trigger high or manic levels of short-term energy, resulting in productivity or aggression during the activation, and depression, burnout, and inability to finish tasks when the energy wears off. The freeze response can result in paralysis and withdrawing from responsibilities and relationships. Dissociation is also a common response to survival threats: leaving one’s bodily and mental experience to escape intolerable emotional distress. Addictive drugs and behavioral habits may be employed to reduce the overwhelm. There is a wide range of additional dysfunctional patterns a client may develop in response to fear of hell, depending on individual personality and other factors.

What Clients Learn About Hell in Church

Clients who suffer from fear of hell usually spent years or a lifetime being indoctrinated by a religious community. Religious communities have many conceptions of hell but one of the most common (and most traumatizing) is the belief in a literal place of eternal torture as God’s judgment for not believing in a specific religious confession of faith. This belief is heavily emphasized in the preaching of fundamentalist, Evangelical, and Conservative forms of Christianity. In these traditions, religious adherents are taught they are born deserving of God’s judgment of an eternity in hell because they have a sinful, fallen nature. All humans deserve hell as the default position because of sin. The only way to avoid hell is to find salvation through Jesus. This means confessing that one is depraved and deserving of hell and believing that God pardons one’s sins through Jesus. It also means committing one’s life to obedience to God and the biblical teachings of the religious community. If a person stops believing this message, leaves the religious community, or lives a lifestyle contrary to the teachings of the faith, they will go to hell. Religious believers are charged with the mandate of converting their neighbors and becoming missionaries to convert people from other religions because anyone who does not confess their doctrine of faith (including other Christians whose doctrine differs on issues considered to be foundational) is destined to burn in hell forever unless they convert.

Hell is therefore a central doctrine of these religious groups, informing their major ideas about conversion, spirituality, and the purpose of life on earth (saving souls). Many hell-believing churches preach about hell every Sunday service during a ritual known as the altar call. This ritual includes an invitation to convert or rededicate oneself to the faith. Parishioners are warned, they could die at any moment and face God’s judgment, so they must make sure they are “right with God.” Preachers often make it very unclear what exactly it takes to be safe from hell, teaching mixed messages about a believer’s level of security within the faith. They may teach some level of assurance, e.g. that faith in Jesus gives us confidence we are safe from hell. However, the Bible teaches that sin takes place at the level of thought and emotion, and preachers often urge their congregants to vigilantly confess all their sins “just to be sure.” The implication is that stray, unrepented thoughts and desires can lead to damnation. Anxiety about unconfessed or unknown sin can lead believers to hypervigilantly confess minute sins in constant terror of hell. Many sensitive believers recall compulsively praying “the sinner’s prayer” for salvation hundreds of times daily to compensate for uncertainty about hell.

Hell is frequently mentioned in church sermons and believers encourage each other to confess their sins and to be in good standing with the community, to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12, NIV). Many churches put on evangelistic dramas like Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames, a play composed of short vignettes about people before the moment of death making a choice to accept or reject Jesus’s offer of salvation. The play depicts vivid scenes of people who reject the message burning and screaming in hell. Young children are usually in attendance. Churches frequently feature evangelists who share personal testimonies about having died and gone to hell and being brought back to life by God to warn people of its horrors. Evangelistic literature like “Chick Tracts” is distributed, depicting gory images of hell torture. Families and small groups of Christians watch movies with scenes of hell together. Fear of hell is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of religious devotees through a broad variety of mediums.

Certain types of people are more vulnerable to debilitating fear of hell than others. People with sensitive, empathic, or creative dispositions may be susceptible to higher levels of fear and more vivid fantasies of torture. Those who are predisposed to mental health challenges or who are actively experiencing psychiatric disorders are also liable to suffer more intensely. Moreover, non-neurotic individuals who simply take their religion seriously and earnestly apply themselves to religious practice may take doctrines of hell to heart and suffer more intensely than others who are less devoted. All these factors appear to have operated in the man credited as the founder of the Christian Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. Luther was tormented by the fear of hell throughout his life and based much of his theology and reaction against the Catholic Church on finding liberation from abusive teachings about divine wrath and hell. However, although Luther’s theology was psychologically progressive for his time, he continued to believe in hell and this belief is still heavily emphasized in many versions of Protestant Christianity that follow his teachings.

Fear of hell is also linked to sexual expression in many forms of religion. In fundamentalist Christianity, any sex act outside of heterosexual marriage is considered sinful. One of Jesus’s teachings about sex is used to explicitly link sex at the level of fantasy and desire to the fear of hell:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30, NIV)

According to a fundamentalist interpretation of these words of Jesus, even having aberrant sexual thoughts puts one in danger of hell. Jesus suggests castration as a solution, which is usually (though not always) interpreted metaphorically: Christians should judiciously police their sex lives, cutting off their sexuality entirely if that is what it takes to stay on the straight and narrow path. Most unmarried and non-heterosexual Christians find themselves unable to completely restrain their sexuality, engaging in masturbation, pornography, and other sexual activities if not intercourse. Fear and guilt about these activities prevents them from talking about safe sex practices with their partners or learning basic sex education. Clients who leave fundamentalist Christianity (and clients who are currently Christian) often experience huge amounts of guilt and fear about sex because it has been linked to severe fiery torture in their conditioning at the level of thought and desire. Healing from sexual religious trauma is another major area of recovery for most clients healing from religious trauma.

LGBTQIA+ Fear of Hell

LGBTQIA+ populations are uniquely vulnerable to sexual religious trauma and fear of hell. They are targeted from a young age for their sexual identity with specific teachings about how hell is a punishment for homosexuality and sexual expressions that do not conform to traditional heterosexual norms. It is impossible for a queer person to go through life in modern society without experiencing some form of shaming and rejection from religious communities, often by their own families and peers during their most formative years. The Bible contains seven passages that are traditionally interpreted as condemning homosexuality, calling it a sinful perversion of human nature deserving of God’s wrath (Romans 1:26–27). The Sodom and Gomorrah passage is frequently cited as evidence that God’s judgment is pending against a nation because of an increase of homosexual activity in the culture (Genesis 19:1–11). Thus, gay identity is treated as a matter of grave danger and shame, potentially resulting in hellfire condemnation on a personal and national level. LGBTQIA+ clients may need to address their experiences with specific Bible passages to deprogram and process trauma. Additionally, traditional interpretations of Bible verses that reference homosexuality are heavily disputed within Christianity, and queer theology is burgeoning theological enterprise. It may be helpful for LGBTQIA+ clients to be pointed to resources about alternative perspectives. For instance, Gnuse (2015) summarizes the basic critiques of traditional interpretations of the seven Bible passages about homosexuality in his article:

There are seven texts often cited by Christians to condemn homosexuality: Noah and Ham (Genesis 9:20–27), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1–11), Levitical laws condemning same-sex relationships (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), two words in two Second Testament vice lists (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 1 Timothy 1:10), and Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 1:26–27). The author believes that these do not refer to homosexual relationships between two free, adult, and loving individuals.They describe rape or attempted rape (Genesis 9:20–27, 19:1–11), cultic prostitution (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), male prostitution and pederasty (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 1 Timothy 1:10), and the Isis cult in Rome (Romans 1:26–27). If the biblical authors did assume homosexuality was evil, we do not theologize off of their cultural assumptions, we theologize off of the texts we have in the canon. (p. 68)

Many LGBTQIA+ clients interpret the biblical authors as having espoused anti-gay prejudices because of their cultural contexts. Therefore, they reject these Bible passages that seem to condemn homosexuality, while still seeing the value of other passages of the Bible and religious traditions. Others reject the Bible and religious tradition entirely. Each client’s unique process of coming out of the religious indoctrination that rejected their sexual identity is to be gently facilitated and encouraged.

It is important for the therapist to realize how deeply the fear of hell may be connected to sexual identity and expression for these clients, which is a core element of selfhood. It is also connected to community and relational acceptance. Many LGBTQIA+ individuals feel forced to leave their religious communities and families because they must do so to find self-acceptance, freedom of expression, and healing from guilt, shame, and fear. Much of the work is coming to acknowledge the trauma and abuse that happened and how this has impacted the client’s sense of self and relational patterns with others. It is also learning to accept and appreciate one’s sexual preference without fear or shame.

Working Within a Client’s Belief System

When addressing issues of religious belief, the therapist is only able to operate within the confines of the client’s belief system and process. It is only appropriate to work on deprogramming beliefs with the client’s consent, as part of the client’s process (not the therapist’s agenda for the client). If a client holds an unhealthy religious perspective on hell and is committed to maintaining it, the therapist’s options are limited. Many highly religious clients spend their entire lives tortured by fear of hell but are unwilling to question their religious beliefs. The therapist may encourage these clients to examine whether there are other reasons why the fear is particularly pronounced, and to see if there are techniques that can be found to reduce it. The therapist may also to encourage the client to take refuge in the beliefs and practices of his religion designed to mitigate fear of hell. Beyond this, it is unethical to pressure a client to change her religious beliefs. Moreover, this course of action would likely be perceived by the client as a betrayal of trust. It could irreparably rupture the therapeutic alliance.

Fundamentalist religions teach adherents to attach religion to personal identity and arm adherents with an array of doctrines designed to ward off threats to deconversion. Highly religious clients are likely to be sensitive to any imposition of the therapist’s beliefs and would be liable to interpret such an imposition as threatening. Therapists who have had negative experiences with religion must be vigilant not to sabotage the therapeutic relationship, resisting any urges to rescue the client by giving this expression in their interpretations and reactions. Therapists do not need to be dishonest about their differing experiences and beliefs, but they should not bring them into the therapy session. Clients are usually willing to work with a therapist who holds different beliefs if they feel assured the therapist will respect their religion.

The Process of Coming Out of Fear of Hell

Fear of hell impacts people in different ways. Many people appear relatively unaffected by teachings of hell and psychologically abusive religious teachings in general, living their entire lives hearing hellfire preaching with no apparent psychological challenges outside the norm. However, this may be merely a surface-level presentation. Just because a person is unaware of fear of hell does not mean it is not present. Fear of hell may still operate at a deep unconscious level. This seems likely, because if a person genuinely believes that gruesome eternal punishment is a real possibility, fear necessarily exists within the psyche, or else we may reasonably question whether the person believes in hell to begin with.

This unconscious fear of hell is often triggered and brought to the surface for people who experience a change of religious belief. The religious devotee has a level of assurance of protection from hell only so long as s/he continues to believe the doctrines of the religious community. This assurance, known as the assurance of salvation, comes in various theological forms depending on the person’s religious beliefs about salvation, including doctrines of election and predestination, salvation by faith alone, or reliance on continued participation in the sacraments. Some communities teach that faith in their theological formula provides assurance of salvation from hell, while others give more tenuous grounds of assurance, teaching that disobedience and sin must be constantly patrolled and confessed or salvation may be lost at any time. Regardless of its specific doctrinal form, assurance of salvation functions as a psychological reinforcement mechanism that serves the dual function of counteracting some of the anxiety provoked by the doctrine of hell and keeping people from questioning their religious beliefs. If a person follows the dictates of his religious community, comfort results because his safety is somewhat secure from the threat of hell. But if s/he even begins to question, his safety is in jeopardy, because the assurance of salvation is detracted when a person changes his religious beliefs. Changing foundational religious beliefs is punishable by hell. Thus, critical thinking, the study of other worldviews, life events that produce doubt and cognitive dissonance, and interacting with people of other faiths may be terrifying to the fundamentalist believer because the questioning they involve could lead to a change of belief.

Even for faithful adherents of hellfire-believing religions, the assurance of salvation is never fully guaranteed. Some level of fear of hell remains and is employed in preaching to keep believers on their toes. For instance, in the case of assurance doctrines of election, believers find comfort in the belief that they are elected by God for salvation. However, one cannot ultimately know whether s/he is among the elect even those who appear elect may be self-deceived and turn out to be among the damned. In the case of assurance doctrines that emphasize continued confession of sin and reliance on faith, a person never knows whether s/he has confessed all her sins, and the possibility of backsliding and losing faith is ever-present. Thus, fear of hell is a reality even for fundamentalist Christians who are largely unaware of its presence. (Hospital chaplains commonly report that very committed religious believers confront enormous dread of hell for the first time on their deathbeds because they are forced to grapple with their uncertain assurance of salvation seriously for the first time.) Religious communities are aware that fear of hell can be overwhelming for some of their followers. Therefore, they suggest spiritual practices and continued involvement in the religious community as a solution to the fear they promote with these shaky doctrines of semi-assurance.

For many, the process of leaving a religion prompts debilitating levels of hellfire anxiety because the assurance of salvation is taken away. The lid over unconscious dread of hell is removed there is no doctrinal mechanism left to contain it. In their struggle with managing doubt and terror of hell, questioners often go back and forth between periods of withdrawal from religious activity and recommittal and trying harder. The intolerable fear, like an addictive drug, draws them back to religious practice that produces more fear. However, fear and religious effort cannot effectively repress newfound realizations about the religion’s abusive practices and intellectual inconsistencies. It is difficult if not impossible to shut out these realizations and return to a previous state of religious devotion because the newfound knowledge does not go away unless another or more nuanced belief system is found that adequately addresses it. Thus, questioners find themselves caught up in a process of deconversion that often feels contrary to their conscious desire to stay in the religion and to avoid the perceived risk of going to hell. Eventually, however, the dissonance between simplistic faith and lived experience becomes overwhelming, and the individual is unable to maintain faith in the religion, even though this entails facing the fear of hell.

This period of deconversion, as well as the years of recovery from religious trauma that may follow it, is an opportunity for client and therapist to cooperate with the healing process that is taking place. It is a time to explore the guiding intelligence of the emotional disturbances and intellectual doubts that are surfacing, which have often been present for years but suppressed by religious ideology. Clients may have to develop proficiency in trusting their intuition, ability to make decisions, critical thinking, and inner core of sovereignty (self-trust, personal responsibility, sense of self) that were outsourced to God, religious communities, mentors, and sacred texts. An underdeveloped sense of self may manifest in overreliance on the therapist’s expertise, demands for answers and quick-fix solutions, and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in the countertransference. Willingness to voice aggression and combativeness towards the therapist as well as to disagree with the therapist may be taken as signs of progress. The client is living out his struggle to differentiate and individuate in the therapy session, similar to an adolescent’s healthy process of separation from his parents that looks like rebellion. Capacities that have to do will a strong sense of self are needed for the client to take a confident stand against the intimidating assertions of their formerly religious communities and families that condemn them to hell.

Until this milestone is achieved, self-doubt will continue to plague clients and sabotage their progress. The “what if I’m wrong?” nagging question is almost always present for recovering clients: what if I’m wrong about my change of religious beliefs and end up in hell? Any possibility of going to hell, no matter how unlikely, is intolerable because an eternity of torture is so inconceivably terrible. Moreover, evangelists and preachers commonly portray a commitment to their religion in terms of the risk of going to hell. They claim it is prudent to commit to their religion because it is better to be safe than sorry. This conditioning is difficult to overcome because clients will argue (quite rationally) there is no way for finite human beings to establish ultimate certainty on matters of ultimate reality such as the existence of hell.

Religious fundamentalism trains its adherents to think in such absolutes. While absolute certainty is impossible, we can establish a high level of confidence in the truthfulness or falsehood of certain matters. I am convinced that the notion of eternal damnation as it is presented in fundamentalist religious ideologies as a punishment for not believing in a specific doctrinal confessional of faith is one such matter. Moreover, risk is not relevant to assessing the veracity of ideas about hell. Ideologies stand or fall not based on how safe or unsafe they make us feel but on internal consistency, logic, and verifiability. If an ideology about hell does not make sense, risk is a nonissue and the introduction of risk as a factor in assessing the reality or nonreality of hell is a category mistake.

Clients will need to deconstruct their beliefs and fears about hell, along with other religious beliefs that negatively impact their psychological health. While the therapist should resist the client’s unconscious attempts to turn her into a new God-figure who gives her all the answers, the therapist should also realize that religious trauma is rooted in specific teachings and indoctrination. Much of the trauma of hell is located in the intellect. If the intellectual basis of hellfire ideologies is not addressed, the trauma will not be resolved, no matter how skilled the therapist is in his technique. The therapist should recognize the importance of cultivating critical thinking and education for healing indoctrination-related trauma. This does not mean that the therapist has to be an expert in theology to be effective. It does mean that the therapist should be willing to think through ideological dilemmas with the client, offering her own insights and knowledge when it is appropriate to do so. Additionally, the client has a kind of personal expertise on his own indoctrination that can make up for the therapist’s knowledge gap. The client will educate the therapist on the specific ideologies s/he was taught that relate to his struggle.

It would be countertherapeutic for the therapist to bypass the client’s intellectual process by shifting the therapy session to a different process, such as emotional or somatic work. While such a shift may be appropriate at times for clients who defensively and dissociatively intellectualize, therapists should be aware that their own anxiety about a personal lack of knowledge or expertise may cause them to avoid necessary intellectual processing. In some cases, the therapist may find it necessary to educate herself on religious trauma and theology, consult a specialist, or refer a client out. Clients may also benefit from reading this article and working through it with their therapist, as well as other resources that address their indoctrination in a detailed manner.

Addressing Intellectual Arguments About Belief in Hell

Clients hold a vast spectrum of beliefs about hell, ranging from a literal place of eternal torment to a metaphor for suffering on earth. Even adherents of the same religion may disagree with each other. Most believers in fundamentalist religions like Evangelical and Conservative forms of Christianity believe hell is a literal place of eternal torture for people who do not hold their specific confession of religious faith. Questioning or recovering fundamentalist Christian clients may benefit from knowing that serious religious practitioners within their own religion interpret Bible passages about hell differently. Usually, fundamentalist churches only teach their own perspective. If they bring up the views of other Christians, it is to discredit them as dangerous or demonic. Therefore, most fundamentalists have not had the opportunity to think critically about their beliefs or seriously examine the positions of other Christians who disagree. Engagement with religious people who hold different perspectives is often healing in and of itself. It becomes harder to believe the premise that holding the very narrow faith confession of a specific religious sect is the determinant of an eternal sentence to hell once one is exposed to many different confessions of faith and beliefs about hell, all held by devoutly religious people.

A client may be relieved to know that there are other options and excited at the newfound opportunity to dialogue with other kinds of Christians in a genuine, non-conversionary way. Many clients choose to try out a progressive and inclusive version of their religion, either as a final destination or a step along the way to deconversion, conversion to another religion, or the practice of some other form of spirituality. Regardless of the destination, most people have to find ways of addressing their specific experiences of harm with their religious past.

Many clients will be relieved to discover their religious ancestors did not always believe in hell. Fundamentalist religions rarely teach this, as they generally avoid historical-critical examination of their beliefs. Clients will also benefit from understanding the historical and psychological milieu of the doctrine of hell. Early Judaism (Christianity comes out of Judaism) did not include developed beliefs in hell or an afterlife. The idea of hell in Judaism took root during the Intertestamental Period (between the writing of the Old and New Testaments), or Second Temple Judaism. It was part of a package of new beliefs about the apocalypse (end of the world) and life after death. The Jewish people suffered genocide, exile, and some of the worst forms of human brutality under the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Many Jews believed this was their judgment for being unfaithful to the Jewish God Yahweh. However, Yahweh seemed to delay judging the foreign nations who oppressed the Jewish people even after they devoted themselves to the exclusive worship of Yahweh. Yahweh appeared to abandon his people, leaving them to suffer and die.

Where was God’s justice? Surely the enemies of the people of God would be punished for their crimes! The Jewish people saw their babies being dashed to pieces before their eyes, their temple was destroyed all kinds of unspeakable atrocities befell them. They imagined the worst possible punishment on their enemies in order to counteract the severity of the trauma: “Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:8-9, NIV). Jewish theologians reasoned that, since they did not see and could not expect God’s justice on their enemies during this lifetime, there must be another lifetime and final judgment after death where God would make things right. Only eternal torture in hell could match the enormity of the wound they suffered. The unthinkable traumas of genocide and exile thus resulted in the doctrinal innovation of eternal trauma: hell.

The idea of hell aligns with the ancient Jewish philosophy of justice of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). This idea is based on the metaphysics that evil and sin create a cosmic void, a deficit in the scales of justice that can only be balanced out through a punishment equal to the crime committed. The belief that the gods (or God) balanced the scales of justice through wrathful punishments on lawbreakers was a disincentive for people to do wrong. Governments and religions modeled their systems of justice off this belief. It is still widely practiced today and known as retributive justice. Retributive justice does not aim to rehabilitate people, nor does it consider the socioeconomic and psychological causes of crime. It aims to maintain order by making an example of offenders, utilizing fear as a motivation for obedience to the law.

This model of justice has been questioned in modern times for its overuse, as well as its brutality and ineffectiveness. While some amount of punishment may be necessary to maintain order, retributive justice is not effective on a mass scale when socioeconomic and psychological issues are more primary factors. It does not address root causes. Moreover, where rehabilitative or nonviolent methods are available, they are considered more humane and usually have better outcomes. Additionally, the motivation behind the widescale implementation of retributive justice may be little more than a primal desire for revenge. While a desire for revenge is understandable, revenge is not necessarily rational as an end in itself because it tends to perpetuate violence rather than address it. This is demonstrated in the high percentage of repeat offenders the modern incarceration system produces. Rather than rehabilitate offenders, our justice systems are designed to traumatize them further, which invariably leads to more crime.

On a metaphysical level, meeting evil with violent punishment does not cancel out injustice it simply creates more of the same thing. Perhaps it would be more godlike for God to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, NIV) than multiply evil exponentially in hell forever. It is reasonable to ask why a supposedly infinitely wise, just, and loving God would resort to the most barbaric method of justice possible (if it can be called justice). Is there not a better system of justice than one based on torture and revenge? If finite humans in our modern societies can think of better systems of justice (and every existing system of justice on earth is better than hell), then how can God be said to be just or wise? Additionally, if God’s nature is love and God is said to defeat sin and death forever through Jesus’s sacrifice for all humanity, then why is the fate of the vast majority of humanity an eternity of rebellion against God in hell? Is this not victory for the devil? If God’s vision of the best-case scenario for his creation is eternal torture for most people, is God not more devilish than divine? Furthermore, in fundamentalist belief systems about hell, God’s basis for sending people to heaven or hell is whether they get the right answer on a doctrinal quiz. Does this not make God out to be capricious and sadistic? If God insists on sending people to hell, then he should at least make salvation available to people in every religion rather than just one.

It is important for clients to ask such questions, to examine all their nagging doubts about hell and its logical and doctrinal inconsistencies with the very religion that promotes it. For instance, hell is the opposite of love, which all religions consider to be their most foundational idea. Hell is the opposite of justice and wisdom, which are fundamental concerns of all religions. Hell makes redemption and healing impossible for all eternity, and all religions promote themselves as solutions to humanity’s problems. Consideration of these inconsistencies may in time erode the basis of a client’s fear of hell.

Religious Counterarguments to Questioning of Hell and Nagging Client Fears

Many religious people do question the consistency of eternal torture with their other religious beliefs but their doubts are silenced through an appeal to God’s mysterious ways. Believers are told they cannot question God’s justice because it is beyond human comprehension. As God’s creation, it is not our place to question or judge God our role is to believe and obey. This teaching is derived from a biblical passage about God’s mysterious justice in predestining people for salvation or wrath: “One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Romans 9:19-21, NIV). God has the sovereign right to do whatever God wants, the teaching goes. In other words, God is beyond God’s own categories of right and wrong. God gets an exemption from the standards of love and justice God proclaims in the Bible. Although this thinking may satisfy some, it breaks down with scrutiny. An appeal to mystery is a claim to exemption from logic.

If God is exempt from conventional standards of morality and can do whatever he wants even when it is evil by every known human convention, then saying God is good, loving, or just means absolutely nothing. If this is the case, we cannot know what God’s version of love is, so how does it comfort anyone to say God is loving? God’s love certainly looks nothing like ours, for very few people consider torture to be loving but it becomes loving if God does it. If God’s ways are not subject to moral reasoning, then saying God is good means that good is not defined by good as a concept, but by the sum total of whatever God says and does in the Bible–whether it is good or bad by moral standards. This argument is a radical kind of moral relativism that can be used to justify any behavior whatsoever. Such radical moral relativism is the only basis by which people earnestly devoted to doing good can be duped into thinking the most radical notion of evil is the will of a God of love. If humans are capable of understanding the divine at all, as fundamentalists claim they are, then we must be capable of saying things about the divine that are consistently true. If God is love is a true statement, then God cannot be both loving and the author of hell either God is not consistently loving or teachings that God wills hell are erroneous because hell is hatred.

Many clients discover (or already know) that they can imagine no good reason for the existence of hell. It does not make sense to them on any single measure, e.g., moral, emotional, logical, spiritual, etc. In fact, hell starkly contradicts all measures of good. Hell is the evilest idea conceivable evil taken to the ultimate extreme. When clients examine all their core reasons for believing in hell, they usually discover their only bases for believing in hell are: 1) buying into the authority of a religious institution and text 2) fear. The doctrine of hell has nothing constructive to it there is no there there. There is no solid reason to its credit, no good that comes out of believing in it, and it makes no contribution to peoples’ lives. If the only reason for believing in hell is not a reason at all but a negative, then the fear of hell has no basis in reality. It has its basis in historical trauma and religious manipulation.

Religious institutions benefit immensely from promoting doctrines of hell. Hell motivates people to attend religious services, donate their money, and spread the fear of hell to others by making converts. Recovering from fear of hell is therefore not an individual matter only clients also have to deal with the pressure of religious communities and family who reinforce the fear, urging them to return to the fold. Exposing the manipulative nature of hell and how institutions use it unethically to control people will help clients to resist such pressure. Moreover, clients may have to learn to set boundaries in their interactions with their former community, politely declining to engage in conversation related to religious topics or even avoiding contact for a time if necessary. This can be a very empowering exercise.

Belief in hell originates in the authority of the community. Fundamentalist communities base doctrines of hell on their interpretation of sacred texts they claim to be divinely inspired. The authority of these texts is based on the judgment of the historical community that claims it as authoritative. The recovering client may obtain a level of freedom by questioning the community’s authority and relocating it within himself. This can be done by finding alternative interpretations of the sacred text. However, because the Bible contains several passages that strongly suggest a literal hell, it is challenging for most people to rely solely on finding alternative interpretations. Another option is to disagree with the text itself. Fundamentalist Christians teach the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and infallibility, meaning the Bible is without error and reliable in all its teachings. Because they hold this view of Scripture, many Christians are forced to believe in hell as a divine teaching even against their own better judgment. Believers are threatened that if they admit the Scriptures contain error, they will have no way of knowing what in Scripture is true or false. This will lead to a slippery slope into error and deception. The doctrinal basis of their faith will unravel, and they will backslide into hell. Thus, questioning the Bible’s authority and divine perfection is discouraged with the fear of hell. Questioning hell may result in hell.

These ideas may be counteracted by a basic study of the Bible’s many demonstrable inconsistencies. It is true that once one realizes the Bible contains errors and doctrinal disagreements, everything in its pages is open to scrutiny. This is a threat to religious communities who use the Bible manipulatively and psychologically abuse their membership with its unhealthy teachings. However, it is not a threat to religious communities who respect the authority of the individual and use the Bible with care, owning its inconsistencies and denouncing its problematic teachings. Contrary to the threat of fundamentalist preaching, many people admit errors in the Bible and disagree with its teachings on hell yet still benefit from its overarching message.

People who leave fundamentalist religions are also threatened with divine judgments during this life and removal of divine blessing for their disobedience. Eventually, however, clients who disavow fundamentalist claims to authority usually find that they do just fine in life and these threats do not come to pass. Thereafter, they gain confidence that similar threats from the religious community about hell are likewise not to be feared.

Clients may also benefit from examining passages in the Bible that contradict passages in the Bible that teach hell, such as “God is love” (1 John 4:8, NIV). There are claims in the New Testament that strongly suggest universal salvation i.e. that no one goes to hell. Here are a few: “The Lord [does not wish] that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (1 Timothy 2:3–6, ESV). Is God’s will ineffectual? Does the Lord of creation make wishes and not get what he wants? “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22, ESV). Is God’s new creation partial, or are only some made alive? “God our Savior… wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 John 2:2, NIV). So then, God wants all people to be saved, but this desire and intention of Jesus’s death are not all that serious, because God’s wish for vengeance gets the best of him in the end? “The living God… is the savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10, ESV). Those who believe benefit most from God’s salvation, but God is somehow still the savior of those who do not believe even though he sends them to hell? The salvation this Scripture mentions is meaningless if eternal hell is their end! “For God has bound all people over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32). Is the telos of God mercy on all people or only kind of? It cannot be both.

Biblical inerrantists (fundamentalists) minimize or ignore these passages in favor of the damnation passages in order to maintain their view of biblical authority. Although they claim to believe in the entire Bible, they unconsciously avoid and erase huge portions of biblical teaching in order to uphold their doctrines. Biblical literalists argue that, in order to be faithful to all of Scripture, we must interpret the broader statements of the Bible in light of the more specific statements. Thus, we are told, we must prioritize statements about literal hell and judgment on homosexuality because they are more specific than broad statements like “God is love.” According to their logic, our understanding of love must include eternal genocide (hell) and the condemnation of homosexuals.

These biblical interpreters might do well to heed the wisdom of Jesus: “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24, NIV). Does it really make sense to sacrifice love, the heart of the Scripture, for the minutia of human-conditioned prejudices which have been unequivocally discredited and condemned in modern times for their barbarism? Surely the broad-sweeping, most essential statements about love, justice, and universal reconciliation in Scripture should be prioritized over the minutia when they conflict. Moreover, the Bible is not a univocal text with a grand, symphonic argument. It is a collection of multivocal texts, often cacophonous and mixed in its messaging, filled with contradictory teachings, some life-affirming and others genocidal. We must choose our priorities consciously and through moral reasoning.

In this discussion of beliefs about hell, it is worthwhile to mention another common conception. Some Eastern religions teach that hellish dimensions of consciousness exist as temporary but long-lasting holding places of gruesome torture between lifetimes. These places are the natural result of accumulated bad karma, irrespective of a person’s choice of religion. This vision of hell is ultimately restorative (more like the Catholic purgatory), as opposed to Christian fundamentalist conceptions of hell as a place of unending divine vengeance for not believing or practicing a particular religion. Eventually, the bad karma runs its course in hell, ending the hellish experience. The soul is cleansed, and rebirth ensues. Clients who hold this perspective may be terrified by the thought of such a horrendous fate, even though it is not eternal. If clients are actively questioning these beliefs, the therapist has the option of taking an active stance in deconstructing or reframing the beliefs with the client. Otherwise, as is the case with clients committed to any religion, the therapist has to work within the confines of the client’s beliefs, perhaps by encouraging the client to pursue the solutions prescribed by the religion for mitigating fear of hell. In the case of Buddhism and Hinduism, bad karma is caused by suffering in the mind (hatred, grasping, egotism, aversion, craving, delusion). By practicing meditation and loving service, a person can heal the mind’s trauma and reconnect with wholeness, resolving the bad trauma that might lead to reincarnation in hell. Further psychological critique of this conception of hell and its impact is beyond the scope of this paper.

The Recovery

Even after clients cease believing in hell intellectually, they may find themselves drawn back into their old fears. They may continue to suffer PTSD-like nightmares and intrusive flash images of hell. They should be reminded that they are dealing with years of conditioning that does not usually go away overnight. Moreover, it often takes time for our emotional and neural patterns to catch up with our realizations. Any improvement should be celebrated. However, clients may also lose sight of their realizations and be swayed by old arguments once again. They may need to remind themselves periodically of the reasons they rejected the ideology of hell and how it was used to abuse them. It is also helpful to label hellfire indoctrination as abuse. One of the most convincing reasons why hell should be rejected is how similar it is to other forms of abuse, which people inside or outside of religion almost universally reject. Moreover, it is helpful to frame the client’s experiences as trauma. Healing trauma is not merely a matter of resolving intellectual problems it impacts the entire body-mind in specific ways that can be addressed in therapy.

Trauma is the hook within clients where old fears of hell take hold again. Clients are susceptible to going back to fears about hell because they have been traumatized by teachings and experiences about hell. Clients may continue to feel unsafe because their trauma has not yet been fully addressed. Until their trauma is resolved, the fear of hell still holds a certain appeal. Old fears of hell tempt clients with a disingenuous offer of safety, even though this offer also results in additional terrible fear. Teachings about hell promise to give clients safety from the fear of hell if they follow the old religion’s commands. But clients are already aware of the double-bind this created for them.

The common struggle of fearful thoughts of hell spiraling out of control is also related to a process in the brain known as amygdala hijacking (Goleman, 2011, pp. 51-78). The amygdala is the main area of the brain that modules the fear response, also known as the fight, flight, or freeze response. If the amygdala perceives that a situation matches up with a similar situation that caused the fear response (fight, flight, or freeze) in the past, the amygdala triggers the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis and hijacks the neocortex (rational brain). That is, the amygdala triggers a fight, flight, or flee reaction before you are able to think about what is happening with your rational mind. You are caught up in a fearful reaction and may have no idea why and have little ability to act rationally. Therefore, clients who have suffered from the fear of hell may be triggered by situations or thoughts about hell even after they have healed from their trauma. The brain has learned to trigger the fear response whenever it faces this scenario. However, the brain can be retrained to process these situations differently over time.

Clients can retrain their brains by cultivating awareness of their thoughts and emotions, learning to recognize when they are experiencing an amygdala hijack triggered by fears about hell. Evidence-based practices like meditation, mindfulness, and embodiment exercises are very useful if not essential in gaining the ability to observe the cycle and modulate one’s response. These practices enable the client to disidentify with the fear response and experience it without being overwhelmed by it. Once a client realizes s/he is experiencing a fight, flight, or freeze response, s/he can take steps to calm down the body-mind to the point where s/he can approach the issue logically again. Coping mechanisms and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may also be useful for deescalating overwhelming fear responses triggered by the amygdala. With practice and time, the intensity and duration of the fear response will lessen, and it may stop entirely. (However, therapists should focus on progress instead of achieving a total cure.)

Many other methods are useful for healing hell trauma. Somatic therapies help clients to release trauma stored in the body and repattern learned responses. Much of the work of therapy relates to processing emotions such as grief, anger, and other emotions related to abuse, manipulation, and loss. Healing from hell trauma is an endeavor that requires the creativity of both client and therapist every single case is different. Perhaps what is most needed to heal from hell trauma is an experience of the unconditional love that was promised by the client’s religion. Clients were promised that God loves them unconditionally, yet this love was conditioned on obedience. Now that the client is free of coercive religion, a lived experience of unconditional love can be incredibly healing. The client may find this love in a mystical experience, a newfound expression of faith, the human community, or within the container of the therapeutic relationship. Wherever and however it is found, love is the most powerful antidote to fear.

Do you feel psychologically traumatized by religion, isolated and disempowered by trauma, emotional and spiritual distress in your life?If you would like to talk with me for coaching support, schedule a free Inner Freedom Breakthrough Session. In this session, my intention is to help you feel deeply heard and supported, gain clarity, learn a few expert tips, and if it seems like I can support you further, see whether one of my Coaching Programs is a good fit for you.

I’m Andrew Jasko, Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Masters in Counseling in Progress, and I work to help you transform your trauma into the place of your power and connect to a healthy, authentic spirituality that works for you (whether that’s as a spiritual not religious, atheist, religious, transitioning, or agnostic identifying person). I was born into a minister’s family and became a preacher and missionary to India, after studying theology at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary. As a Christian, my relationship with God was my passion, but unhealthy religious teachings caused me an anxiety disorder, sexual repression, and spiritual disillusionment. I felt alone, traumatized, and abandoned by the divine. After an agonizing crisis of faith, I rejected religion and spirituality. Then, I reintegrated a healthy spirituality through mystical, spiritual, and mindful practices. My passion is to help you to heal and connect with your authentic spiritual wholeness.

Gnuse, R. K. (2015). Seven Gay Texts: Biblical Passages Used to Condemn Homosexuality. Biblical Theology Bulletin, 45(2), 68–87. DOI: 10.1177/0146107915577097

Goleman, D. (2011). Working with Emotional Intelligence. Random House Publishing Group

The top 10 questions about trauma, PTSD, and psychotherapy our patients ask: answered honestly

As psychotherapists specializing in treating the impact of traumatic events and chronic adversity, we are often asked a number of questions about trauma, PTSD, and psychotherapy.

Here, we have compiled the most common of these questions in order to help you, the brave reader seeking help for yourself or someone you love, better understand the effects of trauma on us all, the similarities and differences between how we may respond to experiencing/witnessing traumatic events, what it takes to heal from their impact, and what you can expect in therapy.

Have you have ever wondered why, for instance, some people develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after traumatic events and others do not? Do you worry if the panic, pain, shame, or nightmares will go away on their own or how long it would take? If you will ever feel safe again? Have you wondered what psychotherapy for healing from traumatic events looks like? Then read on, we are here to help! (This article is going to be long…we wanted to provide an exhaustive list of questions and answers, feel free to scroll down to the ones you are most interested in)

The Definition of Trauma

According to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a traumatic event is an event or situation which may involve:

This definition is expanded, however, from past definitions. Nowadays, we know that a traumatic reaction can be experienced after more indirect exposure to traumatic events, such as:

  • witnessing someone go through such event, or
  • learning about a situation in which a loved one experienced violent or accidental death, or
  • chronic exposure to or witnessing of distressing events, like through one’s job as a correspondent in a war-torn country, police officer or firefighter, is also recognized as trauma.

The Experience of Trauma

In previous editions, the DSM had also required that the event cause one significant feelings of fear or horror in order to qualify as trauma. However, we now know that this is not necessarily true, because traumatic events can also cause us to feel disconnected or dissociated from our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. They may also trigger incongruent emotional reactions (e.g. uncontrollable laughing), which may at the time seem inappropriate to the event, but are in fact not uncommon.

It is important to note, however, that the experience of trauma can be very subjective and personal. Often times, life events, even if they do not constitute a significant threat to our life, can be very traumatizing, for instance, the experience of a woman going through multiple cycles of IVF, where her body is exposed to constant changes, losses, and medical procedures infidelity or going through a divorce bullying at school being in a war zone or losing someone there even if not directly exposed to combat, multiple attachment disruptions for both children and adults, chronic exposure to poverty and hardship.

For some statistics of the prevalence of traumatic experiences, visit our main page here

Trauma vs. PTSD

Trauma does not necessarily result in PTSD, there are many other sequelae, and one may experience depression, anxiety, panic, relationship difficulties, etc., even if the symptoms do not add up to a diagnosis of PTSD. Therefore, it may be beneficial to work with a therapist who works from a trauma-informed perspective and has received additional training in trauma work even if you don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD. They will be best equipped to see your symptoms in context and may think to ask you questions and address other symptoms that a non-trauma informed therapist may not think about, e.g. the impact of traumatic events on the body and nervous system, the experience of dissociation (e.g., feeling like you are not fully here, spaced out, as if the world is not real, or as if you are disconnected from yourself or your body). For more on dissociation and its connection to trauma, you can visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

That being said, PTSD is one possible outcome of experiencing a traumatic event. We prefer to think of it as a reaction to trauma which fails to normalize over time, even if the traumatic event is no longer happening. Namely, most people who experience a traumatic event will have a response to it. This response may involve hypervigilance, nightmares, anxiety, low mood, hyper alertness, negative thoughts and self-doubts, intense emotional reactions and even bodily symptoms such as tenseness, tightness, heart racing, etc. All of these constitute a normal response in abnormal circumstances! We all will have some or all of them (and more) if we are exposed to a traumatic event. This is why we do not diagnose PTSD immediately after trauma, because you are expected to experience the above. It is the body’s natural reaction to something so out of the ordinary, something so scary or upsetting, that it sends us into a survival mode-type reaction.

You can think of PTSD as a combination of experiences, that can add up to feeling significant distress, which we then try to avoid at all cost. And, indeed, in many occasions, the cost is high. The general symptoms fall within several clusters. Please have in mind that you may not experience all of the symptoms in any given cluster. Only a few, usually one or two per cluster, are enough for a diagnosis.

Intrusive Symptoms Cluster

We call these symptoms of re-experiencing. They are internal experiences that feel as if they are keeping the memory of the trauma alive and our bodies and minds can lose track of time…as if the traumatic event is not in the past but in the present.

  • Intrusive memories that are unwanted—these can be throughs, images, sensations that are brought up by some stimuli in the environment, or even sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. You find yourself thinking about what happened, even though you do not want to be. They are different from flashbacks in that you don’t lose awareness of where you are, and yet cannot easily redirect your attention to other thoughts.
  • Flashbacks—you may feel like the traumatic event is happening to you over again. This may be a fleeting moment, when you see, hear, smell, or feel something and you are transported back to when the trauma occurred. Or it may be a longer episode in which you become disoriented and lose track of where you are, time becomes distorted, and you have to reorient yourself to your surroundings.
  • Nightmares—whether they are a repetitive nightmare, in which the trauma plays out over and over again, or more general bad dreams that leave you feeling anxious, angry, panicky, or generally off kilter
  • Emotional distress when reminders of the event are present—e.g. you become easily upset and have difficulty composing yourself again when any of the above happen, or when something in your environment reminds you of your trauma. For instance, if you experienced medical trauma, being in a hospital, or even watching a TV show that shows one can be upsetting.
  • Physical reactivity—when thinking about the event or perceiving triggers in the environment, you may feel your heart rate and blood pressure increase, experience heart palpitations, feel suddenly hot or cold, feel your palms get sweaty, have difficulty breathing or breathing shallowly, feel your head suddenly get foggy or heavy, or even feel physical tension and pain in certain areas. For instance, many survivors of sexual assault experience significant pain and discomfort in the pelvic area, which may fluctuate in intensity.

Changes in arousal and reactivity

Think of these symptoms as your nervous system’s reaction to trauma. During a traumatic event, your body will most likely experience a physiological stress response. When we have PTSD, it is as if our bodies never fully returned to normal functioning and are constantly living in a state of increased stress, as felt in:

  • Hypervigilance—constantly watching our back, scanning the environment for threats or cues that we may get hurt (both physically and emotionally)
  • Increased startle response—for instance, having a startle reaction to sudden movements or loud sounds, that would be more intense than or last longer usual
  • Engaging in risky behaviors—such as increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, increased spending, risky sexual behaviors, aggression and destructiveness
  • Difficulty concentrating—mind may be preoccupied with worries or overwhelmed, feeling scattered
  • Difficulty sleeping—either due to not being able to relax your mind and body enough, feeling unsafe to be in such a vulnerable state, or worrying about having nightmares
  • Irritability or aggression—finding yourself more on edge, engaging in more verbal or even physical arguments, feeling more easily overwhelmed by people’s demands on you and wanting to crawl out of your skin

Changes in cognition and mood

This cluster of symptoms can be thought of as the negative changes in our thoughts and emotions that develop as a result of trauma.

  • Global and general negative thoughts about yourself, others, or the world—for example thoughts that nobody can ever be trusted, that the world is all bad and hopeless, that you are not worthy of love or care. These are dangerous because they may subjectively feel true. For instance, if you experienced assault or abandonment, it may feel like nobody can ever be trusted. If you survived a natural disaster or witnessed atrocities of war, it may feel like the whole world and people in it are bad. But thinking in such absolute terms is a symptom of being traumatized and of having survived something very difficult, not an objective truth.
  • Excessively blaming yourself or others for the trauma—this is especially prominent when the trauma is losing someone you care about. Our brains tend to look for rhyme or reason, for explanations and responsibility. It is easier to accept a world where we are in control, albeit blaming ourselves, than a world in which sometimes tragedies happen. We are also often raised to believe in a fair world, one in which good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. While we may know from experience this is not always the case, in the aftermath of trauma, it is hard to reconcile this belief with something bad happening to us. As with the above point, excessive self-blame (or other blame) is a symptom of our whole being experiencing a conflict between what we have been taught and something highly abnormal and traumatic happening to us.
  • Negative affect—frequently one or more of the following feelings: fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame having difficulty pulling yourself out from those emotional states
  • Anhedonia—loss or a decrease in positive affect. For instance, catching yourself in situations where you might think “this good thing happened, I should probably be feeling happy or joyful, or excited” but not being able to feel it
  • Losing interest in activities you previously liked—similarly as above, not being able to get enjoyment out of things that you used to enjoy or difficulty finding the motivation to even try
  • Forgetting some key parts of the traumatic event—feeling like you should be able to remember them, or maybe that if you really tried hard you could, but it is as if your brain is refusing to go there, or the time/scene is just lost in your memory
  • Feelings of isolation—becoming increasingly withdrawn, feeling like you can’t be close to anyone, or to very few people, but even then keeping them at a distance

Avoidance cluster

And finally, you can think of these symptoms as your attempts to cope with all of the above.

  • Avoiding trauma-related thoughts or feelings—while it may seem a little unclear what we mean by this, think of all the ways we try to avoid painful emotions: drinking and drugs, mechanically overeating, excessive exercise, aggression towards others because if we scare them the will stay away, leaving in the middle of arguments, numbing ourselves out through excessive TV watching…
  • Avoiding external trauma reminders—people, places, or things that in some way bring your mind back to what happen. Maybe you never drive over bridges, or never go out in the dark. Maybe you have not seen your doctor in years because of a fear of hospitals. Or maybe you have not even driven a car after the accident. Maybe you avoid talking to certain family members because they ask questions about your military service, or maybe you have not been to a family party in years because of the noise and chaos.

The distress caused by the symptoms described above can often feel overwhelming. We spend so much time and efforts to try to manage our anxiety and arousal, our bodily reactions of tenseness and pain, the constant emotional up and down roller-coaster, the intrusive memories, and unwanted thoughts. We pick up all the cues in the environment that remind us of what happened, songs, colors, places, people, TV programs, areas in our town, public transportation and crowded places, garbage pales on the side of the road, driving in traffic…

So eventually, we learn that if we avoid them, maybe we can manage ourselves a little better, feel a little less activated and always on edge. The avoidance comes naturally, sometimes to a point where we don’t realize we are mapping alternative routes, even if they take twice as long, that we are skipping medical appointments, that we haven’t seen friends in months. Avoidance cluster symptoms are ways of managing, but they also make our world very small.

A note on dissociation

Dissociation is a mental process, which can become very exaggerated during and after experiencing trauma. When diagnosing PTSD, clinicians will also pay attention to possible symptoms of dissociation, and the two types that serve as qualifiers for the PTSD diagnosis, if present: depersonalization and derealization. We will have a whole article on the dissociation and trauma in the future, but in the meantime, if interested, you can start by visiting the page of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation

As scientists and clinicians, we are still learning about human resiliency and what factors contribute to why some people develop PTSD after a traumatic event and others do not. In fact, it is more accurate to say that most, if not all, people will have some type of trauma response to a traumatic event, but that a number of them will spontaneously recover after it, without long-lasting symptoms. About a third will not, and will go on to develop PTSD. (For an interesting review article on the matter, please click here)

What we do know is that there are a number of factors that may contribute to the development of PTSD after trauma:

  • chronic vs one-time trauma
  • preexisting mental illness or family history of mental illness
  • who the perpetrator is (someone known and trusted vs. a stranger)
  • social support
  • availability of resources such as medical and psychological care after the trauma
  • general level of stress and coping skills
  • type of trauma (e.g. sexual trauma vs natural disaster)

Overall, it appears that the higher the chronicity and intensity of the trauma, the more personal it is (e.g. natural disaster vs interpersonal violence), the more stressors and fewer support systems/resources the person has, the more likely they are to develop PTSD. Early trauma or adversity are also likely contributing factors, and so is family history of mental illness or already present mental illness in the trauma survivor. At the end of the day, it is especially important to remember that PTSD, or any other mental health issue following trauma, is not weakness, lack of desire to “just get better,” or “not trying hard enough.”

If you are interested in learning more about the impact of early childhood trauma and adversity, we recommend reading about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study.

Traumatic memories feel fresh in our minds, often times as if they are happening all over again. There is no easy answer to this question, because at the end of the day, it is this stuckness that is causing you significant distress. One way to understand the re-experiencing cluster of symptoms (see Question 2) is through the lens of what function they serve. During a traumatic event, your whole body is mobilized for survival (see fight/flight/freeze response).

Reexperiencing has a purpose

In that sense, reexperiencing, which triggers all of the other symptom clusters, ensures that you remain vigilant even in the present moment. It ensures that you cannot fall asleep and thus be in a vulnerable position, that you stay irritable or angry (or in a constant state of anxiety/panic) so that you can fight or flee, should a danger present itself. In a way, your mind and brain are trying to stay constantly on stand-by. The problem is that this constant stand-by, constant state of activation, is no longer applicable, because you are no longer in the traumatizing situation that caused this in the first place. But you keep reacting to the world as if you are.

Traumatic events have a way of “getting stuck” in our bodies and minds. But they can also be released. Therapy addresses some of this through teaching relaxation strategies and coping skills, but also through allowing you to address the ways in which trauma has impacted you in a safe environment. Trauma-informed therapists are also knowledgeable in how to help you with the physiological components of how trauma is lodged in your body and its emotional core.

Children are incredibly resilient! Often times, they are able to cope with difficult and challenging events better than we anticipated. We are often in awe of how they use their creativity, imagination, and inner strength to combat sadness, anxiety, and anger.

However, at times difficulties can overwhelm their inner resources. There are a number of behaviors and signs that your child may be experiencing a traumatic reaction to an event or events. Sometimes, you may know that something happened (e.g. bullying, a natural disaster) and be vigilant about how child is coping. Other times, you may not know that your child has been exposed to a traumatic event, but a change in their behavior, sleep and play patterns, concentration, and mood may be a good indication that your child is hurting:

  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Persistent nightmares or difficulties falling and/or staying asleep
  • Anger or rage
  • Difficulty being soothed
  • Unreasonable fear
  • Regressing to a previous developmental stage (e.g. wetting bed after that had stopped)
  • Unusually strong startle response
  • Sudden difficulties at school, grades decreasing
  • Lethargy
  • Withdrawal from previously trusted adults
  • Clinginess or intense anxiety when separated from parent
  • Frequent stomach aches and/or headaches
  • Unusual shyness or acting out in social situations


Of the above, several are particularly telling of when a child is coping with a traumatic event. One of those is regression, i.e. returning to a previous stage of development. This can be emotionally, when a child who had achieved a level of independence is suddenly much more clingy and starts asking of their parents to perform tasks/chores/responsibilities that the child had mastered. Or it could be through regressing in bodily control, such as sudden enuresis (bed wetting) or encopresis (bed soiling alternatively, some children may signal distress through withholding their bowel movements), suddenly forgetting how to talk, or regressing in other already achieved milestones.

Loss of imaginative play

Most children, unless they are experiencing neuro-developmental delays, show signs of imaginative play early in childhood. As they progress through the developmental stages, their play becomes more and more complex, with whole stories and characters existing only in their rich imaginations.

Because traumatic events overwhelm our emotional resources, directing all efforts and attention towards coping with their aftermath, children in particular can struggle to remain playful and imaginative after trauma. If you are noticing that your child’s play is repetitive, unimaginative, and even has a perseverative quality to it, or if your child is enacting a traumatic event over and over in their play, this may be a sign that they are struggling to process the event and recover from it. A skilled child therapist will be able to help them utilize their play to “digest” the difficult event and heal from it.

Most of us are by now familiar with the fight/flight response to danger. They are evolution’s gift to us, to ensure our physical survival. A neighbor cave man tries to steal our meat, we beat them up with a stick. The truth is, in a traumatic situation (read: one that we perceive as physically or emotionally dangerous), we cannot say for sure which one will kick in.

In therapy, we hear many people express self-blame for a third type of reaction – freezing. They report becoming paralyzed and then experiencing crushing shame that “I didn’t run away, or scream, or push the attacker away,” “I did not report what happened,” “I couldn’t move and save these people.” However, freezing, just like fight or flight, is an evolution-determined response of the nervous system. It is not more or less likely than its two counterparts, nor is it a choice that you make during the experience of trauma. Just like fighting or fleeing, in certain dangerous situations, it may ensure your survival, and even if you are not “playing dead” in front of a bear, your body may still freeze in the face of other traumas. We believe this video may be interesting to you, if you wish to learn more about the freeze response:

Protective factors – The power of connection

As we discussed earlier, you are expected to feel some distress after experiencing a traumatic event. Not much is yet known about what factors are at that critical time most effective in protecting from PTSD. Further, each person will move through those first days and weeks at their own pace, having their own unique emotional experienced and coping strategies.

What we do know, however, is that traumatic events can feel very isolating. As a result, we tend to withdraw and often distance ourselves from others. In contrast, it seems that people who, in the aftermath of a traumatic event, are able to reach for and accept help, support, and care from others fare off better. There is very little empirical support for any psychological or crisis first aid interventions being especially effective in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. This may be because, in general, for therapy to work, a good, trusting, and collaborative relationship between patient and therapist is essential. In the immediate days after a traumatic event, we may be too activated, in shock, or in crisis, to be establishing new connections. Therefore, leaning on those who are already there, such as friends, family, social circle, appears to be immensely helpful. It seems that feeling connected with others produces hormones that make our immune systems stronger to withstand adversity.

For an excellent book on this subject, we recommend Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging”

In contrast, avoidance seems to be correlated with a higher likelihood of developing PTSD. The more you try to tell yourself to ignore it, the more you risk having longer-term symptoms, as trauma becomes lodged in the body, which has no way of releasing it. Disclosing the trauma to loved ones, on the other hand, appears to be beneficial.

Treating PTSD

Each person will progress through treatment of trauma-related symptoms and/or PTSD at their own pace. One of the most important factors in therapy, it is worth repeating, is a sense of comfort and feelings of trust and safety with your therapist. From there on, your therapist will work with you on creating a treatment plan that is best fit for you, based on type and severity of symptoms, current stressors, and other factors.

There are a variety of treatment approaches to trauma. APA’s guidelines for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (click here) recommend Cognitive Therapy (CT) or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as effective modalities, as well as several varieties of CBT, such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE). These therapies are highly structured and promise results within a limited number of sessions (usually 12 to 18). However, they may not be suitable for some people. For instance, recent brain imaging research (click here) suggests that only certain patients may benefit from Prolonged Exposure, for instance.

The APA guidelines also suggest that several other types of therapy, e.g. ones combining CBT and psychodynamic interventions, as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Narrative Exposure Therapy may work with good effect as well.

Treating the whole body

It is also important to remember that other methods of treatment can be effective, either on their own or in combination with the above modalities. They have not been included in these guidelines not due to their ineffectiveness, but often because conducting clinical research trials is an expensive and time consuming, not to mention difficult, undertaking and there is simply not enough well-regulated studies out there to support their inclusion in guidelines.

As clinicians, we know that there is also a bodily component to trauma (see Question 4, for example). Therefore, it is essential to include a component of relaxation, somatic work, art work, perhaps even meditation and trauma-sensitive yoga practices, as adjunct to treatment. Therapies like Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy have shown great results in treating complex traumatic reactions.

In children, Trauma-Focused CBT has a wide foundation of empirical support. It combines elements of traditional CBT therapist with a narrative component, as well as a module in teaching children how to relax their bodies and manage heightened emotional states.

Ideally, your therapist will have background in at least a few (or many) of the above and be able to combine interventions from them to best fit your needs.

The very short answer is NO, it is not too late. Just like with any other chronic affliction, when untreated, PTSD can last a lifetime. Studies (like this one) with Vietnam-era veterans have found that untreated symptoms persisted 40 years after the service members’ return from war.

If you have been suffering from PTSD symptoms for a long time, by now you probably realize the many ways in which they have affected your life, from relationship difficulties, to troubles sleeping, to becoming emotionally upset at the sight/smell/sound of certain triggers, to panic and anxiety (for a full list, see Question 2).

However long you have been experiencing these symptoms, treatment with a caring, understanding, and trauma-competent clinician can help tremendously improve your symptoms and quality of life. You may wonder how this could happen if therapy can’t take the memories away. But there is a difference between curing (eliminating all signs of an illness) and healing (becoming whole again). While we cannot cure PTSD in the sense that we cannot eliminate all traces of the trauma (e.g. the memories), we can help you heal and feel whole again through lessening the power that those memories have over you, your emotions, and your body.

As we discussed above (in Question 8), the impact of trauma can last for many years, even decades, if untreated. Also, avoidance is one of the primary symptoms of PTSD. We simply do not want to talk about and relive the traumatic event. Most of the time, we already spend so much effort and mental resources to manage our internal struggle, that it seems unbearable to talk about what is causing us to feel this way in the first place. And then there can also be feelings of shame, which can develop as a result of the trauma. They make it even more difficult to talk about it, for fears of being judged, seen as damaged or broken, or being blamed for what happened.

However, we know that the more we avoid talking about the trauma or doing anything about our symptoms, the longer they are likely to persist. Avoidance has a way of “encapsulating” the trauma in our minds and bodies. We may think that not addressing what happened or our symptoms will make them lessen or go away overtime, but in reality, avoidance makes our world much smaller, albeit seemingly more predictable. The truth it, triggers in the environment are unpredictable. If we don’t learn how to better manage our symptoms, memories, and emotional reactions, we are constantly at the mercy of our environment and the triggers in it.

That being said, there are many ways to approach the treatment of symptoms following stressful and traumatic events. Some treatment modalities will require talking at length about what happened, and others do not. A good therapist, trained in working through a trauma-informed lens, will work with you at your own pace and selecting treatment approaches that work for you. It is important that you express your needs and worries, and that you feel comfortable with your therapist, so that you can begin this journey towards healing armed with the knowledge that they have your back!

PTSD has only existed as a diagnosis in the DSM since 1980, and only in the last version of the DSM did it become separated from the Anxiety Disorders cluster of diagnoses. This change finally granted it a recognition it did not before have, acknowledging that PTSD is not just another variation of an anxiety dysregulation and that its symptoms are rather unique. While this is a significant change, PTSD and trauma treatment in general, are still in the beginning stages of empirical study. There is little in the scientific literature that empirically traces what PTSD recovery looks like.

The National Center for PTSD, recognizes four stages of PTSD recovery: Impact, Immediate, Intermediate, and Long-term.

Impact Phase

These are the very first hours, days, and weeks after a traumatic event. During those, everyone is expected to experience some kind of trauma response (shock, feelings of helplessness, fear, powerlessness, guilt, panic, dissociation). Additional stressors, like separation from loved ones, medical trauma, loss of a loved one, and many others may further contribute to these feelings.

However, many of us have experienced multiple traumatic events. When trauma is chronic, we learn to adapt to it in ways that may keep us alive, but have a high psychological cost. If the dangerous or hurtful event is ongoing, or if we continue to be exposed to hardship, our minds and bodies will summon all resources to ensure physical (and psychological) survival, but the recovery stages will look different, as will the steps that need to be made to ensure safety. Recovery from what is frequently called Complex PTSD, then, will not necessarily follow these stages exactly.

Immediate (Rescue) Phase

This is described as the phase in which “there is reckoning with what has happened.” We now know that during this phase, people may exhibit significant resilience in coping, as they attempt to get their life back together and deal with the aftermath, support other loved ones, and work on achieving stability again.

However, many may experience delayed emotional reactions. They will often report that keeping busy in the first months after a traumatic event (e.g. after returning from deployment, or after surviving a natural disaster) has kept the feelings at bay, but as life starts to settle in, waves of emotional and somatic/physical reactions may begin to appear including: denial or shock, sadness, anger, fear, numbness, feeling overwhelmed, complex grief responses, flashbacks and nightmares, feelings of despair and hopelessness, loss of purpose or meaning.

Intermediate (Recovery) Phase

During this phase is when we start to adjust to the new normal and begin to try to achieve equilibrium. This may be the phase when we start seeking treatment, or begin acknowledging that perhaps there are psychological needs that need to be addressed. Recovery can be complicated by additional stressors, of course, but the core of the problem begins to be more recognizable. For instance, this is when nightmares or intrusive memories, which we thought would go away, continue to persist. Or we find ourselves withdrawing more from the loved ones around us. We realize that we have new anxieties or anger that were not there before, or certain things that did not matter before bother us more. We can become disillusioned or begin experiencing also more physical symptoms and illness. Stress we are experiencing can begin to impact our relationships and work.

In this recovery stage, it is important that we address the impact of trauma on our nervous system, bodily reactions, and reexperiencing symptoms, as well as learn to regulate our emotional reactivity and intensity. Recovery will begin by starting to establish safety, recognizing the triggers in the environment that now remind us of the trauma and cause us to feel unsafe, anxious, or angry. We learn coping skills for our anxiety, and we learn to relax our bodies enough so that they can progress to the next phase, Restructuring or Long-term Recovery, which would be difficult if we become panicky, shut down, or hyperactivated every time that the trauma is mentioned or when our emotions are easily dysregulated.

Long-term (Reconstruction) Phase

This is the meaning-making phase of recovery. Once you are able to address the traumatic event and its impact, you can become examining the deeper-held beliefs that it may have left in its aftermath. Beliefs related to the world, others, or yourself. Beliefs that tell you that nobody can be trusted, or that it is your fault for taking too long to recover and heal, or that you cannot ever trust your mind or your body to protect you, or that since help was unavailable at the time, nobody would ever be there for you to help.

Those are only a small sample of the insidious negative thoughts that result from those first moments of feeling powerless, helpless, and terrified during a traumatic experience, or the longer-term distrust in the world and others or oneself that chronic trauma can cause.

One of the most challenging but rewarding tasks of this stage is making meaning of what happened and integrating it into your story of who you are, where you came from, and who you want to become. This also helps in reestablishing a sense of control over your life goals and course, and finding a sense of purpose again, and learning to trust your judgment and abilities to overcome adversity. Some do this through acts of altruism, while others work on rebuilding a sense of a stronger self as a survivor.