As I drove and completed my errand, I felt a surge of enlivenment from feeling the change of the seasons.
I’ve always loved Fall.
I loved (and still love) school and anything related to learning.
And don’t even get me started on my obsession with great office supplies!
Fall to me is a time of fresh starts and a time of the mind – losing myself in new books, and new subjects, and feeling the pleasant fatigue in my brain after learning hard things.
When the weather changes and Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, some people want pumpkin spice lattes and to break out their Ugg boots.
I want a package of Audible credits and a brand new Moleskine for my journaling…
So in honor of Fall and this season of learning and expanding our intellectual horizons, I wanted to make today’s post less an essay than a list.
A list of curated books that I dearly love and that have helped me enormously over the last 20 years on my own relational trauma recovery journey and that I share with my therapy clients and online course students today.
I’ve arranged this list by topic area, much like aisles in a bookstore, so that you can browse and see what interests you based on your own personal history.
If you can find even one pen and paper friend from this list, one work that makes you feel less alone and imbues you with a little more hope, more knowledge, and helpful tools, that will make me so happy.
So please, peruse the list and, if you don’t mind, in the comments of today’s post, please let me know what books you might add to this list that have been so helpful in your own relational trauma recovery journey.
This little website gets about 25,000 visitors per month so your contribution and comment might point someone in the right direction to a resource that helps them enormously.
So thank you in advance for generously sharing.
Happy Fall and please take such good care of yourself.
You’re so worth it.
A Reading List To Support Your Relational Trauma Recovery Journey
Top trauma books to explain the biological impact of childhood trauma:
- The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, And Body In The Healing Of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. This book is a classic for clinicians interested in helping our clients heal from traumatic experiences. Like other books mentioned on the list, this may be denser reading, but it’s excellent if you want a comprehensive view of what trauma can look like and how it can be healed.
- It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn. Building upon the work of Bessel van der Kolk and other great trauma clinicians, this popular book explores the intergenerational impact of trauma – specifically the neuropsychological expression of it in our lives – and provides interactive tools to explore your own possible manifestations of inherited trauma.
- Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology And How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. This book, in relatable and clear ways, explores how the adverse childhood experiences we live through leave “fingerprints” on our biology and what tools and options are available to us to help us overcome our adverse histories.
Top trauma books to outline the healing pathway out of trauma’s grip:
- Transforming The Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook for Survivors and Therapists by Janina Fisher, Ph.D. I respect Janina Fisher’s work enormously and this recent publication of hers is one of the top psychoeducational resources that I recommend to clients as a complement to our work together to help illustrate the impact of trauma and bring clarity to confusion around the trauma symptoms they experience.
- Journey Through Trauma: A Trail Guide to the 5-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma by Gretchen Schmelzer, Ph.D. Beautifully written by a clinician and trauma survivor herself, this book helps childhood trauma survivors make sense of their experiences in the world and begin to think through their healing journey differently.
- The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole by Arielle Schwartz, Ph.D. An excellent and practical workbook by a body-centered psychotherapist who I know and respect deeply, this book walks trauma survivors through manageable and tolerable exercises to support their healing journey.
Biographies and stories of estrangement, disownment, and abuse:
- Educated by Tara Westover, Ph.D. One of the few books I can honestly say I’ve read four times (and will likely read once a year – I love it that much!), this blockbuster memoir is extreme and perhaps not relatable in the exact details of the family’s landscape, but does relatably illustrate what it’s like to come from a fractured family, split by members’ mental illness, and to experience the gaslighting, disownment and estrangement that sometimes comes as a cost when you begin to heal. I truly can’t recommend this book enough. (And if anyone on this knows Tara Westover, there’s no one else I’d rather get coffee with so please feel free to make a virtual introduction!)
- Shadow Daughter: A Memoir of Estrangement by Harriet Brown. Another fantastic, well-written book that speaks to the “unspeakable” – estrangement from one’s own parents. The author weaves her story with others in a compelling, honest, and, to be quite honest, refreshing way.
- Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home by Jessica Berger Gross. This book might be particularly impactful for anyone who grew up in a family that looked “great” on the outside but on the inside experienced emotional and mental abuse. The author chronicles her journey and, so importantly, speaks about how her healing came in tandem with her decision to estrange herself from her family of origin.
Books if you grew up with personality and mood-disordered parents:
- Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson. A powerful read for those who can’t point to anything “dramatic” or “extreme” about their parenting experience, and yet who still feel strong emotional wounds from childhood.
- Surviving a Borderline Parent: How to Heal Your Childhood Wounds and Build Trust, Boundaries, and Self-Esteem by Kimberlee Roth. A volume of hope and help for those who were parented by someone with diagnosed or suspected Borderline Personality Disorder.
- Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride, Ph.D. An excellent read for daughters (and sons!) of those who had mothers who were largely selfish, self-involved, and whose love felt conditional.
- Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Paul T. T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger. Another classic and staple for those with diagnosed or suspected Borderline parents, but also helpful for anyone who had to ensure feelings and conditions of emotional, verbal, and physical instability and lack of safety growing up.
Books that speak to being part of a family system where there is addiction:
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie. A classic for those of us who come from addictive family systems who struggle with knowing where their business ends and another person’s business begins, a common symptom of being raised within an addictive family system.
- Beyond Addiction by Jeffery Foote, Ph.D. and Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D. A great resource both for anyone with an addiction or for the family member of someone who struggles with addiction. Particularly useful for those who are off put by AA.
- Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions by Russell Brand. A raw, honest, humorous but serious memoir from comedian and actor Russell Brand, this book brings a human lens to addiction and might be helpful for the loved one of an addict to read in order to learn more about what the addict’s experience is like.
- In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, MD. A more clinical book than others in this section, but nonetheless wise and helpful to the family member of an addict, Dr. Maté’s work reframes addiction and helps humanize the sufferer.
Books to support living a life as meaningful as possible in the brief time we have:
- I Will Not Die An Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova, Ph.D. At the end of the day, relational trauma recovery work’s final stage, after stabilization and processing/grieving, is sense-making and meaning-making, moving forward to build as meaningful and fulfilled life as possible. This book explores how one woman discovered her own meaning and purpose after a life-threatening diagnosis.
- A Year To Live: How To Live This Year As If It Were Your Last by Stephen Levine. This precious book gently helps us face death by considering its omnipresence and, through a series of meditations and prompts, helps us to more fully live before we die.
- Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. The book that brought me into the field of psychotherapy, it will forever and always remain on any relational trauma recovery reading list I curate. This classic work uses poem, fable, tale, and psychoeducation to speak to the mind, yes, but also but it also bypasses the mind and speaks straight to the soul, kindling a spark and igniting a sense of enlivenment. I truly can’t recommend it enough.
Now, I’d love to hear in the comment below:
What are some of the best books that have supported you on your relational trauma recovery journey?
Please leave a message so our community of 25,000 monthly website visitors can benefit from your wisdom.
And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.
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