We are biologically designed to seek safety and connections in relationships. Whether it’s a romantic partnership, familial bonds, or friendships, these connections contribute significantly to our emotional well-being. However, trauma can have a disruptive influence on the dynamics of relationships. In this blog post, l explore what trauma is, its various forms, and how it can profoundly affect the way we engage and connect with others.
Trauma can be defined as an emotional response that can result from experiencing an event or series of events that overwhelm the nervous system’s ability to cope. Trauma is generally associated with life-threatening experiences such as physical or sexual assault, or violence. However, other distressing experiences such as divorce, ongoing financial or legal stressors, and chronic illness can also result in trauma.
Trauma and the Brain
As previously stated, experiences that overwhelm the nervous system will activate the stress fight, flight, or freeze response. To allow the body to respond to the experience, regions of the brain responsible for processing information from that experience into a memory go offline. If the processing of the experience is not able to resume, that experience can get stored as a maladaptive memory – without a time stamp indicating the threat is over.
Signs of Trauma
Individual responses to adverse or traumatic experiences will vary. According to research, many individuals’ Initial reactions can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect.
More distressing responses can include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma.
These reactions can resolve naturally over time provided the individual’s nervous system can return to a “felt sense of safety”. The “felt sense of safety” is when an individual feels safe in their body, in their environment, and the people within their environment. If this does not occur, this heightened state of “felt” danger will wreak havoc on the individual’s physical and emotional well-being.
Trauma and its Impact on Relationships
Many individuals who seek therapy have often experienced some form of traumatic or adverse experiences that have hijacked their nervous system. When is constantly hijacked, this can leave a lasting imprint of trauma – making it difficult to discern what is safe and who is safe. Although some individuals may not connect adverse or traumatic experiences to why they are seeking therapy, trauma can show up as trust issues, communication difficulties, problems with emotional regulation, and intimacy issues – just to name a few.
- Trust Issues: Individuals who have experienced trauma may struggle with trusting others. The betrayal or violation they experience can create a pervasive fear of vulnerability, making it challenging to open up to others.
- Communication Difficulties: Trauma can hinder effective communication, individuals may find it challenging to express their emotions or articulate their needs. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict within relationships.
- Attachment Styles: Trauma, especially trauma resulting from adverse childhood experiences, can influence attachment styles, affecting the way individuals form and maintain connections. Some may become anxiously attached, seeking constant reassurance, while others may develop an avoidant attachment style, distancing themselves to avoid potential hurt.
- Emotional Regulation Challenges: Individuals who have experienced trauma may struggle with regulating their emotions. This can manifest as intense mood swings, difficulty managing stress, or an inability to cope with everyday challenges, impacting the stability of relationships.
- Intimacy Issues: Individuals may grapple with intimacy, finding it hard to be vulnerable or connect on a deep emotional level. This can strain romantic relationships and hinder the development of close bonds.
Healing Trauma with EMDR Therapy
Understanding the impact of adverse or traumatic experiences is crucial. Therapy in a safe and supportive space can allow individuals to explore and address the effects of trauma. In addition, EMDR therapy – a memory-based therapy -can provide healing by accessing the memories that are maladaptively stored in the nervous system.
Trauma casts a long shadow on the landscape of relationships, influencing the way individuals connect with others. By fostering understanding, and compassion, and providing the necessary support, we can help those impacted by trauma navigate the complexities of forming and maintaining meaningful connections. In doing so, we contribute to creating a more empathetic and supportive environment for healing and growth.
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