Relationships are not easy; they take a lot of work. Add to that equation childhood trauma and sometimes relationships feel impossible. Things that seem little, like when your partner is late for dinner, or makes a mistake, forgets, or is inconsiderate can send trauma survivors into a spiral of despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. It hits a big raw spot and the trauma survivors usually has thoughts such as “They will never be there for me when I need the most!” or “I am completely insignificant to them, I don’t matter at all!” which reinforces their inability to trust and rely on other people.
The emotional/body type reaction to this can be quite extreme. Some people are launched into a fight or flight traumatic response, while others go directly to a freeze shut down response inside. Some trauma survivors will feel intense hurt inside and quite often react to their partners in an angry, blaming, critical way. Others will completely shut down and withdraw from their partner usually making themselves very busy to distract and take away from the feelings (overworking, video games, internet, TV or other addictions).
The good news is that there are skills and abilities you can develop to deal with the trauma so that it no longer runs rampant and destroys your relationships. One of those skills is self-regulation. Peter Levine developed an amazing therapy called Somatic Experiencing. Brilliantly he developed this therapy from an experience he had as a new counsellor and by watching animals. He concluded that animals in the wild are not traumatized because after a traumatic event they will stand there and allow their body to shake which in turndischarges the energy/emotions and then they walk away completely unscathed. What he predisposes is that most human beings have not learned this skill and in fact carry the trauma with them in their bodies. In therapy trauma survivors learn how to tune into the sensations in their body and how to effectively release the emotions and energy from the trauma. Their bodies will literally discharge and release the energy.
What does this mean for relationships? The trauma survivors learns how to self regulate by effectively tuning and discharging the energy and emotions when they are feeling triggered in their relationship. After discharging the energy they feel more relaxed and calm. They move out of the fight/flight trauma area of the brain (amygdala), into their frontal cortex where they can better see the whole picture, and own their own part. From this place they can then turn towards their partner in a calm way and express their feelings and needs.
My husband Sol and I are very excited about using Somatic Experiencing Therapy as an adjunct to Emotion Focused Couples Therapy so we can truly help couples learn how to communicate in a healthy way. Trauma survivors were traumatized in relationship, they struggle tremendously to try and trust and rely on others and even maintain relationships, and it is devastating for them to watch their reactions and anger slowly wear away the love they share with their partner. Now they no longer have to feel prisoner to their trauma they can successfully learn how to regulate their own reactions and bring themselves back into a place of peace and secure connection with their partner.
Robin Menard MSW RCC RSW
Marriage and Couple Specialist
A Path of Heart Counselling Services