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Article Published on: 06th NOV 2023 |


When we hear the phrase “childhood trauma,” it often evokes specific images in our mind, often scenes that depict sad things that happened to “other” people. But childhood trauma is becoming more widely understood with society’s increased awareness of the many ways that trauma can take place. Unlike previous notions of trauma as being exclusive to war violence and crime, we are developing more awareness of how many people are affected by events that took place within their family. Trauma is about so much more than what happened to you, but also about who- or what- was available to help you cope along the way. Most of us are only starting to become aware of how our foundational years contribute to who we are today. Our childhood environment often shapes the foundation for our very sense of who we are and how we fit in the world around us. If we experienced trauma or dysfunction along the way, it likely disrupted the pathways to these fundamental structures. Many people do not consider unhealthy developmental patterns until they are faced with patterns or behaviors in adulthood that are not working for them: multiple failed relationships, addiction, and depression, among many others. It is usually at this time that people make the connection that their background may have contributed. Understanding our trauma is not about blame, but about developing awareness, learning, and moving forward. In most cases, those around us likely did the best they could with the tools they had, often while dealing with their own external or internal stressors. With the world’s increasing understanding of trauma, especially how common it is to pass between generations and families, this paves the way for understanding and growth.

Relational trauma is a unique form of trauma, as it affects the very core of our sense of self, and infiltrates everything from our position as a partner, friend, employee, and every time we have to interact with others. Survivors of relational trauma go through many stages in their journey to healing, often starting with limited awareness, and progressing from there until an eventual stage of understanding or even acceptance. This book discusses 6 of the most common stages in the family trauma healing process: pre-awareness, uncovering, digging in, healing, understanding, and nurturing. No matter where you are in your journey — only just uncovering, becoming more aware, or supporting a loved one in their process —this book will help.




Kaytee Gillis published her first book, Invisible Bruises, How a Better Understanding of the Patterns of Domestic Violence Can Help Survivors Navigate the Legal System, during the depth of the pandemic lockdown in 2020. A licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, she spent her days helping survivors of family and relationship trauma heal. Yet in a twist of irony, she found herself having to navigate these same social systems for protection for herself.

During her experience, she kept thinking, “If a social worker, who is literally trained to navigate social systems, finds this experience this confusing and overwhelming, what is it like for those who do not know what to do?!” Because rates of domestic violence soared during the lockdown, she found that many of her clients were in the same situation. What originally began as writing down step-by-step processes for them to follow in this newly virtual world, soon became the rough draft of a self-help guide. When it was later published by a domestic violence nonprofit in Florida, it made it into the hands of many survivors around the world.

In 2021 she published “It’s Not High Conflict, It’s Post Separation Abuse,” as a response to the ongoing family court crisis faced by many survivors of domestic violence. The success of this second book showed her that people were benefiting from her words. “It was no longer just a side hobby,” she said. Since her first publication in 2020, Kaytee has published, contributed to, or been consulted on numerous other publications.

This past spring, Gillis finalized the manuscript for Breaking the Cycle, the 6 Stages of Healing from Childhood Family Trauma. Drawing from her experience as a psychotherapist, her journey as a survivor, and her unwavering desire to assist others in their healing process. It quickly soared to number 1 in two separate Amazon Best-Seller categories and has remained in the Top best-seller list for multiple categories.




Q: Your book, "Breaking the Cycle," explores the 6 stages of healing from childhood family trauma. Can you share what inspired you to write this book and what you hope readers will gain from it?

A. When I began my career, I always felt drawn to people who had childhood trauma in their family of origin. I did not know yet how much my own history would influence my work, as I still had a way to go in my own healing journey. Years later, I found I was still seeing a pattern: almost all of my clients had a family trauma history that was contributing to their mental health symptoms or life stressors. Therefore, I was working on similar things with each client, just at different stages of their healing process. I have so many people reach out to me for help, but of course, my licensing limits me to the states I am licensed in, so I am constantly turning people away. I wanted a resource to direct them to instead of just “Sorry, I can’t help!” I wanted a way to reach a mass amount of people who maybe didn’t have access to therapy, or couldn’t afford it, or who maybe didn’t want the typical therapy setting, but who could benefit from a more explorative, psychoeducational, self-help model. I hope that people gain self-awareness and knowledge, but also empowerment. Healing takes many forms. I want people to know that it is okay to try different things as part of their healing journey, just keep moving forward.

Q: As a social worker and trauma survivor, you bring a unique perspective to this topic. How has your professional background and personal experience influenced your approach to helping others heal from family trauma?

A. While I do not think it's imperative for therapists to be a member of the community they serve, I do feel that in my case it has helped me. I find that I just “get it” when clients talk about some of the feelings and experiences they go through, and sometimes that’s the only thing someone needs at that moment- just to be validated and understood. There are many experiences that are known to be almost universal to family trauma survivors, such as repeating patterns in relationships, struggling with social connections, and a constant struggle for self-worth. But then there are the less talked about things, such as behaviours or thoughts that may manifest in ways that can seem illogical or even counterproductive to someone who doesn’t have a relational trauma lens.

Q: Family trauma is a sensitive and often hidden issue. What motivated you to address this "Forbidden Conversation" and break the silence surrounding it?

A. In my work, I notice that there is such as stigma against speaking out about your history. We live in a world where the pressure is to honor your family, never speak ill of the dead, and other victim-blaming messages. I found that many of my clients did not want to be angry with their family or caregivers, but wanted to do the work of healing. For some reason it was seen as being a package deal: in order to heal, you have to be angry and blame. (Sometimes, anger and blaming are a part of your healing journey, and that is completely okay!) But I was finding that it was this pattern of making excuses and engaging in self-denial that was keeping people from being able to really go there. By reducing the stigmas around healing, including developing awareness of how healing and understanding can look different in all of us, we are breaking the silence around this topic.

Q: In your book, you mention that family trauma affects people across genders, ages, and cultures. How do you believe this shared experience can bring people together and create a sense of community?

A. When I discuss family trauma, I like to discuss how different it can be from culture to culture. While the world is becoming more aware of how trauma affects us all, it still remains largely taboo in many parts of the world. Likewise, it is important to recognize the privilege that comes from being able to work through trauma. In many cultures, trauma is just inevitable and something that you get through. It’s a very “Westernized” thing to discuss childhood trauma and how it affects you. One client said to me, “We were just trying to survive in a country filled with war and poverty- thinking about my childhood relationship with my family was the least of my concerns.” This certainly does not mean that anyone is exempt from it, or that one’s trauma is considered worse than another’s, only that it is very much something that is a privilege to be able to acknowledge. Only when we feel safe and comfortable can we really think about things other than survival, and for many people in the world, that is unknown? But trauma itself is universal.

Q: You emphasize that no trauma is too small to count or too big to heal from. Can you share some practical steps or strategies for individuals who may be at different stages of their healing journey?

A. Many of my clients will say to me, “Well, that happened, but it’s not as bad as some people had it.” I too had this same thought that kept me from truly acknowledging my experiences. It is this intellectualization and denial that keeps many people in the early stages of healing, often unable to acknowledge and accept how impacted they were by their history. Our culture, and our world, have a very limited understanding of abuse and trauma, mostly centering around physical abuse as being bad, but everything else being subjective and up to interpretation. It is this stigma that leads many to say, “Well I was never hit.” or “We always had clothes on our backs, so I shouldn’t complain.” And I want to tell people that it’s okay to acknowledge that you had clothing, food, or whatever, while also acknowledging that you suffered in other ways. We often think of trauma as like, “You have to check 9 out of the 10 boxes” sort of thing, but it is not like that at all. It is all relative. Yes, there are people who likely had it worse than you- it's okay to acknowledge that. It’s also likely that you have had it worse than someone else.

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