Living with unresolved trauma and bringing all the resulting feelings, thoughts and behaviours to your relationships is clearly not conducive to healthy and happy relationships. By no means does this mean that if you have experienced trauma, you no longer have the right to seek out connections with others. It just means that by gaining greater awareness of how your unresolved trauma MAY be negatively affecting your relationships, you can begin to take steps to improve the quality of those relationships. Obviously, trauma affects everybody differently and no two people will always experience the same set of trauma symptoms, behaviours, thoughts or feelings even if they experienced the exact same trauma. With this in mind, lets have a look at 5 signs which may indicate that your unresolved trauma is negatively affecting your relationships with others.
1. You are constantly worried about being rejected, unloved or abandoned.
Depending on the nature of the trauma, some people may become severely insecure about themselves and about what they can offer others. If a trauma survivor comes to the conclusion that they are worthless, unlovable, stupid, etc, it becomes easier for them to reason that other people also view them in the same way. That is, if a trauma survivor firmly believes that they are unlovable, they may conclude that their friend or lover does not really love them (when in reality the friend or lover truly does love them) and so their friends or lovers’ innocent actions such as forgetting to call, being sick and not wanting to hang out, getting angry/frustrated are erroneously interpreted as signs of hate, rejection and potentially impending abandonment. Some trauma survivors may also end relationships early as a way of controlling the inevitable (I will leave them before they get a chance to leave me).
2. You find it hard to say no.
People who are or have been exposed to abusive, traumatic, invalidating and dysfunctional environments may never truly know what their needs, wants and desires are and so they may find it difficult to stand up for themselves and say no. The ability to say no requires two things. First, you must recognise that you have a NEED which is in opposition to what another is requesting/demanding. Second, you must conclude that your need is more important than what the other persons is requesting and demanding. For example, if a friend or lover asks you for money to buy new clothes, before you blindly hand money over, you must first evaluate (recognise) if you have any needs in relation to that money (pay rent, buy food, etc). Your ability to then say no to the money request depends on whether you conclude that your need to have shelter (pay rent) or your need to survive (buy food) is MORE IMPORTANT THAN your friend or lovers need to buy new clothes.
3. You prefer fighting over peace.
Some trauma survivors prefer conflict and chaos over peace and tranquillity because they have been so constantly exposed to conflict and chaos that peace and tranquillity is strange and unfamiliar. People who are exposed to constant conflict and chaos may begin to misinterpret their stress responses as ‘feelings of being alive’ leaving peace and tranquillity to seem boring in comparison. Within intimate relationships, an intense argument with a lover may be followed by an intense romp in the bedroom. The physical act of sex often helps couples to bond and feel closer to one another and so the couple inadvertently learns that in order to feel closer to their partner, they must cause conflict and chaos. The same applies for friendships. An intense argument one day can be followed by a day of shopping or fishing the next (bonding time).
4. You find it extremely difficult to trust others.
If you have experienced past or recent trauma, you may find that you can no longer trust the people around you. You may suddenly see your family, friends or lovers as being untrustworthy, sneaky, dishonest and manipulative. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Life was great when you just blindly trusted and believed in a certain person until something occurred which completely shattered that trust/belief and now you can no longer look at them the same way again. Trusting others says a lot about ourselves too and so when trust is broken, we can falsely blame ourselves 100% for not seeing the signs, for not being smart enough, for being so needy, etc, etc. Trust is always a two-way street though and if people want our trust, they must take actions to preserve that trust.
5. You keep people at a distance.
You may keep potential lovers in the ‘friend zone’ out of fear that if they ever got to know the ‘real’ you, they could never love you. You may only maintain ‘friends with benefits’ relationships. You may keep a current lover at an emotional and physical distance by working unnecessarily long hours or by making yourself unnecessarily busy. You may purposely sabotage friendships when they become too intense. You may sabotage work relationships by keeping completely to yourself during lunch breaks or by changing jobs frequently. Keeping people at a distance is not a bad thing if their behaviours are toxic and abusive but when their behaviours are not toxic or abusive, you may be robbing yourself of healthy connections.
Resolving trauma does not mean eliminating trauma. This is why I prefer the phrase ‘REFORMING TRAUMA’. Ideally you want to reform your trauma from something ‘negative’, debilitating, distressing, etc, into something functional, ‘positive’ and overall conducive towards life. Trauma, despite all of its ‘negative’ consequences on our minds, bodies and emotions, can foster life-long resilience. Trauma can teach us that yes humans are infallible and potentially dangerous creatures and so we need to remain cautious and somewhat apprehensive about interacting with certain people, but trauma also teaches us that most humans are sensitive, empathetic and caring and are able to meet and respect our needs if we are willing to give them the chance. Reaching this point of understanding is not always easy and so some people may need to seek out professional support.
If you do choose to seek out professional support to help you to reform your trauma then keep in mind that the goal of any competent mental health professional is to support and guide you to learn new skills, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Mental health professionals are like personal fitness trainers or sports coaches. They want to see you develop. They want to assist you to develop new skills and they want to assist you to break old habits which may be preventing your development. Just like in fitness or in sports, you have to devote time and energy to performing the new mental health skills if you want to become better at them and if you want them to become your new default.