6 Ways Unresolved Trauma Covertly Shapes Relationships

Grant H Brenner
6 min readOct 20, 2023

Staying safe becomes risky when it keeps us from seeing what we need to see.

How often does conflict in relationships-for example, between partners in a couple-serve as an interpersonal or social defense against uncomfortable feelings: sadness, grief, trauma, loneliness? How often do we use the performance of caring, going through the motions, to avoid authentically connecting?

How do therapists work with interpersonal conflict in order to help people find their way? “Enactment” is a psychoanalytic term (an “interpersonal-relational” one) as used here, referencing what is happening between the two people in therapy. Each person brings their own perceptions, interpretations, and distortions to the mix 1. Enactment happens outside of therapy relationships as well. We may “enact” the past, and when we enact unresolved trauma, it tends to be retraumatizing and confusing.

We each bring our own history to the mix, together co-creating unique yet familiar patterns. In therapy, the goal with enactments is to notice when they happen and learn from them through the process; this working through does not necessarily happen in other relationships. There are many avenues by which unresolved trauma, often hidden, can shape our relationships.

6 Relevant Considerations: How Unresolved Trauma Runs in the Background of Relationships

1. Trauma ≠ PTSD. Trauma itself is not pathological and is fairly common. Most people who have a traumatic experience do not develop a clinical disorder. Traumatic experience, more so when we are not conscious of it and actively coping, can still have a negative impact in the absence of resilient responses. PTSD nevertheless affects up to 8 percent of the population.

2. We tend to project the past onto the present. Most of us are only partially aware of this, but developmental experiences shape how we make sense of the present, how we think about relationships and ourselves, what we allow ourselves to think and feel, and so on. With active trauma, defensive patterns and expectations shape how we see things. For example, we may erroneously see another person as an enemy when they are a…



Grant H Brenner

Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker, Disaster Responder, Advocate, Photographer