“A whole life can be shaped by an old trauma, remembered or not.” ~ Lenore Terr
It creeps up on us when we least expect it to.
One minute we think we’re done with it and the next, it’s staring us right in the face.
Trauma is not just an event. It’s an experience that shapes and shakes up our lives. There’s no going back, no undoing it. It is baggage that we have to carry with us for the rest of our life. Over time, some bits of it become lighter and more bearable but it doesn’t really go away.
The only way to deal with it is to be with it. We have to allow it to be with us when it decides to show up so that we can understand it and either give it time to hang around or leave in its own time. But there is no running away from it.
Then, there are times when we actually have to start a conversation with it so we can stop it from taking over our current life and relationships. And that’s because when we experience trauma, it changes the way our mind and body perceive reality. The only lens through which we end up viewing the world is through our trauma—and it can make everything appear dark.
Of course, life does get better once the traumatic event has passed. But the passing of that trauma brings with it new difficulties as well. Perhaps the biggest difficulty that we face as a trauma survivor is that while we are trying to live a so-called normal life, parts of us are still stuck in time and they keep showing up unannounced to wreak havoc on our present life.
“Being traumatized means continuing to organise your life as if the trauma were still going on—unchanged and immutable—as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past.” ~ Besser Van Der Kolk
It can take us a while to realise that a lot of our current ways of responding to people and situations are actually trauma responses.
And since so many of our trauma experiences involve relationships, that’s often where we experience the most difficulty.
Here are some ways in which unresolved trauma can show up in our relationships:
1. Certain topics feel incredibly triggering: They set us off in ways that we can’t even understand. You may find yourself flying off the handle, fleeing from the conversation, or simply shutting down. This often ends up impacting our communication with our partner and loved ones.
2. You struggle to perform certain tasks or activities: While some activities may seem routine or normal for everyone around you, they are particularly overwhelming for you. Just the mention of doing those things can set the alarm bells ringing for you.
3. You tend to react negatively to certain people or situations: Trauma impacts the way we view people and situations and can often make us reach the most negative conclusions about people and events.
4. You’re always defensive: When you’ve been through a lot, it’s really hard to let your guard down. You want to protect yourself—always. This often makes you defensive in your communication and interactions with people around you. While trauma wants you to keep your guard up, building relationships requires us to let people in, and that’s a really difficult struggle to resolve.
5. You go through periods of disconnection: At times, you find it really hard to connect with your loved ones. The whole world feels alien to you and you struggle to feel a sense of intimacy and connection with it.
6. You’re overcome with guilt, shame, and anger: You often find yourself in the grip of strong emotions like anger, guilt, and shame, and it can be a painful experience to deal with. At times, they show up out of nowhere and can set off a downward spiral.
7. You have trust issues: You find it extremely hard to trust people, even the ones who you know love you, and that’s because trauma makes you believe that the world and everyone in it are unsafe and can’t be trusted.
8. You constantly doubt yourself: Trauma makes it hard for you to regard yourself as an individual, leading you to question your worth. No matter how much proof you have or how many reminders you give yourself or get from the world, it doesn’t seem like enough. It can become difficult for people around you to keep offering validation, which makes you negate everything good they have to say about you.
There is so much that happens to us, and our relationships, when we experience trauma. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t undo it.
We just have to find space to sit with it, make sense of it, and then support ourselves in picking up and moving along.
It’s not easy but we get better at working our way through it in time. Some days, we’ll do it all by ourselves, but on the others, we may need some help.
And eventually these signs of trauma will pass, bit by bit.
Remember, you are not your trauma.
“I’m still coping with my trauma, but coping by trying to find different ways to heal it rather than hide it.”~ Clementine Wamariya