Trauma and relationships: How trauma survival mode impacts your relationships.
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As humans, we are wired for connection. It is an innate drive to find a partner because we are not meant to be alone through life. Being in a relationship means being vulnerable. You must share parts of yourself with your partner that gives them the power to help lift you up but can also give them the power to tear you down. With a level of trust, respect, and love, your partner will never use your vulnerable parts against you. Sharing those vulnerable parts brings you closer together and deepens the relationship. If you want to read my original post on how your brain responds to trauma you can read that here.
Trauma survival mode.
However, when you experience traumatic events, your brain rewires for survival. You start to question your level of safety in all aspects of life. Everything becomes a threat, especially connection and vulnerability in relationships. When trauma survival mode is activated, connection is lost.
But everything seems fine at the start of your relationships. So, what happens?
The start of a relationship is new and exciting. There is very little investment in the relationship at the start, so there is not much threat to your survival. As the relationship progresses, it’s natural for conversations to go deeper as you get to know each other and connection strengthens.
This may be the first alarm signal of threat to your survival. You must decide if you share more about yourself, giving your partner the power to help lift you up or the power to hurt you. (Your partner will not use this to hurt you in a healthy relationship). If this is too much of a survival threat, you may break off the relationship or start to distance yourself more each day until your partner ends the relationship.
If you stay, you may share some minor parts of yourself with your partner, but it is thought out and controlled to try and keep yourself protected.
As time goes on, you may get married and move in with each other. This is another point where the alarm signals that there is a threat to your survival. Now your space is not your own, you must learn to coexist with another person, and if you’re married you now share everything. Your survival alarm signals that you are trapped and unsafe which can activate defense mechanisms to regain that level of safety. These defense mechanisms may be withdrawing, shutting down, starting arguments over little things, and disconnecting from intimacy.
I don’t feel like I am intentionally doing this.
Trauma survival mode behaviors are typically subconscious acts. You don’t want to pull away from your spouse, but the drive for survival and protection is usually stronger than the drive for connection and intimacy at this point. I want to make sure this is clear. This is a survival mechanism, hence why it is called trauma survival mode, that was activated due to past trauma. Your brain is wired for survival and that trumps connection.
Is my relationship doomed to fail?
This does not mean that your relationship is going to fail. It does not mean you will never have a healthy relationship. It does mean that you must put in the work to overcome the trauma in your past so it stops negatively impacting your present and future. As I just mentioned, your brain is wired for survival which trumps connection with others. This was how your brain responded to the trauma. Heal from your trauma, and you can rewire your brain for connection and break free from trauma survival mode. Next week I will share about the work you can do to overcome your trauma and rebuild your relationship.