For someone who has survived childhood trauma, developing healthy relationships is no small task. “Scripts” in the trauma brain provide templates for ongoing overwhelm when it comes to choosing a healthy partner, initiating insightful interactions when conflicts happen and attracting affirming actions from a partner rather than accepting continuing abusive treatment.
Is there an answer to this problem? There is! It has everything to do with how someone with difficulty in relationship because of trauma talks to themselves once they understand how the Body History impacts them.
If you know someone who doesn’t have positive relationship examples in their lives that they can use when making their own relationship choices, this article might be helpful to them. Please share. 😉
Trauma slams survivors most severely in relationship.
This happens in several ways, based on the Body History.
Body HistoryTM impacts our choice of partner: we choose a partner based on what’s in our Body History. The Body History resonates when someone in our field of dating has similarities that match the behaviors, the attitudes, the feelings of people we have known – most notably, the abusive ones. The body will signal attraction because the people who create resonance in our Body History feel familiar. This is how our body picks up the subtlest clues about how someone would behave in relationship. Resonance in the Body History creates a feeling of familiarity, but it’s important to remember that familiarity isn’t the same as healthy or safe.
Body HistoryTM impacts our behavior in relationship: If someone has trauma and has learned to be fearful or defensive, those behaviors that worked for survival in childhood will show up in the adult relationship. Those specific actions may have helped someone stay safe as a child, but that doesn’t work very well in loving adult relationships.
Body HistoryTM impacts what we accept from our partner in relationship: In a similar manner as when making a choice of who to couple with, we also tend to accept behavior from a partner that is familiar based on our trauma history. Good or bad, our Body History dictates the treatment we will accept from our partner.
What is Body History? Body History is the foundation of The TraumaERASE MethodTM and describes the imaginary container of energy that we hold in the body. The concept comes from a law of physics; called the Law of Conservation of Energy. It says that nothing is created and nothing disappears.
The best way to illustrate this law is to think about a pot of water over a flame on the stove. The flame will cause water to boil. But if you walk away and stay away too long, when you come back to the pot, there won’t be any water there. It’s not that the water left. It’s not that the water disappeared. The water changed. It went somewhere else in a different form, but it didn’t disappear.
Feelings in the body are not unlike the water in the pot. When the water is heated (e.g. when too much stress is experienced by someone who is trying to “hold feelings in”), it changes form. Just like the water changes to steam, bottled up emotions under stress lead to blowouts and actions that we aren’t so excited about or proud of.
The Body History holds all of the energy from everything that we’ve been through in our traumatic experiences. That energy doesn’t go away. Ignoring it is like letting it sit on a flame to simmer and create more energy – it doesn’t make it disappear. When we feel triggered, it’s that energy held in the Body History that feeds the actions that we don’t like; those triggered behaviors that we used to survive trauma.
Body History helps us understand where triggers come from. It also helps understand why triggers get bigger over time. Every time we’re triggered without healing that trigger, the trauma is reinforced. The reinforcement of the trigger adds energy to the container in our body; to our Body History. Over time without healing the triggers, the Body History holds more and more energy. The more the energy builds up, the more likely it is to show up in triggered behaviors.
Specifically, talking about relationships, the stored energy in the Body History shows up in more hiding, more self-protection, more fear.
We amplify the actions we used while we were learning how to survive trauma because there is too much energy to resist those actions. Likewise, we find ourselves in much more intense difficulty when faced with negative behaviors from a partner. We find it excruciatingly difficult to make more healthy choices when choosing a new partner. We find ourselves tolerating the same behaviors – same behaviors, different face.
The harder we try, the more difficult it becomes.
Because we haven’t changed the triggers.
It’s impossible to change trauma-induced behaviors until the triggers are rooted out and completely healed. (Healing triggers is a process that I teach in The TraumaERASE Method Academy.)
The pressure in the Body History container continues to grow as long as we continue to experience unhealed triggers.
That’s why Body History is really important when it comes to making better relationship choices.
We have to heal the triggers to reduce the energy in the Body History. I talk more about this in The TraumaERASE Method Academy, but one of the tools I recommend is The Body History timeline.
The Body History timeline is used to identify patterns of belief as well as the intense emotions that were developed as a result of repeated traumas.
Here’s something to remember: A repeated belief + intense emotions = a lie that feels like reality.
Indulge me as I give a ridiculous example. Imagine that as a child, my parent screamed at me that I was ugly because of my green hair. (In reality, my hair is dark brown.) Over time, I would feel bad about myself because of my green hair even though I see brown hair when I look in the mirror. The reality of having been screamed at (intense emotions) and the repeated belief (green hair) leads to a lie that feels like reality.
Once found, the timeline also helps identify the exceptions that exist that weren’t the focus of intense energy within the Body History. (Those times when I saw brown hair instead of blue hair. Or when someone complimented my pretty brown hair.)
Body History tends to amplify tiny details until those details feel like reality.
A more realistic example, if I have a belief in my head (in my trauma brain) and my body history confirms it, then that belief becomes a reality for me, no matter how false it may be on an objective level.
Here’s a common belief that survivors hold: I am not worthy of being loved (because I have such an extensive history of being hurt by people who were supposed to be treating me lovingly, especially in childhood).
This belief is supported by the lie that an abused child comes to believe because of the heavy emotions which reinforced every abusive act the child endured.
In this example, we would look for the exceptions in the Body History where the survivor felt loved and safe.
Sometimes, however, if there’s an extensive trauma history, we can’t find those exceptions.
What do we do when we cannot come up with any examples of positivity or any exceptions to those times when the heavy negative belief was reinforced?
This is when we have use a special kind of aspiration.
Some therapists and trauma coaches recommend the use of affirmations. This is not the same as an aspiration. It’s also different from reframing.
Affirmations don’t work well and trauma survivors often hate them. They make us feel worse about ourselves. We reject them for very good reasons. It has nothing to do with how well you can do the affirmation and everything to do with misguided efforts to “fix” a problem that cannot be resolved from the outside.
Someone might advise a survivor to “Just tell yourself: ‘I am lovable’.”
The reasons affirmations don’t work are the same reasons that therapists reframes don’t work. It’s why partner reframes don’t work.
Those suggestions don’t work because they don’t hit the target exactly where it needs to hit inside the Body History.
A crowd can chant a survivor’s name as the survivor crosses a finish line in triumph . . . .
A lover can repeat the words: “I love you. You’re amazing” until they’re purple in the face . . . .
A therapist can craft 1,000 different ways to think about being loveable until you’ve paid their kid’s college tuition . . . .
But the lie won’t let go until it is targeted exactly in the right way that only the survivor can identify.
But an aspiration – something the healing survivor creates – which is aligned with exceptions to the Body History and represents the values of the survivor can actually obliterate the power of the energy-holding-lie in the body and free the survivor to see the truth as it is. And free themselves from the power of the trigger and the energy it holds in the Body History.
To heal, target the belief and the energy in the Body History.
This is accomplished by creating a statement that hits both: the belief and the energy.
When you choose the aspiration that actually hits the target, you know it because of how it feels.
Let me give you a few examples.
If I grew up in constant fear and anxiety because of how I was treated within my family, when I grow up and develop a relationship, the simple act of engaging in relationship will trigger fear in my trauma brain and Body History.
If my Body History says: “I get hurt in relationship. Everything is my fault.” then that belief will show up in my marriage.
But in reality, I’m with a partner who believes that my happiness is as important as their happiness.
If I want to hit the belief with the feeling that it’s connected to in my Body History, I have to choose an affirmation that addresses my expectation that I will be hurt because I get blamed for everything.
Maybe that affirmation would be something like: “I’m allowed to be happy. It’s okay for me to choose a relationship where my partner values my happiness.”
The last example I want to give you is about accepting gifts. Abusers often try to compensate for abusive acts by giving gifts. So adult survivors often associate gifts with pain.
But loving partners give gifts out of love. This is part of many healthy, nurturing relationships.
So what do we do to address that piece of body history?
We have to find something that addresses the belief and the feeling to bring the receipt of a gift into real time. The statement could be something like: “I will accept gifts with a grateful heart.”
This is aspirational because maybe I can’t accept gifts with a grateful heart right now, but I can use the aspiration to remind myself that I’m safe, it will lead to healing.
Of course, there are more steps in The TraumaERASE Method that build on this concept, but for now I will say that you can actually get to the place where receiving gifts doesn’t create fear. Instead, receiving a gift will actually create the positivity in your body and a grateful heart.
Remember, the trauma brain can and must be reprogrammed to help survivors stay in real time. Listening to the Body History to uncover the information it holds is the first step to directly targeting and healing trauma.