Relational Trauma: What is it?

Relational trauma, a trauma that many of us have never heard of. However, it may relate to if you had a stranied relationship with your primary caregiver or felt abandoned or unloved. At times, relational trauma has been misdiagnosed as PTSD. PTSD occurs when a person witnesses a traumatic event like war, death or a serious accident. PTSD can be easier to diagnose as many therapists are trained in recognizing PTSD. Relational trauma occurs in childhood when a primary caregiver abuses the child over a period of time. A caregiver can be a parent, nanny, grandparent or even a boarding school guardian. What occurs is that a child's life and bond are disrupted by events. This can be when a parent leaves and does not return. This can take place when a caregiver is physically abusive or when a child witnesses domestic violence. When children witness this in their lives, this creates issues in their relationships as adults. Relational trauma can result in a variety of different mental health issues. All children are sensitive, but children react to relational trauma in different ways as they age. Some are able to conform to societal norms despite relational trauma. The scars they received, however, may make maintaining intimate relationships difficult. Those who are less able to adapt may show their trauma in more obvious ways. When a person has experienced relational trauma they are more likely to have a hard time setting boundaries and keeping boundaries. A person who has experienced such trauma in their childhood will find it very difficult to maintain healthy relationships. A study done by Eileen L. Zurbriggen PhD, Robyn L. Gobin MS & Laura A. Kaehler MS (2012) Trauma, Attachment, and Intimate Relationships, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, shows the effects of trauma as it relates to intimate relationships. What professionals have seen in the past is that relationship abuse is overlooked. This study indicates that intimate relationships are affected.

Signs of relational trauma are:

Self-esteem issues

Problem with boundaries

Difficulty in relationships

Toxic relationships

Social anxiety

Avoidance behavior


Manipulative behaviors

Developing delays

Forging authentic connections and creating healthier coping mechanisms are the most effective approaches to repairing relational trauma. Clinical and experiential therapeutic modalities, tailored to each individual, are usually most effective. Depending on the age of the person, the severity of the relational trauma they suffered, and how it is affecting their life, each case is unique. At Towler Counseling LLC, we use CBT to work with clients who have experienced Relational Trauma. With CBT, the therapist will work with you on exploring the past of your childhood and begin to peel back the learned thinking patterns.

If you feel you suffer from relational trauma call us. If you would like to learn more you are welcome to call and book your first appointment or fill out our contact form.


Tara Towler Cumby LPC CPCS NCC

Atlanta Therapists

Samantha L. Anders BA, Sandra L. Shallcross BA & Patricia A. Frazier PhD (2012) Beyond Criterion A1: The Effects of Relational and Non-Relational Traumatic Events, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 13:2, 134-151, DOI: 10.1080/15299732.2012.642744


We specialize in treating a range of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, addictions,  trauma, motherhood, life changes, postpartum, child therapy, post traumatic trauma, and mood disorders. We help clients in Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, and Sandy Springs, Georgia.  


Towler Counseling LLC

8046 Roswell Road Suite 101 C Sandy Springs, GA. 30350

Phone: 404-580-7150 or 770-800-7362