Podcast – Episode 0374 – How Childhood Trauma Impacts Your Relationships (with Bruce Muzik)

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk with guest host Bruce Muzik about the tools to overcome childhood traumas that are showing up in your relationships.


In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Bruce Muzik of Love at First Fight.
  • What are ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (cdc.gov)], and how are they affecting our relationships?
    • The huge impact our childhoods have on our lives.
    • Why there is a direct link that predicts disease in our adult life.
    • What is affecting our potential relationship satisfaction.
    • What a low vs high ACE score means.
    • Why certain ACE scores are tied to alcoholism, chronic depression, smoking, autoimmune diseases and more.
    • How many ACEs did Joel and Antonia have?
  • So you have ACEs…now what?
    • Why healing from trauma is possible and faster than you think.
    • How these particular trauma therapies are changing lives.
    • Why this time period in history is set for healing trauma.
    • The burgeoning science of healing trauma.
    • Why talk therapy isn’t the best option to deal with trauma.
    • Where our trauma is actually stored.
    • Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score.
  • The real thing that is most damaging to people beyond the actual trauma.
  • What our emotions actually need to do.
  • How is trauma affecting our relationships?
    • Which couples struggle the most in their relationships?
    • What Bruce experienced in his marriage.
    • What safety in our relationship really means.
    • When we have cortisol pumping in our veins consistently.
    • Why kissing your wife goodbye in the morning is such a big deal.
  • Why we all actually have trauma.
    • Capital “T” Trauma vs lowercase “t” trauma.
    • The one thing we all have to do.
    • How attachment styles tie in with trauma. (Check out this episode with Bruce on attachment theory )
  • Where to get help.
  • What do we do to handle trauma in others?
    • When is challenge vs gentleness appropriate?
    • Why personal growth leaders need to understand trauma.
    • The model Bruce uses to grow through what we’ve gone through.
    • What men need more vs what women need.
    • Bruce’s experience of how to support and yet challenge.
  • Why labeling our partners can cause more problems than help.
    • When blaming stops our progress.
    • What focusing on the self does for you and your relationship.
    • This important thing you need to learn.


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Showing 24 comments
  • Rowena

    Strangely, I have no ACEs. However, I would be the cause of the penultimate ACE for somebody else, due to suffering from mental illness (bipolar) and having been suicidal at times. Despite having no ACEs according to that list, I know that I am fearful-avoidant*, particularly in romantic relationships, and that I suffer from anxiety and from a degree of hypervigilance generally.

    If I were going to nitpick, I’d say my mother was slightly domineering, and my father a little emotionally needy, though neither to the extent where I was say my home life was traumatic according to the ACE test. They probably did skew my attachment a bit, hence being fearful-avoidant, but I would not really blame them for my lack of trust at all. My parents are good people and I have a strong relationship with both of them. I had a generally happy childhood inside the home, but a miserable one outside it. What I did suffer was years of bullying at school. From the first day I discovered that other children didn’t like me and wanted to treat me cruelly. I hadn’t knowingly done anything to provoke it. I made friends in time, but the bullying only properly ended when I had a year off school aged 15 to undergo cancer treatment – itself a highly traumatic experience. I think the other kids felt guilty so they began treating me more kindly

    I’m now 37 but I still suffer from trauma-induced lack of confidence, anxiety, guilt and paranoia at times, and particularly when meeting new people. My instinct is to belief that others are out to get me and that if they are pleasant it is false and they are trying to trick me. I’ve spent years trying to ignore pain/anger and rise above unpleasantness, but that doesn’t help address the trauma. Fortunately, I am learning to ignore my hypervigilant urges and take people at face value. I’m learning that people can be genuinely friendly and kind. I also have a wonderful securely-attached partner who is comfortingly predictable and is helping me to get over my problems. I’ve almost stopped assuming that he will leave me.

    This podcast is both fascinating and essential, and I’m glad bullying was mentioned at one point. However, I think it would be helpful to focus more often on trauma showing up outside the home, rather than just assuming that it comes only from the child’s caregivers.

    *Obviously, any MBTI type can be fearful-avoidant, but I wonder if it is reflected in my being an INTP. It can feel a bit like a Ti-Fe clash.

  • Kate

    I was disappointed that emotional abuse was not part of the ACE scores presented here. Especially since the book referenced (Complex PTSD Surviving to Thriving) includes emotional abuse as a factor in cPTSD cases.
    My entire life I watched my father emotionally abuse my mother. It deeply impacted my sense of self and my future relationships. Emotional abuse is much more complex but just as damaging as physical abuse.

  • Maria Harrington

    Hi, I just listened to the podcast. I am in my 40’s and have an ACE score of 9. I have been diagnosed with CPTSD. I can honestly say that most of my life I was a “push yourself hard” kind of a person. As a kid I witnessed my mom being verbally and physically abused. I used to get hit with a wet, leather horse whip. I never cried, I was strong and determined to get a better life. At 8 hrs old my dad shot my mom in front of me. In the confusion and aftermath no one told me and my brother if mom was dead or alive. For 2 days I assumed my mom was dead. She survived, but was in a comma for months. She had to learn how to walk again. In the mean time we were living with relatives who used to fondle me in the presence of my aunt and uncle who never did a thing to stop it. I was the star witness at my dad’s trial. He walk free. After a few months my dad tried to kidnap my brother…aka his precious boy. Dad never liked me because I was born with lighter skin than him and in his sick mind that meant I wasn’t his. Well, due to the kidnapping threats we actually left our country and came to live in the USA. Here we had to live with relatives who were absolutely mean to us. My mom struggled to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. The irony is that no one knew our domestic situation. We were straight A students, total overachievers; school was our escape and ticket out of that life. Kids in high school assumed I was wealthy because I was in AP classes, but the reality was we were living in a detached garage where we froze our butts in winter and half cooked during the summer. Plus, now there was a cousin who was fondling me again. Bty- my mom turned her back on me. I was labeled “the problem” she even told me once that that cousin was going to buy her a house, but I was the reason why she didn’t have a house. I made it to college. I had 3 jobs and was getting a bachelors in biology. To thus day I have no idea how I survived that hectic schedule: I graduated My first job was working for my local city testing water. Then I met my husband. A rich boy who would laugh at my stories of growing up poor thinking I was just being funny. I told him it’s no joke! Driving a car that would die at every stop sign was my life. We married, and had our ups and downs because my past was affecting me. We attended couples therapy and it worked for us. I stopped working as my hubs had his own business. I honestly did not have to worry about money at all. It was a dream! I couldn’t believe I had a 5 bedroom house ( a bloody mansion to me). My husband made me feel I could for once relax and let someone else take the reigns. He believed in me so much that he told me to keep going after my dream of being a dr or nurse practitioner. I was missing one undergrad class before I could sign up for the nursing program. He would laugh out loud at me trying to explain to him how easy school was now that all I had to do was go to school. No worries about money or being technically homeless, school felt like a walk on rose petals. My hubs would help me study and even quiz me before my exams. I got an A, and he was super proud. We decided to have a baby. But then 2009 came. We lost the house, and even the business as it was a remodeling store. The day my husband was going to pick up his last belongings before turning the business key in he suddenly collapsed in my presence. I started CPR, and kept going until EMS got there. That day he died. I was left with no $$, no credit cards, no job, and a rental agreement I could not pay. I got myself a job and slowly things got better. Meds school and even nursing school were not an option. I attended night/online classes to get a teaching credential. Got a job as a teacher. Stayed in same school 4 years only to be pushed out by vice principal who despised me. Got another job at another school teaching jr High. There I had an incident that ended up being the drop that broke me completely and absolutely. I had a girl student make accusations of touching her in an inappropriate way. I’ve never cried so hard in my life. The accusation was levied against me on Friday, by Monday at the meeting to decide my faith. The student said she had mad that up because she was angry at me for marking her late to my class and apologized. The damage was done. I was absolutely suicidal. I didn’t understand life or felt there was a purpose. I literally left the school campus to check myself into a mental clinic. It’s been 2 years. Last year I worked in a different field because I was too traumatized to go back to teaching. I’m feeling better, but it’s been a lot of work. Self reflection, talk therapy, and finding the right meds. I used to think I was a worthless piece of crap that was too weak to “handle life” and I should just kill my self thinking that at least by not being alive I would no longer be a burden to my mom and brother. Now I see Im beyond strong and resilient. I’m looking forward to going back to the classroom where I can continue to help my “kids”. I also know that I’m a wonderful being that puts out love and compassion into my immediate surroundings. I have 4 little rescue dogs that are my pride and joy as I see them transform from scared, and aggressive to loving and calm. They are my greatest therapy. I treat them as I should of been treated by my family when I was a child being abused. The more love and patience I give them the more my soul heals. The episode is right on the money when they said that what does the damage is the lack of support after the trauma. For others out there who like me lacked the supportive and loving environment I say – be kind and gentle to yourself. Tell the child version of you that now that you are grown up you will not let others or your old scared child self abuse her anymore. Hugs to all and give yourselves credit. We are not victims, we are frigging warriors.

  • Karen

    I haven’t quite finished the podcast yet, but I wanted to pipe up about the division Joel and Antonia express between people needing gentleness and people needing challenge. I think this is a false division that tends to make us try to sort people according to whether they have experienced ‘enough’ trauma to require gentleness.
    In my experience, healing small ‘t’ trauma through EFT tapping, and learning to be gentle and supportive to myself has naturally led to being more able to take on suitable levels of challenge in the world, which has created a virtuous cycle of reward.
    The gentleness, support and releasing trauma are intrinsic and ongoing elements in taking on challenge.

  • Richard Hayter

    With 5 aces I could also have ended up doing something stupid, but the part of my personality DNA kept me sane enough to grow learn and overcome. It probably changed my personality into what I am now. INFJ which I see as a huge positive. What do you think?

    • Karen

      Hmm, I think what I mean is that gentleness and challenge are not mutually exclusive. Though maybe for some people and at some times toughness is the only way to challenge?

      • Karen

        Aargh reply in wrong place, sorry!

  • Marcus

    While I agree with all the points raised there are angles that are significant and haven’t been approached.

    Firstly, if someone scored a 1 for lack of support at home and had a particularly traumatic school life then the effects could be much more severe.

    Secondly, issues relating to racism, homophobia and transphobia direct or indirect can also have effects, especially when combined with an environment that isn’t supportive.

    Some global issues were alluded to near the end, it would be interesting to explore studies in some of these areas.

    • Anonymous

      “Homophobia” (literally “fear of men”) is a nonsense buzzword invented by leftists. What many homosexuals and leftists call homophobia is actually disgust or disapproval experienced by many heterosexuals towards homosexuals when they view affection between homosexuals or when they consider how destructive and disease-transmitting homosexual anal sex and other homosexual sexual practices are.

      “Transphobia” is another nonsense buzzword invented by leftists. There is no such thing as transgender, there is only a man or woman with a mental disorder called gender dysphoria. One cannot change their biological sex, they can just mutilate their genitals through “sex reassignment surgery” to mimic the opposite sex, and take sex hormones of the opposite sex which mess them up emotionally, physically, and mentally even more. A more accurate term for them is gender impostors. The fact that the suicide rate for gender dysphoric people is something like eight times the normal rate shows you these people are not happy or mentally healthy or stable.

      • This anonymous dude is a douche

        How very Christ-like of you. I’m going to go ahead and assume you are an evangelical conservative Christian. Just like the old saying, “there is no hate like Christian love”, which has never been more true than in today’s America. I would assume the people that identify as LGBTQ+ have higher rates of suicide because of people like you who further traumatize them with your senseless hate and divisiveness. To the members of the before mentioned community who may read this: you are important, you are valued, you are loved and the ill-informed and outdated f*©k that wrote this is hypocritical moron. Xoxo

  • James

    I have 5 aces, guess if I was in Vegas I’d be getting beat up and kicked out of the casino for cheating.
    I was able to heal and overcome my past trauma by using the NLP Swish technique, which has been modified by the Human Given’s Group into the Rewind Technique.


    I don’t agree with the assessment that I would turn into a person that commits domestic violence. I have been domestically violated but I take no joy in hurting others, nor do I raise my hand to anyone, unless I was defending myself. I’d rather walk away then hurt someone.

    I don’t do any drugs, or drink alcohol in excessive quantities either. I’m a cheap date, two and I’m done, carry me home. I may drink alcohol once per year likely cider for thanksgiving.

    I’m thinking cognitive functions play a role in how we interpret the past and how we deal with trauma and the present.

    • Antonia Dodge

      None of the statistics Bruce quoted were 100%. It’s not deterministic, just relevantly (and interestingly) correlated.

      NLP was big for me, too.


      • James

        I agree with him about the statistics, though just not for me, Bruce seems like a good guy. Alcohol use in excess is a good tell also hard core drugs mainly heroin based things come to mind, I’ve been told by many that it helps with the pain. I tell them yes, but in a down trodden way, when someone is stuck in a perpetual loop of anger and depression, the best place to go is up not down. when you get to the top the view is fantastic.

        Many people that suffer want immediate relief from emotional pain. I was no different as a teen, I drank a lot and eventually it got me expelled from my senior year of school for being intoxicated on school grounds. I only had 3 months to go before graduation. I actually graduated high school when I was at 28 years old, then got my degree by 32 years old. Trauma delays much of normal development. I was in all AP classes and was destined to go to Yale, but my behavior dictated my eventual downfall.

        I eventually went all out in personal development, got my master certification in NLP, and Master Hypnosis practitioner certification and went through 600 hours of coach training with the school that Tony Robbins set up and I was certified in that modality. By the the time I woke up one day at 36 I guess that was my moment to make major life changes, I went all accomplishment mode in as little time as possible. My biggest challenge was filters on my speech, I had to get socially intelligent and emotionally intelligent. Thankfully I’m more well rounded and have a broader understanding of things now that I’m pushing 50, where as before I’d be very combative when people tried to teach me something else that didn’t jive with my beliefs.

  • Danielle

    As far as the concept of “trigger warnings” goes, I do agree that exposure can be a way to cope with and overcome these things. However, I see these warnings as fundamentally about consent instead of shielding someone.

    When someone provides a content warning, I can either consent to interacting with the material or I can decline and go do something else. I find this is very important, not just for “triggers,” but also for things that frequently make people feel uncomfortable.

    Digital consent is probably very important to me because of my generation. I was a young teenager when I first started exploring the internet on my own. Over a decade later, as a woman in my 20s, I realize that I was subjected to inappropriate content without the ability to consent as a minor. The two primary instances I can think of were NSFW. I was neither seeking this content out nor in a place where this would typically be. One was the front page of an art site where you were supposed to mark any NSFW images as such. And it wasn’t just artistic nudity, which I would’ve been fine with. There was also a large problem on tumblr with porn bots who would follow pretty much everyone. And no matter how many you blocked, several more would find your page. And I was far from the only person to experience this as a minor. Adults have experienced it to (I remember my dad once had this happen when searching for directions to Dick’s Sporting Goods…)

    So that’s my stance on “trigger warning,” though I’d prefer to call them “content warnings.” Some people do exercise them to shield others, but I just think of it more as: Do I consent to continuing knowing that I will encounter heavy topics potentially upsetting things?

  • Justine G

    This innovative way of healing people is encouraging for the future. But an elephant in the room remains. It is all based on what people were old enough to actually remember. I doubt Dr Bruce thinks this (and will give him the benefit of the doubt), but the idea that you aren’t really affected by anything before the memory ‘cut-off’ point is probably still pervasive, even though in some ways this is probably the worst time to be subject to abuse or neglect, because a) the brain is particularly active in laying down neural pathways in this period, and this is shaped by experience and b) you can’t address what you can’t remember, or at least it’s a hell of a lot harder.

    Granted, a lot of the people who remember experiencing significant ‘unsupported’ trauma will have also experienced this before the memory ‘cut-off’ point, but I can think of reasons why this isn’t necessarily the case.

    • Justine G

      Sorry I must correct my post, I meant to say that people experiencing ‘significant’ abuse or neglect in the pre-memory years will not necessarily continue to experience this (or not necessarily to the same degree) in their later childhood years.

    • Danielle

      I was thinking this the same way as well. I technically have 2 ACES. One of these ACES (addiction) ceased to be a problem when I was very young. So, I’m not sure if it really counts as an ACE in the same way it does for my dad who spent almost the entirety of his childhood, if not the entirety, with an alcoholic parent.

      The second ACE, having two parents who have experienced mental illness, is something that I don’t think has impacted me to the extent it impacted both of my parents. This is majorly because, despite these issues, my parents were always able to show up as supportive and were attuned to when I had issues. Their mental illness impacted their parenting style (especially my mom’s anxiety), but not in a way I identify as traumatic.

      It just shows that there is nuance in every system.

      For instance, I believe a study showed something to the fact that having a loving supportive relationship with another adult figure can offset some of the impacts that ACES have. From what I’ve heard, I’m fairly certain this was the case with my mom. That individual for her would’ve been her paternal grandma. I never met her because my mom would’ve been a teenager when she passed away, but I get the sense that she provided my mom with a lot more support than I believe her parents ever did.

      • Desiree

        As someone who has done years of EMDR on trauma(s) that happened before the age when I could ‘remember’ and also since this age, I can say it’s very, very effective in dealing with both. Sometimes during EMDR (as someone going through it) the ‘images’ that occur can be memories, or sounds or thoughts or feelings or.. lots of things. I’m guessing (and my understanding is) that if the trauma happened before you can ‘remember’ you will still have some (sensory) fragments of it that can be worked on.

        I also wanted to pop in something about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) here as Antonia mentioned it in the podcast as another way of re-experiencing/challenging trauma. My own experience with CBT was terrible and I finally realized why when Bruce was talking about it. I always thought it was because it was just more dealing with the mind vs the body (which I still think it is) but NOW what I think was the major issue for me was that I tried to do it on my own, using workbooks and guided exercises, and so… well I was simply re-experiencing my trauma without the support piece. I suppose someone could use CBT with a therapist/professional and therefore get the support, but I found it simply put me back in the trauma and so therefore unable to do much other than get triggered.

        And finally, thank you for the warning at the beginning, whatever you want to call it. There was a time when my trauma had made my life so small that individual words, seemingly unrelated to my trauma (and completely irrational to most people) would trigger me. I’m not there anymore (thanks to EMDR!) but it’s great you give people the chance to decide whether they want to continue listening.

        Thanks for the excellent podcast and I’m loving Bruce’s interviews.

  • Brian P.

    This is, in my opinion, the deepest podcasts I’ve heard. Within 15min, jaw was on the floor, and from around the 1/2-way point to the end I was in tears. I cannot thank you enough for sharing this.

  • Judith

    Thank you. Great discussion. You dealt with a serious subject with the appropriate depth and sensitivity. I would add a standard ACE question not included on your guest’s list is the loss of a parent thru death or abandonment. That capitol T trauma often affects attachment style and adult relationships.

    • Joel Mark Witt

      That makes sense to include that question. Thank you for adding to the conversation Judith.

  • Lisa M

    Thank you for this Pod Cast. I think there are a lot of adults including myself walking through life broken as I am learning myself. I scored 6 on the ACE test. I have been clinically depressed, on anti depressants, alcohol dependent, had a brush with cancer, Gluten & food sensitivity with thyroid problems, divorced. The link appears real. I can happily say I have it all under control now. Been working on it over the past 11 years.
    I’m an INFJ, I am naturally suspicious of people anyway as I see their cloaked secrets, all the time. However seeing my blind spot will take the hyper sensitivity out of the equation.
    I have used the Johari window to help open up and work on my blind spot. This only comes from others feed back, as you can’t see your blind spot, but you need to be open to receive this info to grow.

    • Joel Mark Witt

      Thank you for sharing your experience. It is encouraging for others to hear that it is possible to overcome and heal from past trauma. We appreciate you Lisa.

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