We all have a friend, or are the friend, who can see danger down the track. It could be impending danger or a catastrophe a mile off. The catastrophe I’m talking about is not about earthquakes or floods, nor is it about bus crashes or stampeding elephants. I’m talking about the ever-present sense of an impending catastrophe in one’s couple relationship.
My client Jenna doesn’t trust her boyfriend and secretly checks his phone. He’s never done anything for her to doubt him. He’s not secretive, and even leaves his phone around the flat. Why does Jenna do this? What’s she worried about? She hates checking yet feels compelled to do it.
My friend Liam told me last week he fears his partner of 4 years is going to end their relationship. He’s often worried. He doesn’t want to lose his partner, and even though she hasn’t said anything, he just can’t shake the feeling she thinks he’s not good enough. He often feels insecure and gets jealous easily. He dreams of moving with her to the countryside where it’s just the two of them.
Marco from my gym group won’t date anyone more than three times. He says “what’s the point? All relationships start well and end in shit! I may as well bail while I can.”
Why do some people do this, and others don’t? The quick answer is trauma. These people have all experienced trauma in their relationships, either with parents or caregivers in childhood or in their adult couple relationships. Through these relationships where life was at times, distressing or frightening, they were altered by trauma. Traumatic experiences become encoded in our mind and body, and unless they are healed they will re-emerge later in life.
What is trauma?
Trauma and addiction expert, Gabor Mate, states that trauma is “a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically that then interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It pains you and now you’re acting out of pain. It induces fear and now you’re acting out of fear. “Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.”
What this means is that the same situation may or may not be encoded as a trauma for different people. For example, not all soldiers returning from Vietnam had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, even if they went through similar experiences.
Let’s look at relational trauma. This wires a child’s mind and nervous system with negativity and fear. This is encoded and then presents itself in adult relationships where they become hypervigilant and insecure in their couple relationship.
For some children, a parent’s alcoholism may or may not be encoded as traumatic. If it has been encoded as trauma, then it will show itself with one’s partner when alcohol becomes an issue in the relationship.
If a child has felt traumatised by a parent being out of control and aggressive, then this will typically cause them to be reactive with their partner around these issues, and they will be continuously seeking safety in their relationship. This is what Marco experienced as a child, and it’s made him fearful of being with someone who may trigger his childhood trauma.
If a child has had a parent leave the family suddenly due to an affair, then this may be encoded as traumatic. This is Jenna’s trauma, where her mum left her dad for another man when she was 12. Her dad was unable to cope for about a year and this meant Jenna had no parent able to help her cope with the loss of her mum.
Liam’s dad was cruel. He continuously made statements of how ‘useless’ he was. He’d tell him to ‘man-up’ even when he was a little boy. His mum never said anything. She was scared of his dad’s harsh tongue too. Liam could be terrified of his dad and was traumatised by him. In his couple relationship, Liam often believes his partner thinks he’s not good enough. He tries to hide it by doing so much for her and being too good to be true. He spends so much time worrying about her and how she feels about him, just like he did as a child with his dad.
As you can see, trauma disrupts the child’s ability to feel safer in their adult relationships. These are only a few examples, where as adults there is so much fear and pre-occupation with one’s partner about an impending catastrophe in the relationship.
If this is you, you don’t have to live like this. It’s important to understand the impact of your trauma so you can heal from it, liberating your mind and body from the hold the trauma has over your life and relationship.
If you think you have experienced trauma in childhood and are unsure whether it’s impacting your life and relationship, please feel free to contact me here.
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