The Trauma Timeline: A Journaling Exercise for Understanding the Impact of Relational Trauma in Your Life

“The essence of psychological trauma is the loss of faith that there is order and continuity in life. Trauma occurs when one looses the sense of having a safe place to retreat within or outside of oneself to deal with frightening emotions or experiences.”

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD

Relational trauma can be a confusing issue to deal with, partly because it is cumulative, it is not one incident but many small attitudes, incidents and dynamics that span time. It’s easy to lose track of when something happened, how often it happened or what exactly it was that was painful, particular if the trauma was some form of neglect, emotional abuse or disinterest.Filling in a time line helps to make these issues and dynamics visable. It can also reveal which were significant incidents, which were ongoing dynamics and what periods felt relatively safe and happy.

Next to or within each five-year span write a few words that refer to some thing, some relationship dynamic, or some ongoing situation that you experienced as traumatic. Note: neglect can be traumatic as well as abuse, divorce in the family, addiction, siblings or parents leaving, accidents, hospitalizations, family illness, etc. . . . the idea here is to understand how you experienced it, not whether or not it fits some criteria as to what is formally called trauma.Write in whatever comes to mind in this catagory we’re discussing in the appropriate lines.

0 yrs _________________________________________________________________

5 yrs

___________________________________________________________________10 yrs ___________________________________________________________________15 yrs ___________________________________________________________________20 yrs ___________________________________________________________________25 yrs ___________________________________________________________________30 yrs ___________________________________________________________________35 yrs ___________________________________________________________________40 yrs ___________________________________________________________________45 yrs ___________________________________________________________________50 yrs ___________________________________________________________________55 yrs ___________________________________________________________________60 yrs ___________________________________________________________________65 yrs ___________________________________________________________________70 yrs ___________________________________________________________________75 yrs ___________________________________________________________________80 yrs ___________________________________________________________________85 yrs ___________________________________________________________________90 yrs ___________________________________________________________________95 yrs ___________________________________________________________________100 yrs ___________________________________________________________________

Answer the Following Questions:

What jumps out at you as significant when you look at your timeline?

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___________________________________________________________________ What was a particularily difficult period in your life?

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___________________________________________________________________What were the silver linings, what were the gifts of trauma?

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___________________________________________________________________Were there periods that were relatively easy and good?

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___________________________________________________________________What painful relational dynamics from the past are you still living out today?

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Inner Child Work: Having an Inner Dialogue

Instructions: “Mentally reverse roles” with yourself anywhere along the Trauma Time Line continuum and write a journal entry speaking “as” that part of self, e.g., “I am Shahara, I am eight years old and I am” or “I am Hank, I am around thirteen and I just . . .” After you have completed your journal entry “answer back” from your “adult role” of today. In other words, begin a journaling dialogue between the two parts, your childhood self and your adult self and allow your adult to help your child or adolescent self learn to talk about your experience rather than hide it from your adult self and allow your adult self to listen to, support, and guide your child self.

CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .

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ADULT ROLE: (Answering back to your child self from your adult self)

___________________________________________________________________CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .

___________________________________________________________________ADULT ROLE:

___________________________________________________________________CHILD/ADOLESCENT ROLE: I am ______________. I am ___ years old and I .

___________________________________________________________________ADULT ROLE:

___________________________________________________________________

End this exercise by writing a few sentences to yourself as a child from where you are today, what you know now that you didn’t know then.

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Senior fellow at The Meadows, psychologist, psychodramatist, author Emotional Sobreity,ACoA Trauma Syndrome, Forgiving and Moving On, Huff Post blogger, speaker

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