• Few or No Friends

Guest Post: Trauma, Trust and Friendship

Published: June 19, 2012 | Last Updated: November 17, 2020 By | 16 Replies Continue Reading
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A woman recently wrote describing her childhood as “full of physical and emotional abuse,” including a rape at the age of 14.  As a result, she has had a hard time trusting people. One of my colleagues is an expert on trauma so I asked her to pen this guest post that may be useful to this reader and others. 

Trauma, Trust and Friendship

Linda Ligenza, LCSW

Most people have never heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study but all of us should. The study helps us understand one reason why so many people in this country are struggling with addictions, mental illnesses, and physical health and social problems.

The term ACE refers to a list of eight painful or difficult experiences, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) surveyed 17,000 people in the general adult population, the largest such study ever, to determine the prevalence of adverse experiences during childhood.

What they found was staggering:

  • 1 in 4 individuals had been exposed to at least two adverse experiences;
  • 1 in 16 were exposed to four ACEs;
  • 22% were sexually abused as children, and;
  • 66% of the women experienced abuse, violence, or family strife in childhood.

The researchers also found a strong connection between these adverse experiences and physical health problems such as heart disease-as well as mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

What we all need to fully understand is that these symptoms and illnesses are actually adaptations or ways of coping with very painful, abnormal and difficult life experiences.


I am a 48-year-old athletic, nice looking, intelligent person but I am shy and not skilled in people skills. I had a childhood full of physical and emotional abuse. At 14, someone I was supposed to trust raped me. Every relationship I have tried to build has ended up with trust violations, even with my husband.

I am convinced that there is no one out there who is trustworthy. I have no friends and yes, I am very lonely. I am tired of feeling less than adequate in the human relationship department. I am tired of the pain and depression. I plan to get a dog-they are loyal, nonjudgmental, and don’t talk about you behind your back.


What you’ve described so thoughtfully are your experiences of trauma and pain as a child.  First, it is important to realize that it is understandable that you would find it difficult to trust others and that you would often feel depressed, inadequate and have low self-esteem. These are very normal responses to abnormal experiences that can impact your ability to make and keep friends.

The emotional, physical and psychological wounds you describe are deep and painful. To feel better and attract trustworthy people, you need to recognize them when you meet them and to learn to let them into your life. You need to heal from these wounds just as you would from a deep gash to your leg. Learning to love yourself and developing new skills to relate to others takes time and patience, and sometimes requires professional help.

Here are some self-help tips:

  • Don’t beat yourself up for the way you feel or behave; understand why you feel the way you do and be kind to yourself.
  • Replace your negative thoughts with more positive ones; focus more on your good qualities, beliefs, values and what you do well.
  • Connect with those in your life that you do trust or think you can trust. Allow yourself to rely on these individuals for support, comfort and encouragement.
  • Do things that make you feel good; things you enjoy, things that give you pleasure.
  • Volunteering your time to help others is another excellent way to feel better about yourself.
  • Maintain a hopeful, optimistic attitude; you can and will recover and learn to be
  • One caveat: This is really hard work and difficult to do on your own, so reading more about trauma and how to help yourself could be helpful and you could also consider working with a therapist who specializes in trauma.

When making friends:

—Ask yourself what this person is like. Try to objectively see his/her qualities. Is this person kind, does he/she have my best interests at heart? If so, this is the friendship you want to cultivate and nurture.

—Secondly, be aware of how you react to this individual. Are you overly critical, too sensitive, too needy? Challenge yourself to recognize that these may be your old feelings of mistrust and fear and that you may be pushing the person away. Look at the whole picture: How does this person treat you in general, not just in each little situation. Open up a dialogue when it feels right about what you want in the relationship to make it better. Remember these steps take time and practice.



Finding a therapist:


Linda Ligenza is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach in Charleston, South Carolina. She also consults with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare on trauma, resiliency and trauma-informed care.

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Comments (16)

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  1. clara says:

    “To feel better and attract trustworthy people, you need to recognize them when you meet them”

    you mention to ask myself if the people I meet are kind, etc. but how can you really tell? abusers/sociopaths wear kindness as a disguise, so how can I tell them apart without putting myself in danger again? if I had the skills to tell who was who I wouldn’t have gotten hurt/targteted in the first place.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate any encouragement I can get as I’m going through a particularly tough time right now. I know there will always be others worse off, but the sadness I suffer from goes so deep into the core of me that I just cry at the what could have been . And I know envy is a bad thing but I envy people. But it’s not the rich and famous. It’s the people who have the loving relationships with siblings ( especially sisters) who are there for them through thick and thin . …..that’s a blessing and it only emphasizes my pitiful birth home even more. A sister in my life who loved me would be priceless …..

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for your response to my post about trauma. You have clearly done much psychological work; assessing your experiences of the past and doing your best to avoid the mistakes your parents made with you. And wow, it sounds like you did a really good job at parenting. Were you perfect? None of us are. We can only do the best we can with what we have to work with. And we can’t go back but we can go forward.

    The great news is:
    1) You can always move to wholeness! There is no finish line, this work is a “process”. You can continue to build on all the incredible work you have done thus far; contnuing to gain awareness, forgiving yourself, learning new skills. As I mentioned in my post, this work is better done with the help of a therapist who specializes in working with people who have experienced trauma. There are also self-help books referenced that can be helpful.

    2) You can always repair and improve relationships! Relationships are not static; they are ever changing. I have witnessed this many times in others and in my own life. As we grow and learn new ways of coping, communicating and relating, we affect the people around us and our connections to them. This means that as you work on your own issues of hurt and pain, you will feel better and can learn the skills you need to open up conversations with your children about what you experienced, how it affected you and what you would like in your relationships with them now and going forward. This process will not only improve your relationships with them but will improve their relationships with those they love, including their children.

    I hope my message inspires you to continue this journey of healing and growing you are on.

    With Warm Wishes,
    Linda Ligenza, LCSW
    Therapist, Personal Coach, Consultant

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m going to jump right into my story. I came from a horrendously abusive childhood and scored an eight on the ACE test. Guess that’s not very promising for me but on a fundamental level, I knew that. See, I studied the goings on around me in my household of birth closely: the violence, the neglect, the verbal abuse, the drug abuse, the corrupt manner of communication that existed between 8 kids and two parents. And being 7 of the 8, the neglect system was in high gear and unstoppable when I showed up! So I made a promise to me that I would make sure, when I was a mother, that my kids would not live my nightmare. I most likely overcompensated and hovered over them so protectively I stunted their growth but I tried my hardest. And as they grew, I had an eureka of sorts and realized that all my efforts to right what was wrong with my childhood needed to go past the external features. What I mean is yes, they had clean clothes and personal hygiene products. They had nice meals and a mom and dad who would do anything for them within our means. We didn’t use drugs, we never left them standing in a school parking lot waiting to be picked up, we never missed a school event, we coveted their education and told them to be the best they could and they would get all the education they needed to get there. And most importantly, they could trust us. Always. But, my emotional personality had been so damaged as a child, I was like a robot mom in a sense. I did not know hugs, I did not have the capabilities of establishing deep, emotional bonds with my kids but I learned that too late and my heart breaks. All my childhood planning to be a better parent feels like a big joke to me now. And the findings of the ACE only confirm what I sadly learned on my own: once damaged, you’re never going to be whole.

  5. Irene says:

    I’m sorry you are so hurt but I’m not the person to help you. As I said before, you need to seek help close to home. If you are reluctant to speak to someone at school, which I can understand, tell your mom or dad that you need to see someone outside of school for help with a personal problem.

    Having someone to speak to and unload will make you feel much less distressed.

    I don’t provide cinical services, either on the internet or in person, but there must be some skilled and understanding people close to where you live who can help you sort out your problem.

    My best, Irene 



  6. Anonymous says:

    Dear anonymous, thanks a lot for taking interest in this..glad to see your post ..but i really cant contact any elder or anyone about this and neither can i talk to my school councellor about this as my mom teaches in the same school and so the talks are likely to get leaked…i cant even myself go to a councellor outside house coz i’l need to tell my parents about where am going. So the only options left are the online interractions with either councellors or Irene or people like you with whome i can freely share my problems and talk about this and find ways out and through this situation..i mainly need someone to tell me what should i do and how to take things furthur..how should i react?? Should i say something to her ?wil that help or what the hell in this world should i do?? All this aint soo simple that just a single thing would solve all this..!! And yeah when it comes to get myself involved in Other things… It aint possible..i cant run from a situation…i have tried this too and u know thinking this only i myself even have joint an institution..but all this doesnt help at all…i cant concentrate anywhere.. Getting myself involved in other things is just a fake excuse or a fake hope i can show to myself.. Saying that getting bussier might help me is just a lie to myself..i’l be fooling myself that ways..i can say this coz i have already even tried this myself!!! I need friends or councellors to talk to.. I just wanna get out of this situation for which i am ready to do anything!! Once again thanks and really glad you took interest in this!! 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    Dear Irene… I am really really glad to see your response!! But seriously i cant talk about this to any of my parents or any elder and not even to my school councellor because that will leak everything and also i cant even go and contact any councellor outside the house . But i am ready to take online courses or something. Irene for me what it is important is that i really want to talk to a person like you with whome i can trustingly share everything and who can tell me where i am wrong and how should i furthur deal with this situation. Irene i am writing to you very very hopfully that you would help me.You are the only one rite now whome i can look forward to.I am ready to contact you personally even,online or on phone or any how.I will give you what ever you want but please help me out of and through this situation.There are many many problems going on.Please Irene YOU help me!! My condition is much much worse than it seems in my writing here.. Irene please help me.. If you want my email id or anything please tell me… If you wanna suggest any online councellors or something tell me about that too…but please YOU help me!! Please Irene ..you are my first and last hope.. I know you are just amazing..am writing to you with a lot of trust… Help me Irene please..

  8. Irene says:


    The other poster gave you good advice. If you are feeling so badly, you must speak to an adult whom you trust.

    Can you talk to one of your parents, an adult, or a counselor at school?  

    Middle school friendships can be fickle but it sounds iike you feel very hurt and talking to someone about it, who knows you and your situation, might help.

    Best, Irene 



  9. Anonymous says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    I’m so sorry for your tremendous pain. It sounds like you need to talk to someone in person. I would contact a psychologist or counselor near you, so you can get the right amount of support. I promise this will get better if you seek support and look for ways to feel fulfilled in your life, through interests, career, family, and other friends.
    My best regards.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Dear Irene..i have written earlier too..now i am writing again coz m jst not able to handle more..m a teen in class 10..n since class 7 i am very deeply into friendship stuff..n i have been hurt very badly by my bestie earlier too..this time this girl n i were friends since class 7 but i never really thought about it much..eventhough i always thought her as my best friend..then in 9th after bieng hurt very badly by my other best friend i had stopped trusting people ..then at d 9th end this friend of mine got very close to me n very close topics got shared in between us n soon she became my best n the closest friend..once again after bieng hurt so badly i had trusted sumone so very well.It was the time when are exams had got over and we were free n had nothing to do at all..that time my friend treated me like a princess.She loved me n behaved as the worlds bestest friend..but then when the schools reopened n she joint her tution too she didnt have even a single minute for me..still i did all her work and behaved like a bestie but she had started not even giving a Shit about me..then again our summer breaks started and i gave her an awesum surprise for her b’day..but again she was too busy in her life n whenever i used to call her she ignored me always…a month passed and i went to mussoorie for a week for a change..from there i promised to get over her…i even did for some days but now the school are reopening again and again we will be together in school and all these thoughts are again disturbing and shattering me…and yeah am a very very sensitive girlie and emotional person…Irene please help me…help me overcome her please..i am very very heartbroken…Irene before i do something really stupid please help me.Somebody please help me.i know she aint even a good person or friend still m heartbroken and those moments when she had treated me well jjst break me..those memories break me…Somebody please please help mee!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    This topic makes me sad, because I could be your friend..I am not able to accept support or love from a friend, without feeling that they are smothering me or that they want something & are trying to manipulate me…I heard on TV one time, that childhood abuse makes you assoicate intimacy with rejection…and I knew I do that, if a friend tries to be truly emotionally intimate with me, it sets off my feeling of flight…

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Irene, for providing this guest post. I’ve always suspected a connection between traumatic events from my childhood and my lifelong challenges with trying to form and sustain healthy relationships. Part of my struggle has been doubt that what happened to me legitimately was “trauma”. A couple of years ago I told a therapist what had happened to me and her view was the childhood events were indeed “trauma”. The content of your guest post provides re-confirmation that my relationship challenges are at least partially rooted in childhood events over which I had no control. The next step for me is to overcome the thoughts and behaviors – my own thoughts and behaviours – that interfere with forming and sustaining relationships, including friendships. This is easier said than done. Often we’re able to uncover cause and effect in these complex problems, but it is still very difficult to change the patterns of thought and behaviour. Perhaps you and you associates can comment some more or in more detail on bringing about change to ingrained thought and behaviour patterns. Regards, KJJ

  13. Anonymous says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    I am very interested in this discussion, as I recently went through a very similar situation and I am trying to gain understanding of it. Can you talk more about what the “pushing and pulling” experience was like? I want to make sure that I don’t do that to others.

    Thank you!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hey Irene:
    Well I have written before especially after I had read your book because me and my best friend had an ending that was more than I can handle. She was my best friend and she just got mad one day, who knows why, but none the less it is done. I finally went to her one day and said I couldn’t continue like this anymore as we both work together, in fact, she is my boss. Her family was my family, my family was her family. Well she agreed we could be “friends” but she said she never wanted to talk about what happened, when asked why, she just said “I don’t want too”. So ok we have gone along. Well I just read on her facebook page her daughter is having her first communion in July and she didn’t invite us. WOW, it is like not being invited to your grandchildren’s first communion. Do i talk to her about it or just let it go? I am to the point of looking for another job because it all hurts just too much.
    There are not that many jobs out there either.
    Now what.
    Thanks MIdge

  15. Anonymous says:

    This is so profound. I recently stopped talking to someone that I wished at a point to cultivate a friendship with. I suspect she has abuse in her history after some very covert conversation on her part. This was over time and also, thinking back on past conversations, I believe this might be the case. She did a lot of pushing and pulling. Perhaps that was her test. Sadly, I failed. But it’s ok. I wasn’t in a place at the time to deal with her with the level of compassion she needed. However, interestingly enough she conveyed to me that she desired compassion and unconditional love, but here’s the thing, she wasn’t willing to see others through that same lens of compassion. I believe she thought she was but she was really seeing them through the lens of abuse and bonding with others through similar wounds. Whatever it is that we want we have to be prepared to give it. We have to have it for ourselves in order to receive it and give it. This is why your healing is so important. We choose where we are in life. If you are coming from a place of fear and lack then you will choose that or perceive situations as a threat until you heal. Trust is huge in any relationship. First, learn to trust yourself then you can slowly learn to trust others. I wish for your healing. Begin to write the next chapters of your life with a new empowering story of love and triumph. The very best to you. Thank you for sharing. You have helped me to see things more clearly as a result.

  16. Anonymous says:

    It is true that one should judge both yourself and your friend objectively in a friendship. Thinking in others shoes is really important.

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