5 Things You Need to Do to Heal Complex Trauma According to Dr. Jacob Ham

Marlena Eva
5 min readMay 17, 2024

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Dr. Jacob Ham specializes in treating childhood trauma survivors and has brilliant insights into the topic

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Jacob Ham is a clinical psychologist specializing in treating complex trauma. He works at the Mount Sinai Behavioral Health Center in New York and has had tremendous success treating Stephanie Foo, a NYC-based journalist and author of ‘What My Bones Know: a Memoir of Healing From Complex Trauma’.

Foo suffered from severe emotional injuries at the hands of her abusive mother and her enabling father. She talks about her abuses in detail in her book, so, if you’re interested in finding out her story, check the book out.

The journalist can be often seen online talking about complex trauma with Dr. Ham which I think is great. Online content on complex trauma is lacking and as more survivors come forward with their abuses they need more support and information, even if it’s delivered sparingly.

Anyway, in a discussion that she and Dr. Ham had online, we find how a trauma-informed therapist can approach their client to build a harmonious doctor-patient relationship, what methods we can use to process our trauma and things we can do at home to feel better and heal.

Below are 5 things you can try to undo the emotional damage you’ve experienced in your childhood. All these tips are recommended by Dr. Jacob Ham and are used in therapeutic sessions.

1. Recognize that you have a problem

Dr. Ham suggests to start accepting that you have a problem. You have experienced trauma as a child and that has been affecting you your entire life. Childhood trauma is a relationship wound. Your ability to emotionally connect and bond with people has been broken by your abusive parent or caretaker.

Complex trauma leads to being afraid of other people, to not trusting yourself and others, to an overwhelming feeling of being undeserving of love. Recognize that you have this very problem that has sabotaged your romantic life, career, personal relationships and the relationship with self.

2. Identify your inner critic and become curious about it

The inner critic is the part of yourself that criticizes your every move. Another representation of your critic is your ‘outer critic’. This critic judges people and finds fault in what they do and how they are.

Know that every time you judge yourself (or others), you indulge in the criticisms that your abusive parent/caretaker has thrown at you in the past. Yes, your inner critic is the voice of your abusive family (who also have inner critics) and, to heal it, you need to accept it and start showering it with love and understanding.

This voice is there because it wants to protect you from further harm. It is harsh and scary for it wants you to stay away from people so you can avoid being abused. It can also stop you from going places or doing new things to prevent you from entering a bad situation, from being assaulted or from failing at something.

When you realize that you’re judging yourself, stop and listen. What does the critic say about you or other people? Take notes.

Moreover, start talking nicely to your critic. Tell him or her that you’re not in danger anymore and nothing bad can happen to you but you are profoundly grateful for the ‘work’ they are doing to protect you.

Then maybe you can find a way to take action despite the fears of your inner critic.

3. Sit with difficult emotions

Complex trauma’s main symptom is ‘dissociation’. When we are dissociating, we detach from feeling our bodily feelings and sensations.

We process a life event with our minds and not our bodies. This is detrimental to our well-being because if you don’t feel your emotions, they’ll stay stuck in your body for years and this can lead to mental health issues or even chronic illness.

There are guided meditations on YouTube that teach you how to do ‘body scans’ or release your emotions. Try those or you can do journaling to connect with your emotions.

Whenever I write about an event that affected me, I almost instantly tear up. Journaling is a great method of dealing with our emotions, so try this if meditation and other methods don’t work.

4. Start a relationship with your inner child

Dr. Ham urges people with complex trauma to start their journey of bonding with their inner child. He says that most patients are resistant to taking this step. It feels a bit cringy to think about yourself as a small child who needs love and protection. It also feels unnatural.

However, Dr. Ham says it is a crucial step in recovery from childhood PTSD. By the way, your inner child is not a child but a sum of emotions, thoughts and memories that you had in your childhood and are now buried deep inside you.

A great therapist who specialises in inner child healing is Dr. Margaret Paul. Her book, ‘Inner Bonding’ is a popular read among childhood trauma survivors. I recommend this book if you’re interested in connecting with the ‘inner child’.

5. Experience healthy relationships (start with your therapist)

Another important step in healing from childhood trauma is having healthy relationships. Ham believes that it’s impossible to heal a ‘relational trauma’ without practising being in a relationship.

It is as if you want to become a writer without having to write a word. This step might be challenging for everyone who suffered abuse as a child (I know it is for me) but you can’t avoid this.

Practice connecting with people in healthy ways. Meet people who you will feel seen, heard and understood by. Drop your guard and start being a bit vulnerable with others.

Dr. Ham advises others to start this process by engaging with your therapist. Practice healthy and loving exchanges with them. Let yourself cry and be angry around them. Let yourself be held by them.

Because your healthy relationship skills can only start with one person. If you can build these skills with the therapist and apply them in the real world, with other healthy people, you’ll be on your way to recovery.

Conclusion

What I wrote here is a lot, I know. But complex trauma is A LOT and unpacking what happened to you and how to move forward feels like an impossible task. However, if you have the right therapist and the right mindset for healing, the impossible can become possible.

Try some of the healing methods above and, let me know if something in this article resonated with you.

Resources for this article:

Dr. Jacob Ham’s YouTube Channel

Dr. Jacob Ham’s Website

Stephanie Foo’s book on healing from Complex Trauma

Dr. Margaret Paul’s website

Dr. Margaret Paul’s YouTube presentation on inner bonding

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Marlena Eva

MA in Social Psychology. Freelance Writer. Poet. Writes about: narcissism (NPD), relationships, mental health.