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Three Ways Triggers Undermine Your Relationship – Part 1

EVERYTHING THAT EVER HURT ME BEFORE CAME BACK TO HAUNT ME

If I look at the trauma I’ve had in my life, there is so much of it that without hope that I could heal it – ALL OF IT – I might as well have curled up in a ball in the corner and given up on life!

  • I was run over by a truck at age 2 – across my belly – and it led to a fundamental distrust of people closest to me in my life . . . with long-term effects.
  • I was attacked by a dog at age 5 and FEARED GOING OUTSIDE until I was 30! 
  • I spent a total of 30 years in 3 abusive marriages.
  • I’ve been told that I’m too fat, too much trouble and that my family doesn’t love me.
  • I suffered infertility that never resolved inside a Church that said my value came from motherhood. (P.S. I was raised in that Church, but left it a decade ago.)
  • I wrongly identified more and more subtle forms of disconnection and abuse as true love because each successive partner was less abusive or abusive in a different way than the partners before. 
  • When I finally did find true love, triggers tried their best to disrupt a good thing!
Terrified after a run-in with a 2 pound dog

The story of my fear of dogs until I was 30 ended with a stand-off with a chihuahua. I was 30 years old, 6 feet tall, a “glamazon” woman. Yet, during the face-off where the tiny dog was showing me his teeth and growling – as afraid as I was – I felt like I was 5 again. And, that chihuahua seemed as dangerous to me as the Australian Shepherd who had pinned me to the ground 25 years earlier . . . .

It was then – over 20 years ago – that I realized I needed to develop a strategy for healing so that old fears would stop impacting my life in the present day.

Because what was worse than the fear of dogs was my “habit” of recreating past relationship hurts by attracting people who continued to harm me in similar ways as I had experienced earlier in my life.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to finally connect with my true soulmate. One who insisted early on and who continues to insist that I put “me first”, sees the patterns in my behavior that fit previous unhealthy relationships and honors me by refusing to recreate harmful patterns with me. It took me more than 50 years to find him; and now I know what love really feels like and what love does in the verbs “love,” “protect,” “honor.” Finally, I’ve broken patterns of relationship that have followed me for a half century. 

Shadows of Past Trauma Can Undermine Current Relationship Happiness

You know what I’ve learned along this journey? 

It’s this: healing happens in layers. In deeper levels of awareness. 

There are subtle signals that we pick up without even realizing it . . . 

And our brain shifts into the fight or flight mode.

Without realizing what we’re doing, we push away from things or people that feel threatening.

Even when there isn’t a threat anymore – like a 6-foot tall “glamazon” being terrified of a 2 pound dog! 

The reason I’m writing this post for you is to explain something. 

I’ve found the man who truly loves me through everything – even deep CPTSD triggers, and I can tell you something: even though I know I am completely safe and loved . . . . sometimes, I act as if I’m not.

In these moments, my triggers have the potential to influence my behavior so that I cause harm rather than healing with him! Fortunately, the work I’ve done leading up to this point has allowed me to use tools that have led to greater connection and deeper understanding as I heal.

I’d like to share a bit more about that with you in this post.

As I’ve healed myself at deeper and deeper levels over the past 20 years, I’ve learned a few things. Of the most important is the reality that trauma creates very sneaky “ghosts” that act on us without our awareness. When that happens, we create the same patterns that hurt us in the first place – even if our partner doesn’t participate in or reinforce those patterns.

The key is to recognize them. That’s why today I am describing three ways triggers can disrupt you without you even knowing so that you can start to see how they might be impacting you in your interactions with – or choice of – a partner.

Because seeing them is the first step to healing them . . . 

THREE WAYS TRIGGERS DISRUPT YOU WITHOUT YOU EVEN KNOWING

NUMBER ONE – You’re a People Pleaser.

You’ll hear therapists say, or read in therapy books, that there’s this subconscious magnet that draws you to someone who matches your internal need for healing and that is the way you’re meant to couple. I think that’s hogwash! 

We all have triggers. Those triggers come from when we were growing up, even if we grew up in a family that we would call perfect or loving or great. Kids still develop ways of thinking in that environment that makes them have triggers, or sensitive spots, that connect them with a new person. 

When I talk about your choice of a partner, I focus on the style of interaction you developed in order to feel safe while you grew up. Take a second to think about your childhood, early life or past relationships. Are you the kind of person who works really hard to please your partner? Are you the kind of person who has trouble expressing your own feelings and being able to say what you really think? Are you the kind of person who has trouble complaining about something that needs to be complained about because there needs to be a change in the relationship? 

If that’s true, you probably have a compliant style. You’re trying to please the other person and although you say you’re trying to please the other person, this is really an attempt to keep yourself safe. 

If you’re trying to keep yourself safe, it means you feel some kind of internal threat. 

This internal perception of threat could be a result of something we all carry: our body history. 

We carry everything that’s ever happened to us that’s unresolved in our body history. It tells us whether or not we’re safe. We carry that from the families that we grew up in. We carry it forward in all of our relationships. 

When you have “pleaser” style, you try hard to make the other person happy. You’re not going to put your needs first. You’re not going to say what you need or complain when it’s appropriate. Because your body history tells you that if you do complain or speak up about your needs, something bad will happen.

If that’s what you do, you’re likely to couple with someone who actually puts their needs first; to the point where you will feel like this relationship, after time, doesn’t meet your emotional needs, or your relationship doesn’t have space for your emotions, or you can’t communicate and get that person to communicate back to you. 

I was this person and I had this pattern. I see it as one of the primary reasons I’ve spent so much time in relationships with people that continued to minimize my needs.

If you’re a person who gives and gives and gives, and is overly compassionate and overly compliant in a relationship, it’s very highly likely that you’re going to match with someone who would agree with or behave as if they are very comfortable with the following statement:  “My relationship style is to have my partner cater to me.” 

Whether you’re in a new relationship, just dating, in a long-term relationship or married, even if that’s your relationship style, it doesn’t mean you’re locked into that way of interaction. 

What it does mean is that you have to start understanding the beliefs that you have that are underlying the triggers. You may have never thought that giving service, providing gifts, giving compliments or making sure your partner’s never hungry (for example) could be connected to triggers? But they are. The key is to go back in your body history. Look back in your family history to figure out where those patterns were developed to help you understand where and when you’re triggered. It’s really true that we can develop these compulsive patterns of giving too much. Your triggers can actually drive your choice of partner if you’re not aware. 

If you’re looking for a partner, the key is to understand and pay attention to your out of proportion responses that happen in you when you decide that you like someone. Pay attention to how that maybe connects to some old patterns that didn’t work well for you in the past. 

When I dated, one of the things that came up for me consistently was the need to be a caregiver. If somebody showed that they had been harmed, that they weren’t well or that they needed help, I was really quick to jump in and try to fix things for them; that’s actually a triggered way of developing a relationship. It’s another key factor in why I stayed in harmful relationships for so long. If you’re dating, what you want to do is identify that in yourself so that you can actually come from a real, authentic place and not a triggered or an anxiety-driven space.

Part 2 coming soon . . . .

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