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  • Tony Georgiadis

Psychological trauma and a weak sense of self

Psychological Trauma

Psychological trauma is deeply ingrained in our lives. From the moment we are born, the very first separation from our mothers marks one of our earliest traumatic experiences. Throughout our formative years, our family environment, upbringing, and experiences in relationships can be both the basis of good physical and mental health, and source of trauma. At birth, the world is entirely new to us. We begin to experience it through our primary caregivers, and our survival as well as the development of adequate mental health depend – amongst other factors – upon their care. When this care is not good enough, psychological trauma can occur. Often, one way to cope with the emotional pain that trauma brings is the development of defence mechanisms.

Distorting our self-identity as a means to cope

Our psyche is a powerful structure, capable of deploying various mechanisms to shield itself from trauma. When our needs are poorly or inconsistently met, and we experience neglect, we might begin to conform to our environment and learn to live by rules that prioritise the needs of our caregivers over our own. A renowned psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, named this obedient and complying part of ourselves 'The False Self' (Winnicott, 1960). When operating through a false self, we learn to become attuned to their needs and unconsciously adjust our behavior to accommodate them. Through this experience, we learn that our survival and gaining of acceptance depends on setting aside our own needs and aligning with others' expectations.

This may leave a part of ourselves (our 'True Self') emotionally underdeveloped and stunned, and can lead to a weak sense of self, a sense of not knowing who we really are. Consequently, it may become challenging to identify and articulate our needs, express our desires, nurture our natural talents and inclinations, develop skills, and establish deep emotional connections with those around us. This way of relating to ourselves can significantly contribute to persistent feelings of anxiety and depression. In such cases, our ability to relate to ourselves confidently and feel secure in our own skin (i.e., our 'ego-relatedness') is often poor, as our self-identity and interactions with others primarily focus on attuning to others rather than ourselves. This is especially prevalent when psychological trauma occurs at a young age, causing painful emotions and memories to be repressed due to their overwhelming nature.

Therapy and counselling for trauma

Talking therapy can help restore our emotional vocabulary, promote self-exploration, and enhance self-awareness by identifying and closely examining our thoughts and feelings based on our experiences. Gradually experiencing or re-experiencing repressed emotions in the safe space of therapy can be a significant step toward improved mental health, which may serve as the foundation for giving space and voice to the underdeveloped parts of ourselves where attending to our own needs and finding our voice becomes a priority. During this journey of self-exploration, it may be valuable to explore, closely examine, and challenge tendencies to excessively idealise others (e.g. a partner or our new boss) and refrain from expressing what we may not be very happy with. We may then begin to wonder:

What causes my difficulty in recognising and voicing my needs, dislikes and disapprovals?

Why is pleasing others blindly and at the expense of my own needs my default way of relating to them?

What is my true - and at times voiceless - self trying to convey to me about my experiences and emotional states?

Tony Georgiadis - Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor (MBACP)

Author: Tony Georgiadis - Therapist and Counsellor in London and Online

In person and Online Counselling and Therapy


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