Around 75% of Australians will experience trauma. It affects each person differently and will often impact our intimate partner connections. But there are things we can safely do right now to prevent trauma from hijacking our relationships.
WARNING: This article discusses the impacts of trauma
Psychological trauma can result from exposure to life-threatening or significantly distressing events. Some people manage this with minimal support. Particularly if their fight or flight response previously helped them avoid disaster. But for others, perhaps immobilised by fear or otherwise unable to escape the experience, the impacts can be long-lasting.
Our understanding of trauma and how it impacts our mind and body evolved dramatically over the last twenty years. Various treatment options are now available. But there are also things we can do for ourselves, right now!
1. Relationship with Self
One way that humans and other animals survive intolerable physical and emotional experiences, is to dissociate. Psychologically ‘removing ourselves’ from a traumatic experience can help us survive the immediate trauma but leave difficult thoughts, emotions and sensations trapped inside, limiting our ability to enjoy full, happy lives and relationships.
Leaders in the field of trauma research, such as Peter Levine and Bessel Van Der Kolk, agree that activities which help us to reconnect with our bodies are vital in helping us heal from trauma and live satisfying lives in the present. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and short mindfulness exercises can help us take back control of our bodies and be fully present.
“Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: The greater the awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives.”
Bessel Van Der Kolk
2: Relationships with Others
Humans are social animals, wired for relationship. When we experience trauma or emotional disturbance, we intuitively reach out for the comfort of another.
This may be disrupted if we did not develop secure attachments with primary caregivers as infants.
The attachment styles we develop early in life can lead to difficulties building trust and feelings of security in our adult relationships. When we learn about our attachment styles, we pave the way for deeper understandings of ourselves and each other.
The key to creating secure relationship attachments in adulthood is building mutual trust and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with another. We do this slowly and incrementally so that we can assess levels of emotional safety and the trustworthiness of our partner as we go. When a partner responds with care and nurture, our attachment grows.
3. Find the Words
Developmental trauma in children can lead, in serious cases, to alexithymia: the inability to identify and describe our emotions. As children, we are wired to survive and keep ourselves safe, so if our emotions become overwhelming, we can detach from them.
Talking with a trauma-informed counsellor or psychologist can provide an opportunity to get back in touch with emotions so we can learn to name them, feel them and tolerate them, in a safe, supportive space.
Don’t live half a life
As I’ve mentioned, humans are programmed, above all, to survive. This sometimes means that our response to a traumatic life event is to socially and emotionally withdraw. If we keep our head down and try not to bring attention to ourselves, we might be less of a target for attack. This makes complete sense, from an evolutional perspective, but it doesn’t make for a very fulfilling existence.
Whatever your trauma history, there is support out there. And if this article has raised concerns for you today, you can speak to a trained LGBTIQ+ peer counsellor at QLIFE, between 3pm and midnight every day: 1800184527
Chris Pye is a Relationship Coach who helps individuals, couples and families to transform conflict and communication difficulties into deeper connections. For more about his work, or to book a free ‘first-step conversation’, go to: asinglestep.com.au
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