Healing Psychological Maternal Trauma with EFT (Tapping)
Let’s talk about something that is more widespread than one can imagine, but is often overlooked and not talked about – psychological maternal trauma. But first, let’s define what psychological maternal trauma is, and explore how EFT (Tapping) can bring healing to a struggling mother.
What is Psychological Maternal Trauma?
Since there is not one definition to define psychological maternal trauma, as it can come from multiple sources, we will, instead, explore the possible events that could have contributed to it.
1. Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma is defined as an event that occurred in childhood (0-18 years) that was life threatening, scary, dangerous, or violent. This event may have happened to the child or to someone the child knows. (Center for Child Trauma Assessment and Interventions)
Childhood trauma could have come from one particular event or could have been an ongoing and repetitive event, such as in the case of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
While we do our best to cover up this trauma as we’re growing and maturing, unless we are actively working on healing from this trauma, its effects never go away. The effects of the trauma may go into hiding while we’re actively trying to suppress them. But they immediately come out during times we are vulnerable, stressed, and tired. Motherhood is a time in our life when we are all of those things, and our guard is down. That is why a lot of our childhood traumas and negative experiences, begin to re-emerge in motherhood.
2. Pregnancy Trauma
While there is no formal definition for emotional pregnancy trauma, it typically stems from physical trauma sustained during pregnancy. It could have come in the form of a miscarriage, difficult pregnancy due to illness, violence during pregnancy, or physical injury while pregnant.
3. Birth Trauma
Psychological birth trauma can come as a result of a physically traumatic birth (i.e. near death of mom or baby, emergency C-section, episiotomy, etc.) or an emotionally traumatic birth (birth didn’t meet expectations, didn’t feel supported, wasn’t listened to by providers, felt powerless, etc.)
While the physical birth trauma can be easily seen and identified, the psychological birth trauma is highly subjective to the individual mother. That’s why it is never ok to pass judgement on whether you would have deemed the situation traumatic.
4. Postpartum Trauma
Psychological postpartum trauma is typically identified as postpartum PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Postpartum PTSD usually happens as a result of birth or pregnancy trauma, or in mothers who have previously suffered from PTSD.
Postpartum PTSD can stay with you a long time and needs to be treated in order to be healed. Talk therapy and medication, while popular, are typically not the best ways to treat any form of PTSD. Somatic therapies, like EMDR and EFT (Tapping) have shown much better results at treating PTSD.
How Does Psychological Maternal Trauma Impact Your Motherhood Experience
Psychological maternal trauma can have a deep and profound effect not only on your motherhood experience, but also on your children. As a mother, you may be feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, not connected with your children, maybe even feeling like you made a mistake by being a mother. Very little of motherhood feels good to you and you feel like you are suffering daily. (If you are interested to read my personal battle with PPD, check out The Dark Side of Motherhood (My Personal PPD Story). And you may believe that you are doing a good job hiding it from your kids, but it’s not the case.
Psychological maternal trauma typically shows up as PPD (Postpartum Depression) and PPA (Postpartum Anxiety) or Postpartum PTSD. Research suggests that severe and long term postpartum depression in mothers correlates with cognitive and language delays in children, insecure or disorganized attachment, higher rates of behavioral problems, and lower grades. (Netsi E, Pearson RM, Murray L, Cooper P, Craske MG, Stein A. Association of persistent and severe postnatal depression with child outcomes.)
PPD and PPA greatly affect moms’ interactions with their children. Moms are often more withdrawn, not as attentive to their children’s needs, can present with anger and rage, can’t regulate their own emotions, so in turn, can’t soothe their children. Children feel this and notice it on the subconscious level, the level where things affect their body and their nervous system. So, no wonder that poor maternal mental health can lead to issues with children’s development.
Even though PPA isn’t linked to negative outcomes for children’s development, it can make motherhood feel especially burdensome. You may be dealing with scary intrusive thoughts, inability to leave the house, with or without baby, fear of being alone with baby, or you may be experiencing scary physical symptoms like increasing or irregular heart rate, nausea, shaking, chest tightening or pain, and even panic attacks. All of this makes motherhood very difficult, and a far cry from the picture of bliss and joy that most of us have about motherhood.
What Can You Do To Heal Your Trauma
While all of this paints a bleak picture, healing is possible. There are many different avenues you can pursue to help yourself heal from trauma and its aftereffects.
1. Talk Therapy
This is something that people are the most familiar with. To find a therapist, you can either ask for a referral from your OBGYN or your PCP or you can search for it yourself online. You would, ideally, find a therapist with a PMH-C designation, as they have special training pertaining to maternal mental health. And you can also look for therapists that specialize in CBT or DBT for trauma work.
2. Somatic Therapy
Somatic therapy is a newer therapy modality that takes a more holistic approach to healing. It uses both psychotherapy and physical therapies to help release the pent up negative energy and tension that has been stored in the body. While not typically referred to as such, EFT (Tapping) is a form of a somatic therapy.
Somatic therapy often incorporates movement and vagus nerve balancing as part of treatment. So, things like yoga and meditation are often part of the somatic therapy treatment.
3. EFT (Tapping)
As I said before, EFT can be considered a somatic therapy, as it functions on the same principle – mind and body are connected and our emotions carry energetic charges that can impact our overall wellbeing. (If you want to learn more about EFT, check out How EFT (Tapping) Can Benefit Moms).
Through the EFT process, you can target the exact instances and memories that left you traumatized, and clear the negative charges out of those memories. Once you clear out the charges, the memory (trauma) stops being frozen in time and in your system. It becomes just another memory that integrates into the greater whole of you.
So, if you clear out the underlying trauma, then things like depression, anxiety, and PTSD stop being a part of your daily existence. And it can happen quickly. Certain traumatic events can be worked through in as little as 1 session. More prolonged or severe trauma would require more sessions, but is still significantly faster than traditional therapy.
Creating mindfulness practices is very important in trauma work. Mindfulness allows us to experience the fact that all emotions are temporary, and we have a choice in how we react.
Trauma puts our bodies in constant fight, flight or freeze mode. And it disrupts vital and important bodily functions. Mindfulness allows us to create space for our reactions. When we stop and think, we realize that we can control our responses. We don’t have to live at the mercy of our overactive amygdala (the primitive part of the brain responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze response). We have choices, and we can help rewire the way our brain responds to triggers and stimuli.
5. Self-Compassion Work
While not a stand alone practice when it comes to trauma, self-compassion work is an important modality to integrate into the overall trauma treatment . In many cases, trauma results in carrying a lot of guilt and shame. Those emotions are powerful and can create a lot of havoc for one’s mental and physical health.
Self-compassion not only allows us to normalize the experience, but also develop compassion for ourselves that is needed for deep healing. It can be done as part of your mindfulness practice, and in combination with any of the previously mentioned therapies.
Parting Words On Psychological Maternal Trauma
Though psychological maternal trauma can make motherhood a dark and challenging place, there are ways to heal from it. All of us experienced trauma in our lives. Whether it was “little t” trauma or “big T” trauma, it still left an imprint on our nervous system. And it came out in motherhood because motherhood is a place and time when we drop our defenses, and focus on the wellbeing of another. But motherhood is also a place and time when we see ourselves for who we truly are, with all our faults and imperfections. And it is a wonderful place to start healing not only yourself, but your family.
You are not alone in this struggle. Help is out there.
I am offering a FREE 60-minute EFT session for anyone who is interested to find out whether EFT is the right healing modality for them. All you have to do is book your FREE 60-minute EFT session. I am looking forward to hearing from you.