How you got here
Nobody likes being known as the emotional one. The reputation can be hurtful and so invalidating. Just because it seems like there isn’t a reason for your reaction doesn’t mean that’s the case. Trauma shapes the way we see the world. We don’t start out suspicious, fearful, feeling vulnerable, and blaming ourselves. That happens over time and with conditioning. Hurt by hurt it piles up until one day you find yourself behaving the way you do now- defensive, frightened, angry, and emotional. Trauma taught you that no, you actually can’t handle what life throws at you. It taught you that relationships mean pain and you’d better be careful who you bond with because at some point the betrayal will come. It taught you that displeased people will abandon you and you need to make yourself pleasing to survive. Perhaps you take the blame and you learned that everything is YOUR fault. Accountability isn’t a thing in this world- you’re expected to apologize, take the blame, make the changes, and not be angry about it. These behaviors create major issues. They form low self worth, a view of the world that keeps you small, and impair relationships in a way that keeps you lonely and stuck in the cycle. The thing is, you don’t even know this is happening. Even worse, you can’t communicate what you don’t know. So you’re left trapped in the cycle, alone, hurting, confused, feeling broken, and unsure what to do about it. You can’t tell anyone why you are the way you are. How could you? You don’t even know. Even if you did, you don’t have the vocabulary to get that point across. They’d just take it as making excuses and shirking responsibility anyway. After a while, they get tired of the apologies and leave. Thus validating the beliefs that everyone leaves and you’re hard to love. The cycle makes it that much harder to trust and try again until, in the worst case, you wake up one day frightened, alone, and isolated.
I don’t Know Why I Do What I Do
The impact of trauma shows up in funny ways: there’s the classic nightmares, sleeplessness, outbursts, fighting, abusive or short term relationships, and overall suspicion and defensiveness but there’s also lesser noticed, more far reaching impacts like people pleasing, avoidance of feelings and relationships, and being unable to get close to others even though you desperately want that. It shows up as fear of vulnerability and picking fights. You may have too much emotion, or maybe not enough. Maybe you go dead inside to avoid the outbursts and the pain. Some people move between the two. Perfectionism and trying to control everything can also be a form of trying to keep yourself safe. Excessive negativity like expecting people to abandon you or preparing yourself for the worst and never daring to hope for the best are also forms of taking control and self protection.
The body holds trauma too. Some traumatized individuals don’t like certain tastes, smells, temperatures, or forms of touch. This can be frustrating and deeply misunderstood by those around them who may be inconvenienced or take it personally. Someone who has struggled with trauma and its effects may not even realize that “anxious” is their new baseline. I’ll hear things like “I can never relax,” “I always feel like I need to be moving,” or “I always feel like I need to be on guard.” Tight shoulders, trouble sleeping, griding teeth, migraines, upset stomach, numbness or tingling, back and neck pain, and other physical effects of defensive posture become the norm. Eventually, the person doesn’t even realize they hold their body in this way. In extreme cases autoimmune disorders are even associated with trauma in the body.
Trauma shows up in painful patterns that are hard to break. You really do want this to stop but you don’t know how. It’s easy to feel like you’re trapped with no way out. Eventually, you’re in enough pain to consider a therapist.
It Doesn’t Have to be This Way
Here’s the good news: this is fixable. You can actually get to a place where you’re living and not surviving, responding and not reacting. You’re present, with less chatter in your head, and more chatter among friends. People know who you really are: there’s no more pretending, no more trying to be who they want you to be to feel safe, no more fear of rejection. If you’re going to relive and muddle through all of the grief and pain anyway, you may as well let it be productive. Your body and mind are trying to speak to you through your symptoms. A therapist can help you find your way through the information that your symptoms carry in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. Many people fear the pain of therapy. What’s interesting is that when you have guidance, it can actually be less or at least differently painful than doing it on your own. With the word “trauma” most people think of extended, years long, painful reliving of the worst moments of their lives. Our tools have come a long way and this is no longer the case. While we may have to briefly and carefully discuss what happened on a surface level, therapists now have a lot of new ways to get to the source of the problem without forcing you back through your pain. These methods also allow our clients to heal much more quickly and completely than ever before.
Pain exists when you can’t find an answer. Therapy can help you find the source, work through it, heal the wound and end the pain. Even more, you learn skills in therapy that help you prevent future traumatic situations and assist you in not getting stuck again should the worst happen.
It’s not What you Think
Therapy is more than a conversation. It’s a relationship. While talk therapy and all other forms of therapeutic skills are useful, there appears to be more to it than that. Studies have found that the most important variable in therapy isn’t actually the type of therapy but the relationship with the therapist. The only way to heal from relational trauma is healthy relationships. Therapy provides a safe space to learn to grow in skills like vulnerability, boundaries, communication, and finding your self worth. It’s a place to practice and make mistakes without serious consequences like rejection and abandonment. That’s why we always talk about the therapist being a “good fit.” It’s a critical ingredient.
While therapy is a business, it’s often misunderstood that we as therapists don’t really get invested in what happens with our clients. There is absolutely no way to fake the relationship. While I may remain outside of it and objective I absolutely care about your successes, grieve your losses, and want the best life possible for you. While I feel that the most fundamental piece of the work in my office is the relationship, part of building that relationship is being trained in methods that help me walk you through your trauma with the least pain possible. I train in the latest methods and keep up with the latest topics in order to solidify the relationship further by offering guidance through the pain in a way that validates the trust my clients offer when they come into the therapy space. I became a therapist for a reason. A huge part of that decision was noticing the impact that relationships had on helping people heal. I’ve noticed all of my life how much a sense of security and safety is critical to healing and growing beyond what has happened. It’s always amazing to watch trauma survivors move on from therapy as healthier humans with a better sense of who they are. If you feel like you’d like to join them, give me a call. Let’s see if we’re a good fit.