It is common for children and adults with histories of maltreatment, trauma, and compromised attachment to avoid painful memories and reminders of prior negative experiences. Although such avoidance reduces anxiety in
the short term, in the long run it maintains fear, feelings of powerlessness, and other trauma-related symptoms, and prevents healing via emotional processing. When children and adults acknowledge and talk about painful and frightening memories, emotions, and events with supportive and attuned therapists and significant others, they learn they can effectively deal with these issues, they can tolerate the distress, that the anxiety and distress decrease
rather than increase, and that others can be trusted to understand and help.

In addition to avoidance as a defense, those with traumatic histories have typically developed negative cognitions, interpretations, and mental models. They believe they are helpless, incompetent, and controlled by their fear (“My world is dangerous, and I am unable to cope with it”). Their stories and narratives of past events are often disorganized and fragmented, a result of traumatic experiences being encoded in the limbic brain under conditions of intense distress . Communicating about distressing emotions and experiences with supportive and attuned therapists and others helps clients organize memories in a meaningful way, make sense of their past, and create a logical story. As they create an acceptable narrative, erroneous cognitions are reduced (“It was my fault; I’m unlovable; I’ll lose control if I talk about this”) and are replaced by self-enhancing mindsets (“I’m not to blame; I’m worthy of love; I can manage my thoughts, memories, and feelings”). Emotional, interpersonal and cognitive changes takes place.