A few ideas to use to ensure that your relationships aren't affected by your trauma history.
Many people have experienced something traumatic in their lives, ranging from parental abandonment to sexual abuse, this array of issues—things that weren’t supposed to happen but did, are insidious on the quality of one’s mental health and relationships. The old adage ‘time heals all’ is a damned lie. Time does not heal all. In spite of one experiencing trauma decades ago, it does not mean those moments aren’t as troubling and impactful as they were when it happened.
Being in relationships with other humans is hard! Even more of a challenge when one is using their energy to push away unpleasant thoughts, painful emotions, and the like. Our trauma histories serve as shells around our heart and an obstacle in being present in the relationship. Our brains learned long ago how important self-preservation is and it works overtime ensuring it! Many people with a history of trauma lack the ability to create or sustain vital relationships, whether it be with a spouse, family members or friends.
Tips on building healthy relationships in spite of trauma history:
Express your feelings to your partner. Let them know how the traumatic events affect you. You may have told your partner about the circumstances you faced during the time of the trauma. And I encourage you to continue keeping your partner in the loop about the things that are coming up for you (unpleasant thoughts, bad dreams, feelings of anger or shame, etc.), so they know what is happening. Your partner wants to be of support to you, and help in any way they can. It is hard to know how to help if your partner doesn’t know help is needed.
Create a plan to cope with your thoughts and emotions, share it with your partner so they can be supportive. When we are having a ton of unpleasant emotions or, are ‘checked out,’ it is hard to know that it is time to do something. Sharing your coping strategy with your partner will allow them to prompt you to use an approach to change your emotional state. It is important to allow your emotions to surface and, getting too stuck in painful emotions can create more unpleasant emotions.
Write about the trauma you experienced. If writing is not your forte, what is a creative outlet you can use process your trauma in-depth? It can be through dance, song, art, anything that allows you to tell the story of what happened. When we’ve experienced a traumatic incident, we slip into non-discussion and non-processing of the event. When we think about what happened, it hurts deeply. So, when any thought or reminder of the trauma surfaces, the brain quickly pushes it away (self-preservation, remember?) And, too much pushing away leads to avoidance, the inability to heal from the pain, and more intense emotions commonly projected onto our partner. Get it out and use your coping plan to help with feeling better.
Meet with a mental health professional trained in conducting trauma work. For some, step three is simply too much. There is a fear that if the trauma is spoken about, I will never stop crying or, I will fly into a rage – things won’t end well. If that is the case, whether it be from your experience of it happening or, it is a fear that you can’t shake, contact a therapist who is trained in providing trauma treatment. If you don’t know how to find a therapist trained in the approach, read this blog post -- Four Steps to Find a Therapist.
Vena M. Wilson, LCSW, owner of Honey Bee Behavioral Health in Las Vegas, Nevada, focuses on helping people in rebuilding their lives after experiencing trauma. She is passionate about teaching people ways to take self-injury and suicide off the table as an option to managing their painful emotions, and her commentary about self-injurious behaviors, parenting, and utilizing skillful means has appeared on The Washington Post. You can connect with her directly on her website.