The Objectification of Trauma

My last appointment of the week was with a battered woman who carries the pain of an extensive history of domestic violence and paternal rejection. Though she has moved on in many tangible ways and counts numerous triumphs in her post-abuse life, she still struggles with a sense of feeling "scattered" internally. She has made meaning out of her story by bravely telling it to others and by taking her ex to court, but simply sharing her story has not made her feel whole. In fact, she reported telling it over and over again can become an exercise of talking "about" traumatic incidents, almost as if it happened to someone else.

This is what I call the objectification of trauma. She is no longer the subject when she tells her story. It is like being one step removed from the experience. Talking about trauma from a subjective place is very difficult and sometimes requires the attuned ear and heart of a psychotherapist. I have seen this pattern before and it can be a common one. Though sharing with friends and family the trauma is very commendable and brave indeed, finding a "relational home" for trauma, as Robert Stolorow says, is hard to do. Sometime people just don't understand or are not in a place to emotionally invest in your life.

In therapy, my goal is to help clients find a welcoming home for the painful parts that they bring through the door with them. A welcoming home is one in which a person can feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable. With clients who have experience trauma, integrating those experiences can take time. Pragmatically, the therapy often centers on a traumatized person's most pressing question: "How can I expect to live a full and healthy life after what happened to me? How can I have confidence in my future when my past was so horrific?" The courage it takes to get into a therapy room for the first time after a lifetime of abuse and neglect is immense, and is in and of itself a victory in the life-long endeavor of living with deep relational trauma.