“The more quickly either person goes from disappointment or hurt to anger, defensiveness, or emotional withdrawal and remains stuck there, the less that person is capable of having a relationship and the more the other person will have to walk on eggshells.” – Mark Goulston
Why do some people have relationships that work and others don’t? One reason is past trauma is affecting the emotional safety of the relationship. Most of us don’t know what a “traumatized state of mind” is, but we do know when our world gets dark. We know when we feel as if we’ve been attacked or not considered by another. We know when we are so hurt we can’t talk, or we can only scream or react.
There are two things to consider here: one is actual trauma caused by another, such as being raped, hit, yelled at, picked on, etc., and the other is a “traumatized state of mind,” which is when one is experiencing intense disconnect or anger out of proportion to what is actually occurring. In this article, we are looking at the traumatized state of mind, not actual abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, get help or get out.
Without going into what actually occurs in the mind/body during trauma, there are degrees of trauma, all of which causes disconnection. In moments of trauma, we don’t have external support. We are thrown back on ourselves. We are alone, no longer part of a matrix of connection and love. Later in life, various events can trigger that experience and those feelings. Whether it is a voice inside saying, “How could you treat me like that?” to a rage or withdrawal that you can’t get yourself out of, we find ourselves alone again. What we do with that experience varies. Some of us fight to be seen, to make it right, while others pull back and hide, or abuse substances. But while doing so we are not making a choice. We are reacting. Whatever the scenario, there has just been a disruption in our relationship.
When we move into and experience a traumatized state of mind, we lose perspective. Complexity collapses. The world becomes black and white, good and bad. We can no longer communicate rationally because we are no longer rational. Our world has fractured. From where we are, it appears that the other person has betrayed us. We are hurt and not thinking clearly. It is from this place that damage is done to our relationships. We are no longer capable of communicating rationally, and maybe not even treating the other person fairly. We are no longer in command of ourselves.
Changing this dynamic in a relationship requires:
* Understanding our past wounds so we can heal them.
* Seeing and taking responsibility for our own behavior and the damage we’ve caused our relationship.
* Learning to deal with hurts and disappointments differently.
* Seeing our relationship as a place to build a bridge between differences, not as a place with rights and wrongs.
* Sharing our wounds with our partner, our wounds are part of the relationship.
* Learning to reach forward with vulnerability and support each other when we are traumatized.
It’s up to us to master ourselves. We can change ourselves if we choose to, but to do so, we need to become aware of how we lose ourselves “under the influence” of our past emotional trauma. Only then we can be fully present for the other and be in a truly functioning relationship.