To heal relationship trauma is to make space for the emotional wounds that you are carrying.
Relationship trauma is when you have been in a toxic and abusive relationship that has left you losing hope and feeling powerless.
Trauma from relationships is not just limited to romantic relationships. Any relationship including employer- employee relationship, friendships, in-law relationships, sibling relationships, parent- child relationship, where you experienced the following can result in trauma-
- You feel criticized and put down a lot. It feels like you don’t matter. You feel devalued and invalidated.
- It feels like it’s always your fault and does not matter how hard you try it’s never good enough. You find yourself defending yourself and over explaining.
- You might feel confused a lot. For example- you bring up something to them that you are upset about, but for some reason it’s turned on you and now you find yourself apologizing to them.
- You find yourself walking on eggshells around that person.
- Gaslighting, where your reality is denied, is a part of your relationship. They tell you that you are too sensitive and you are overreacting. You feel like the best way to keep the peace is just to do what they want.
- There is betrayal in your relationship along with constant lies and manipulation.
- Along with emotional and verbal abuse there could be physical and sexual abuse as well.
When you are in a toxic and abusive relationship, trauma results from a series of experiences that give you certain messages about yourself which become your negative beliefs about yourself. For example, some of the negative beliefs that you might have could be –
- You am not valued
- You are not important
- you feel like you don’t matter
- You cannot trust your judgment
- You feel like you cannot protect yourself
- You don’t have a choice
While you are in the relationship these beliefs can generate certain feelings which results in certain behavior patterns showing up as a way to help you survive. For example,
- feeling anxious
- you feel helpless
- You feel stuck
- You start losing your sense of self
- You have a lot of self doubt.
- You feel confused
- You are always on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- You have a difficult time trusting people
- You take on the responsibility to appease the toxic person.
- You start over looking your own needs to keep the peace
- You start pulling away from your support system
- You might find yourself getting very angry and getting into arguments, following with guilt and shame for having those arguments.
Firstly it’s really difficult to walk out of an abusive relationship. Even after you have gathered the courage to walk out, the trauma caused by this relationship needs attention and healing.
Even after the relationship ends, experiences in your current life can trigger feelings, negative self belief and physical sensations from those past memories.
Not processing traumatic memories can keep you stuck believing the negative beliefs about yourself and continue the old patterns of self doubt, not being able to trust others, not being able to feel like you have a choice, not wanting to get in a relationship again because you are worried that you will chose the wrong person and make yourself vulnerable to hurt again.
You might have ruminating thoughts about the betrayal or the hurt you experienced. You might carry regret and shame for not walking away sooner, for not seeing it coming and many other such thoughts could take over you.
How to heal relationship trauma?
To heal relationship trauma is a process. First step is to recognize and acknowledge that you are hurt and not force yourself to get over it.
Having a strong support system that you can lean into.
It’s not only trauma that you are coping with, there is grief in this journey as well. So be patient with yourself and show compassion to yourself.
You might have heard people say, “ give it some time, time heals everything.” When it comes to trauma that is not true.
Time cannot take the triggers away. It cannot make your body forget what you experienced. Every time you are exposed to a trigger your body will react.
Some of my clients tell me, “this happened so long ago why do I still get bothered by it.”
Seek professional help. There are different treatment modalities for trauma. EMDR that stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is one of the leading approaches for trauma.
Being an EMDR certified therapist I have seen this approach loosen the grip of traumatic memories on people.
In my work with my clients I have seen their symptoms reduce, they are able to feel empowered while holding the memory of that experience in their mind.
A lot of the times we associate the word trauma with physical, sexual violence, accidents, natural calamities. However, trauma is not just limited to these experiences. Trauma is also when you are emotionally abused.
Trauma is any experience that makes you blame yourself, you don’t feel safe, you feel powerless, you feel like no one can be trusted.
EMDR is based on a theory that believes that our brain is capable of processing any experience we have and integrate it into our system.
But when our brain cannot process an information or experience then it gets stuck in our brain in its original raw unprocessed form.
This un-processed memory gets stuck with negative beliefs that were generated, feelings you felt, physical sensations that your body experiences during that time.
Your current environment and experience can trigger those beliefs, feelings and physical sensations from these unprocessed memories and result in old behavior patterns showing up in your current life.
For example, if as a child you witnessed people around you fighting and yelling and your response to that as a child was to shut down and freeze then as an adult also being around people yelling and fighting will make you freeze and feel like you cannot protect yourself.
If childhood trauma is left untreated it will keep you stuck in your old patterns of survival. In your adult life you might make choices from a place of survival even though you don’t need to.
Until these stuck memories are not processed the intensity of the memories will not reduce and empowering positive belief will not be integrated in your system.
EMDR helps to heal from relationship trauma by processing the unprocessed traumatic memories. We target these memories and desensitize them. Then integrate a positive belief in place of the negative belief.
It helps process the negative beliefs and lift the cloud of self judgment. You can find compassion for yourself and also feel empowered to have your back.
If you allow your system to unburden the pain and hurt that it’s carrying and heal relationship trauma you will enable yourself to emotionally connect again.