Have you heard of relational trauma? What are the patterns that are directing your life and how can you shift them? Can you commit to learning about yourself, your history, and how to rewrite your story for a better future? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini speaks about relational trauma with Esther Goldstein.


Esther Goldstein is a trauma expert in Long Island and New York. As a Trauma Specialist, Trauma Educator, and Founder of Integrative Psychotherapy, her goal is to make sure that her clients are set up with just the right customized therapeutic experience to help them along their healing journey.

Esther is also the founder of Trauma Therapists, which helps therapists improve trauma therapy clinical outcomes through expert support.

Visit Integrative Psychotherapy and Trauma Therapists.


  • What is relational trauma?
  • How are relationships built?
  • How relational trauma can show up
  • Shifting relational dynamics

What is relational trauma?

Usually when someone experiences something as a trauma, it either happened too quickly … Like [in] a single incident, or it could be like a consistent ongoing experience that is [or was] harmful, almost like the slow drip of water on a rock that changes the shape of the rock over time, and that’s called developmental trauma. (Esther Goldstein)
There are different types of trauma, and they all fall under the same umbrella term but they can each describe different types and severities of trauma. With trauma, there is the perception of either a real or an imagined threat to safety, either to you or a loved one, and it’s characterized by three common factors:
  • It was unexpected and you didn’t see it coming
  • There was nothing that could be done to stop it happening
  • There was no way for you (or the other person) to find safety in that moment
When we lose connection or we lose touch with ourselves and other people, then we don’t feel capable of being able to digest the [traumatic] experience. (Esther Goldstein)
Due to a traumatic experience, you may lose connections with loved ones around you - your relations. With relational trauma, there’s either a lack of connection or the people that you are in relation with are not safe for you to be around.

How are relationships built?

One of the main aspects of a relationship, whether that’s between family members, loved ones, friends, partners, or anyone in your community, is trust. Is trust being fostered and maintained? Or is trust being eroded? That is one of the main markers of a successful and healthy relationship or a relationship that could be emotionally unsafe.

How relational trauma can show up

When we come into the world, we develop a template … And our relational template, which means what we believe about ourselves and about others, is developed at a very young age. (Esther Goldstein)
These templates can of course be shifted as you get older with therapy and intentional work, however, most people don’t do it, and it can end up leading their lives. That is why doing the work on yourself is so important so that you can let go of old and potentially harmful or damaging beliefs or patterns that you picked up as a child and reset them as an adult. What you want to look at are the patterns and the ways you interact, and the survival strategies that come out when a person is feeling relationally unsafe. Some of these strategies are:
  • Avoidance
  • Aggression
  • Walking on eggshells
  • Insecure, clingy, or grasping for comfort
  • Anxious and dreading the worst
Usually our templates are the way we do life, the way we do love, the way we do work … What’s your pattern? Usually we’ll start seeing a similar theme. (Esther Goldstein)
There are also the classic responses to trauma:
  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze
  • Fawn

Shifting relational dynamics

Some dynamics are harder to shift than others, but it can be done, especially because you always have control over yourself. No matter what someone tells you, you can choose who, how, and why you interact with someone, and you can stop or start at any time. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can always control your own - remember that, because that gives you power, autonomy, and it allows you to remember that you can always remove yourself from an unpleasant situation and make a positive change.
A lot of these people that are shut down [emotionally] also have been badly hurt and it’s not right for us to say; “Just go be open-hearted” … We want to make sure, like an adult, you can discern what’s right and wrong … As we do that healing … there’s energy then for connection.  (Esther Goldstein)



  I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "Hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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