Unresolved trauma is at the heart of many emotional, mental, and physical illnesses.
People experience trauma because of something that was done to them by somebody else or something they have done themselves. But trauma is not only caused by events. Feeling extremely overwhelmed and experiencing a sense of powerlessness can become traumatic. Living a life of isolation and loneliness or having lifelong identity issues can become traumatic.
Experiences that happen in early childhood influence the people we become. For example, growing up with an ill or addicted parent or being born into a dysfunctional family where the parents are not fully present in their children’s lives can become a developmental trauma.
By accepting this broad definition of trauma, we agree that all of us have been traumatized in one way or another. Finding a path of healing from trauma has become a real need in today’s intense world.
Trust and shame are traveling companions.
The trust we gain as we grow up can be lost completely when we experience a traumatic event. Losing the ability to trust ourselves and others goes hand in hand with developing shame.
Most people who experience trauma judge themselves for the action(s) they took (or did not take) during the time they experienced their trauma(s).
Feeling ashamed and having difficulties trusting are only two of the many consequences of trauma that can have a damaging effect on our relationships with other people and with ourselves.
Trauma heals through relationships and connections.
“The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change, and the most powerful therapy is human love.”
― Bruce D. Perry, author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook
Safe and trustworthy connections are fundamental for the development of a healthy and satisfying life. I once heard a speaker who said, “No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love.”
Recovery from trauma involves reconnecting with other human beings. Yet most of the women I meet in my private practice have experienced trauma at the hands of parents or partners. Do you see the problem?
If the people who are supposed to care for, protect, and love us are the ones who reject or abuse us, we often don’t have a choice but to shut down and numb our feelings. We put up armor to protect ourselves. With time, that armor becomes limiting.
Trauma teaches us to shut down and protect ourselves.
As children, whenever we felt unsafe, unheard, or unloved, we put up a wall to avoid feeling the unpleasant feelings.
This armor was a survival mechanism then, and as adults, we naturally pull out this protection whenever we are triggered. We shut down in order to protect that frightened inner child.
I talk about armor and how to let it go in my previous blog, “Emotional Freedom for empaths: How to know when you take on feelings of others.“
Why do those of us living with trauma find it challenging to maintain loving relationships?
- We keep the armor up.
Keeping your armor up creates a wall between you and other people. The protective wall once served you in times of danger. Now the wall ensures that no one gets in. And if no one gets in, you can’t get hurt.
- We hold people to impossibly high standards.
Looking for perfection in others and judging their imperfections means you never have to get too close to anyone (and therefore no one can hurt you.) You don’t want to take the risk of facing conflict, pain, difficult conversations, and vulnerability. It’s not that you have made a conscious decision to look for perfect people. Your protective brain is doing what it thinks is best for you.
- We live in a black and white world.
We tend to see the world through a tiny lens that only shows two extreme ends of the spectrum. Having traumatic experiences in your past is pretty extreme, isn’t it? No wonder the “all or nothing” approach is so comfortable. You either find things to be completely “good” or “bad,” “beautiful” or “ugly,” “easy” or “hard,” “happy” or “sad.” There is no grey area.
- We push people away.
Even empaths who have experienced trauma can show up in the world as the opposite of who they really are—lacking empathy. While deep inside, you might be the most loving, kind, and caring person, you may come across as a cold, distant and uncaring person to others.
Many conversations in my Thriving Empath Facebook Group for Women bring up the question of pushing people away. “If I keep heading in this direction, I’m going to cut everyone out of my life who shows basic human traits and end up alone,” wrote one woman. Another asked, “Any tips for the individual who feels little to no bond with anyone, while at the same time is highly sensitive and empathetic and feels overwhelming guilt for not connecting with others? Every day I hide the fact that even in healthy relationships I feel little to no bond.”
Many healers, therapists, and those who identify as empaths carry high levels of trauma. Like other human beings, they shut down their emotions so they don’t have to reconnect with their own pain. Their protective impulse to shut down can feel like a lack of—or sometimes the opposite of—empathy.
When I was a young and inexperienced social worker, I could not show compassion and empathy. My unaddressed trauma was triggered, and I had to come up with ways to protect myself. No wonder I left the social work field and only returned to help people heal (in a much bigger way) after going through a personal process of healing and transformation.
Trying to hurt people (unconsciously) before they hurt you
Some women try to protect their abusers and justify their behaviors. They care more about other people than about themselves (a typical victimhood behavior). But I’ve also seen many women who do the opposite: they become nasty and mean towards people.
If your heart is broken and your trauma is not addressed professionally, you might be afraid to open up to people if you were abused by someone you loved. Without knowing, you might try to hurt them before they hurt you.
If you have experienced trauma in the past and feel that your current relationships suffer, I hope that some of the ideas I have expressed here will make you feel more understood, loved, and accepted.
None of this is your fault.
The traumatic experience is not your fault.
Living with the trauma, sometimes for many years, is not your fault.
You are simply using protective behaviors that help you survive.
If it is time for you to admit that these protective behaviors are no longer serving you, you might be ready to do some deep trauma healing work.
Is there a way to develop and maintain healthy relationships despite your trauma? Is it realistic to expect that you can heal the trauma and attract healthy, loving relationships to your life?
Yes, and yes. You deserve it, and you can heal the past and live a meaningful, satisfying life. You might need the help of a professional, but healing is possible.
Once you understand the connection between your unfulfilled relationships and your past trauma, you can start moving towards healing those relationships.
For now, please allow yourself to feel loved, accepted, and virtually hugged. Release self-judgment, criticism, and blame. Have compassion for yourself. And when you get to the point that you are ready to move from awareness to healing, consider allowing me to be your guide.
I present my unique approach to addressing trauma and why it has helped so many women genuinely heal in my blog: Growing Through Trauma.
If you ready to heal you trauma so you can create loving relationships send me a message and tell me a bit about yourself and your circumstances.