Childhood trauma

Becoming the strength of your experience is a truly beautiful thing and walking with me, you will find this space inside of you.

Dealing with trauma isn’t something anyone should have to go through alone. Not only am I qualified to assist in Post Traumatic Counselling, but I have personally been affected by PTS and through my experience I can offer a safe, accepting and supporting environment so that you can come to terms with what you’ve been through and move forward with your life.

By ‘moving forward’ I do not mean existing through each day, I mean living fully, joyfully and comfortably with who you are. Becoming the strength of your experience is a truly beautiful thing and walking with me, you will find this space inside of you.

What is childhood trauma?

Trauma describes any negative experience that has been emotionally painful or overwhelming. Childhood trauma refers specifically to a traumatic experience that happens to a child. Trauma may relate to physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, accidents and natural disasters. The types of trauma that have the most significant impact on children are those related to interpersonal abuse and intentional harm.

Childhood abuse is when a child is threatened or harmed by those who are closest to them, usually but not exclusively to someone in a caring role or in a position of authority. Child abuse occurs in many different forms such as physical, emotional, sexual and neglect.

Physical abuse of children is an intentional act of aggression, violence and intimidation that leads to harm or possible harm. Examples of this may be hitting, beating, pushing or handling a child roughly. This may result in bruises, scratches, burns, broken bones, cuts and more. The much debated topic of physically punishing children (corporal punishment) is viewed by the S.A. Human Rights Commission as a violation of children’s rights.

The emotional abuse of children is used to instill fear and humiliation as a means of control. Examples of emotional abuse may include threatening to abandon a child, threatening to harm someone or something the child cares about, constant criticism, manipulation and blaming of a child, shouting at a child, confining a child forcefully ie. In a cupboard or tied up, humiliating a child by forcing them to be exposed in front of others or forcing a child to cause harm to himself or someone they care about.

Sexual abuse of children refers to a child engaging, being coerced into or exposed to sexual behavior by an adult or someone older than them. Sexual abuse can also include revealing photographs of the child. It may also refer to the touching of sexual organs, oral sex or sexual intercourse. The child may also be exposed to sexual content and/or inclusion of acting out with other children. The child’s trust is exploited to benefit the abuser by, often, but not exclusively, someone who is well known to the child.

Neglect is failing to meet the basic needs of a child through providing food, clothing, shelter, medical care and leaving a child alone for long-drawn-out periods of time. This failure of meeting basic needs threatens the child’s survival and ability to grow into a secure and confident young person.

How does childhood trauma affect adults?

For any adult who has been abused or neglected as a child they will experience significant psychological and emotional distress. Unlike an adult going through a trauma, a child is being traumatized during the most important time of his or her life. The learning of assumptions about themselves and other people and how the world is formed from their young perspective. The child is trying to establish their own ideas of self, their emotions and how this fits in with their family and society. The child is also learning about relationships, how to function in these and what skills to learn.

Abuse or neglect impacts on all areas of the adult’s life; emotional, mental, physical and spiritual.

Survivors of childhood abuse can often experience an intense range of emotions without understanding why they feel that way as the underlying meaning of the emotion is often deeply seated. Some of the emotions experienced can include anxiety, worry, despair, shame, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, fear, grief, sadness and anger. These emotions are most commonly linked to high levels of anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse as a form of self-medicating and relationship difficulties. The physical impact abuse and neglect have into adulthood may be poor sleep, difficulty regulating emotions, lower immune system functioning and increased illnesses. The spiritual impact may be a crisis of faith, no faith at all or a constant yearning to feel ‘whole’ again, believing that some form of self-punishment has been deserved and repenting is needed to cleanse the self before inner peace can be restored.

When an adult experiences trauma you already have a stable foundation of life and yourself, but the child has none of this preparation. This is what makes the after effects so much more impactful as you become an adult and begin to form a life and relationships around the uncertainties of the child you were. This explains why areas in your life can seem so challenging, as you haven’t understood the deep and ingrained patterns of rejection and lack of self-confidence that tie you to experiences and circumstances that mirror this. Low self-esteem and lack of self-worth affect decisions or the lack thereof and an ability to cope with life stressors. Trauma has a significant impact on your adult relationships and the type of personality traits you are drawn to ie. It is common to gravitate towards abusive or controlling partners. You are mostly likely feeling broken and confused by the life you’ve landed yourself in, but this is not permanent. The layers can be peeled back, and understood and recreated so that new, positive habits can be formed.

How does trauma affect children?

Trauma experienced by the child has a direct impact on their emotional responses. Often, the affected child has trouble identifying, expressing and managing their emotions. For some children, they may have a limited vocabulary so are unable to verbally express the feelings they have inside, instead they act out these feelings through negative behaviours such as hitting, biting and lashing out. Their feelings may become internalised as they withdraw and become overly compliant, leading to depression or high levels of anxiety. Physical aspects of children can also be impacted on as trauma affects their development and cognitive abilities. This may be exhibited through poor concentration, poor attention and focus, not listening, seeming far away in thought and poor follow through of tasks. Feeling unsafe in the world is verbalised through every day and routine activities. Nightmares, night terrors, bed wetting, a fear of being alone or in the dark are also common associations with children who have experienced trauma.

What can you do to start healing?

You can begin to offer yourself the support you need on your journey of healing by taking care of all aspects of yourself. Eat nutritiously, drink plenty of water, sleep adequately and give yourself the time you need to begin moving forward. Here are a few tips to get you started…

Deep breathing helps to regulate your nervous system, leaving you feeling calmer, less anxious and more in control. Focus on repeating a mantra during your breathing that puts you at ease and reassures you that you are secure ie. “I am safe”.

Be present by focusing on your ‘here and now’. Don’t allow your mind to get lost in the thoughts of what happened or what could have happened. Remind yourself that in this moment you are safe, going about your daily routine, doing what you do every day. Emphasize the fact that you are safe as many times as you need to reassure yourself.

Connect with support groups where you can be around people who know what you are going through and who can share the experience.  

Avoid alcohol or drugs when you are working through difficult emotions as this will only amplify what you are experiencing later on. Using alcohol or substances as an escape is a clear sign that you need help.

Avoid isolating yourself as tempting as this may be. Go out and surround yourself with people who love and care for you. Allow yourself to feel safe around those you know well and are comfortable to be vulnerable around.

Journaling your thoughts and emotions, especially if you feel overwhelmed by them, can be a cleansing experience. Empty yourself of whatever negative thoughts and ideas you have inside your mind. Avoid re-reading what you have written, keep yourself moving forward through the feelings so you don’t become trapped by them.

Sharing your story

If you are reading this, your story is likely to be the centre of your reality. Our stories are closely guarded for much of our lives, but for any survivor of abuse sharing your story with someone close to you, be it friends, family or a professional, this is an important step forward in your recovery and healing. Think about what you will say and who you trust enough to share this part of yourself with. Sometimes writing down your experience and sharing this can be easier than speaking about it. It is normal to feel vulnerable and exposed. You are braver than you realise and stronger than you think.

When you share your story with someone close to you it can be overwhelming to them and they may not want to believe what they are hearing. This is not because they do not believe your story, this is because very often our loved ones cannot fathom that something so terrible could happen to someone they care so deeply for. This can be even more difficult for them to hear if they know who the abuser is. Prepare yourself for their reaction too and do not give up on sharing your story because of how someone else may react. This is about you feeling ready to speak up about what has happened to you and setting yourself free from the secrecy and power that it has held over you.

Should you choose to share your story with a professional person i.e. teacher, doctor, social worker, police officer etc. they are bound by the law to report this incident to ensure your future protection. What your wishes are for the future investigation of what happened will be up to you as to whether or not you choose to pursue laying charges or prosecuting. If you are in danger of being harmed again, the right professionals can ensure your safety and protection. Your loved ones will support you in whichever way they can and offer a safe haven if need be.

What can you do to help others who have experienced childhood trauma?

As much as you may want to take your loved ones childhood trauma experience away, you are unable to and more so, you are unable to rush their recovery. Opening the lines of communication between you and them offers a great deal of support to them, constantly reassuring them that it is safe for them to speak about what happened and ask questions if need to. Acknowledge your child’s worries and fears and comfort them emotionally so that they feel understood and accepted by you. Reassure your child through their entire process. Children need to hear that what happened to them was not their fault and that you love them completely, even though they may feel like they are no longer worth loving. Reassure them through all of their feelings and again come back to acceptance and confirmation of your love of them. Don’t pressure your child into speaking about what happened if they do not wish to share their story. Be available to them for when they do wish to share. Be as honest as you can to them about what will happen to them and their abuser. This can become tricky if the child has forged a bond with their abuser, which is often the case. Do your best to avoid exacerbating their feelings of worry about what will happen in the future. Maintain routine and living as if it were before the incident. There is so much power and security in ‘normality’ and going about the day to day activities. Allow your child to express their feelings, especially if these are intense. You are able to set appropriate boundaries around this such as it is not acceptable for them to hurt themselves or someone else when they feel angry. Create a space for them to get rid of their frustrations and angers in a healthy and productive way i.e. Hitting a pillow. Be as constant as you can in rebuilding trust in your children and creating an environment that feels safe and secure again.

How can I help?

Childhood trauma is a complex matter that impacts children and adults on many levels and filters into all areas of their lives. Having a broad therapeutic background, I understand the psychological and emotional impact trauma has and the commitment and strength it takes to rebuilding lives. However, the most impacting has to be my own experience of abuse, my own survival and recreation of the life I have now. My broken heart has been where yours is, my weary feet have walked a similar path to you and my soul has found its way back to its true self just as yours will. I know which keys unlock the layers of doors you’ve kept hidden and I know exactly how to turn the key so the door opens for eternity, setting you free. Reach out and take my hand, you are not alone.

How I work

My approach

Driven by passion, my working style is open, honest and highly intuitive. If you choose to work with me, I expect you to put the bs story you’ve been telling yourself about why you can’t move on and why you can’t be a success, aside. I am results driven, that means that I am invested in YOU and your recovery. I take my commitments seriously. That being said, I, better than anyone, know that we each move at our own pace, so equally I celebrate individuality and tailor the pace and progress of your success to achieve your goals. Where there is gentleness, there is also strength, my working style embodies both. I dig into your depths and help you build a rock-solid foundation of self-belief and confidence. Whatever is out there, is yours for the taking. I guide you in making that your reality. I see you, all of you, even when you are unable to.

My clients

My passion is helping others and I embrace all people from all walks of life, irrespective of age, race, gender or stature. I work with people young and old, male and female, gay or straight…. Trauma, life, challenges, hurt, pain doesn’t discriminate in my books. So, whoever you are, wherever you are from, when we take each step together, we move forward together and we celebrate your victories together. Building our relationship on trust and nurturing you in a safe and protected space can only have a positive impact on your life.

My training

I have many certifications and accreditation, however, I believe my greatest ‘training’ comes directly from my personal experience. Having been exposed to trauma from a young age through to adulthood, experience has given me the capacity to not only empathise with my clients, but honestly sympathise with where they are in life, because I have been there too. My experience has given me compassion and a deep rooted understanding, my B.A. Honors in Social Science along with many other certifications I have worked hard for, have given me the tools to be able to further my true passion…. helping others with their challenges…because you don’t have to be alone

Becoming my client

If you feel ready to make a change or improve parts of yourself, we are a great fit. If you are unsure about committing to change and feel halfheartedly about growing, I would be doing you a disservice by agreeing to work with you. Time and energy are valuable commodities, invest wisely in yourself and who you work with. You deserve nothing less.

On our journey together you'll

TRANSFORM every area of your life into vibrant success.

REVIVE and awaken yourself from the haze of shock and the aftermath of your ordeal.

ACCEPT what has happened to you and take strength from your situation.

UNDERSTAND who you now are because life has changed you.

METHODICALLY move beyond the limitations that you’ve been creating as a way to survive.

ACHIEVE the best version of you by rising above the superficiality of your experience, owning the depth of your wisdom and the freedom that is yours to have.

Book a free introductory call and learn how I can help you transform your life.

On our journey together you'll

TRANSFORM every area of your life into vibrant success. REVIVE and awaken yourself from the haze of shock and the aftermath of your ordeal. ACCEPT what has happened to you and take strength from your situation. UNDERSTAND who you now are because life has changed you. METHODICALLY move beyond the limitations that you’ve been creating as a way to survive. ACHIEVE the best version of you by rising above the superficiality of your experience, owning the depth of your wisdom and the freedom that is yours to have.

Book a free introductory call and learn how I can help you transform your life.

What my clients say

"If you feel that your long-held beliefs and deep rooted problems are holding you back in life, then I can recommend this course to you. Over two days, the counseling and encouragement triggered a catalyst for me to begin a journey of self-discovery, all within a safe environment with others who felt the same way."

Sarah (Guernsey, Channel Islands) 2005

"I feel that the structure of the course would challenge anybody and their boundaries on many levels. I cried a lot during the weekend but maybe that was meant to happen. I didn’t feel sad after we finished the sessions each day, drained yes, but not sad. Optimistic in fact, because you’ve been given some tools to help you cope with stress and problems in your life from now on in. I learned something important too that I deserved to be happy. A lot of the time I don’t think that I do … The Louise Hay workshop has left a lasting imprint on my heart and I will never forget the women I met or what we all learnt about ourselves and from each other with the help of our tutors. Going back to what I said at the start, I am so glad I took part and I would highly recommend this course to anyone."

Alne (Lusty Beg, Belfast)

"I saw her (chiropractor) this morning and she said it was the first time in four years that she has been able to adjust my lower back its thanks to the wonderful work you helped me with last weekend. All my emotions were ‘stored’ down there and I was holding on to them for dear life! Now that I’ve been able to let go emotionally, my body has been able to let go as well. I am so much better off since meeting you... The work we did has had a wonderful effect on my life! I can now truly see each new day as a gift, without needing to look backwards or forwards. Thanks to the lessons you taught me, my life has a whole new meaning and it is so liberating to be able to leave the old behind… Keep up the wonderful work that you are doing!"

Joanne (Johannesburg) 2008

"GETTING ALONG MARVELLOUSLY!!! I am really astounded (and believe me when I say this – it takes a lot to move me). I am more positive and getting more so. My outlook has changed completely (more positive thoughts and so forth). The reason for all this is: On Tueday last week got phoned from a hotel group that previously did not approve my application – went for interview last Friday (awaiting positive results) and on Wednesday last week my current employer offered me a higher position and remuneration and so forth (I have wanted this for the last 6 months or more – new job and higher income). Things, (big and small) seem to really fall in place.”

Lucas (Johannesburg) 2008 

"I attended the ‘love yourself, heal your life’ course this weekend with Gaelene and I can’t even express how awesome it was. I felt as if the content was ‘written’ especially for me and it is going to push me over that last little hurdle after which, I plan to never ever look back on this dark time. I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the life changing course this weekend. I cannot believe how much it has helped me and how much it feels like I have been lifted out of a very deep, dark hole. I am aware that this was not the only thing that has helped me (and gratefully so, because then I would doubt the longevity thereof) but it certainly was pivotal and I will forever be grateful for your time. I would highly recommend this to anyone. Thank you so much."

Theresa (Johannesburg) 2008

"This workshop has truly transformed my life! While I had read books on the subject the workshop really brought these ideas and principles to life, bettering my understanding of them and their relevance to my life. The exercises in the workshop really helped me see the negative beliefs I had – some I was aware of, and some that I had no idea existed until the workshop. The exercises were facilitated in such a way that I always felt safe, feeling free to discover my beliefs and patterns, but secure in the sense that a loving and experienced facilitator was guiding my journey. The take home materials and CD’s have really allowed me to apply the techniques to my everyday life. The most important element of the workshop for me was that I felt I could truly be and explore who I really am. The environment that Gaelene creates is a warm, loving space where unconditional acceptance and safety are a given. I highly recommend this workshop to everyone, whether you are looking to make changed, or just merely want to improve your quality and understanding of life."

Lara (Johannesburg) 2007

"On a more profound note, the past week and a bit have been extremely challenging in so far as life throwing everything at me to test the newly leant belief system. It has been harrowing to say the least, but I have survived with a lot more positivity becoming my reality. I also wake up singing ‘I love myself…’ and have been doing so since last week."

Liz ( Johannesburg) 2008

"Thank you for all the support and encouragement you give so generously! We are blessed to have you!"

Karin (Johannesburg) 2008

"Just want to say thank you for the course this weekend I thought I was not going to learn something new for a youngster like you but at the end I really got emotional and that’s what I needed just to see every time is a new journey and you (ma) go with the flow with what comes up… Thank you!"

Rene (Johannesburg) 2008

"Gaelene gave me the tools and wisdom to find my truth, and to finally like the person that I am. She has a quiet, gentle strength which I came to rely on quite a bit in my journey of self discovery."

Coralee (Johannesburg) 2016

"I indeed entered a new chapter after the wonderful course I did with you three years ago. I am engaged to be married, to my ex husband. Its been a wonderful two years back together (after 5 years of divorce). Our daughters are so happy and still ‘congratulate’ us on a daily basis. Who would have thought?"

Charinne (Johannesburg) 2016

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I’m Gaelene, a qualified social worker with practices in JHB and Durban, I specialise in creating a safe space for people who feel lost and paralysed by their experiences. A space where people feel accepted and supported through their journey whilst reclaiming the greatest version of themselves.

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We’re not so different, you and me, join my soul tribe and become more of who you were meant to be.