Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma`

by Daniela F. Sieff

Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma is an informative, layered and engaging investigation into the creation and healing of emotional trauma. 

The book has three aims: 

  1. Create an understanding of how emotional trauma comes into being.
  2. Foster an appreciation of what it is like to live with emotional trauma. 
  3. Forge an awareness of both what is involved in healing emotional trauma, and what it means to be healed.

The book is made up of interviews with ten pioneering clinicians and researchers. I chose these interviewees because their work has contributed both to the modern understanding of trauma, and to my understanding of myself.   

When creating the interviews book, I explored each interviewee’s work by reading their books and articles, attending their lectures and participating in their workshops.  I also explored their work by living it in my own mind and body as I engaged with my own trauma. The challenge of bringing together these two different exploratory paths meant that the book took me eight years to write. 

Chapter Summaries


by Daniela Sieff


Emotional trauma is defined not only by painful and frightening experiences, but also by their long-term impact on our lives. When experiences leave us with an implicit conviction that our survival is at risk, a suite of defences is constellated deep within our unconscious minds and bodies.`

Donald Kalsched

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 1

Uncovering the Secrets of the Traumatised Psyche:
The life-saving inner protector who is also a persecutor

The psychological system created when a child is traumatised is life-saving but has a terrible down-side. The normal reaction to unbearable pain is to withdraw from the cause of that pain; however when we are children, and it is our caregivers who are causing pain, we cannot physically withdraw, so withdrawal happens at a psychological level instead.

Bruce Lloyd

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 2

Return from Exile: Beyond self-alienation, shame and addiction to reconnect with ourselves

In essence, emotional trauma occurs as a result of a discrepancy between an individual’s inner and outer world. If our environment cannot give us what we need to grow, we have no choice but to dissociate parts of ourselves, and abandon aspects of our internal reality. In time, we become self-alienated. 

Tina Stromsted

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 3

Dances of Psyche and Soma: Re-inhabiting the body in the wake of emotional trauma

Our journey through life is encoded in our bodies just as the rings of a tree encode the life-story of that tree. If we grow up in an emotionally supportive environment our posture will be secure, our movements fluid, and our speech expressive. We will also be at ease with our bodies, and enjoy an open connection between body and psyche.

Marion Woodman

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 4

Spiralling Through the Apocalypse: Facing the Death Mother to claim our lives

Emotional trauma results from being unseen and unvalued as children. It compromises our ability to live a creative and authentic life, and forces us to construct a false persona and to develop inauthentic goals. It makes us determined to control our emotions and our bodies, and leaves us striving for perfection. It propels us towards addictions.

Ellert Nijenhuis

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 5

The Selves Behind the Self : Trauma and dissociation

Under normal circumstances, we take experiences that we deem to be significant to ourselves. As a result we feel they are our experiences, and weave them into our life story. However, if we are chronically abused or neglected during childhood, or if we suffer overwhelming pain, we may be unable to integrate our experiences.

Allan Schore

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 6

On the Same Wavelength: How our emotional brain is shaped by human relationships

Our earliest attachment relationships have long-lasting effects on the structure our emotional brain, our relationships with ourselves and others, and our psychological well-being.

Daniel Siegel

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 7

Beyond the Prison of Implicit Memory: The mindful path to well-being

People who enjoy psychological well-being are typically emotionally secure, compassionate, open-minded and curious. Underlying these qualities is neurobiological integration. Growing up in an emotionally nurturing environment fosters the development of neural integration, whereas an emotionally inadequate environment stifles it.

James Chisholm

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 8

Live Fast, Die Young: An evolved response to hostile environments?

Early attachment relationships have long-lasting effects on developing minds and bodies. They influence our fear system and sexual development. They shape our attitudes to romantic relationships, our parenting style and how we see both ourselves and others. Typically, the trajectory that develops from being sensitively nurtured and securely attached is seen as normal and healthy, whereas the trajectory that follows from being inadequately nurtured and insecurely attached is seen as abnormal and unhealthy.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 9

The Natural History of Mothers and Infants: An evolutionary and anthropological perspective

Humans are a product of evolution. To understand the relationship between mothers and infants we need to understand how evolution has shaped this relationship, and to identify the challenges that ancestral mothers and infants faced.

Randolph Nesse

and Daniela Sieff

Chapter 10

Emotional Evolution: A Darwinian understanding of suffering and well-being

To understand emotional suffering, it is vital to understand what the underlying emotions evolved to do. Emotional suffering is caused by ‘negative’ emotions, which we generally see as undesirable and try to eliminate as quickly as possible. However negative emotions evolved over millions of years to warn us of danger and to motivate us to withdraw from threatening situations. 

Conclusion by Daniela Sieff

Chapter 11

Connecting Conversations: Expanding our understanding to transform our trauma-worlds

When we are emotionally traumatised, we live in an inner world that is fundamentally different to the world in which we would have lived, had we not experienced trauma. This world is organised around the implicitly embodied conviction that important aspects of our physical, emotional or mental survival are at risk. 

Reviews from Readers

'Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma' has already been translated and published in Poland and in Brazil. There is currently interest from Denmark.

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