10 trauma survivor strategies for healing yourself and your relationship.
Table of Contents
It can be devastating to see your relationship deteriorate. What’s worse is you feel like you’re the reason. Trauma survival mode kicks on and now a part of you keeps pulling away while another part of you longs for the connection and intimacy. You feel stuck fighting with yourself.
Overcome your trauma and rebuild your relationship.
If you missed my last post on trauma survival mode, you can read it here. So how do you end this fight? There are several key steps in healing and rebuilding your relationship.
Disclaimer: This may not be the complete solution to healing from your trauma. Sometimes there needs to be more intensive healing from past trauma prior to rebuilding your relationship. If you are a trauma survivor and have PTSD symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive memories, or severe anxiety there is more work that needs to be done than what this post provides. Please consult with a mental health professional to determine your appropriate healing journey.
Trauma survivor strategies for healing:
- Recognize your triggers. Triggers can be behaviors, words, situations, people, etc. You can read more about triggers here. You’re going through the evening feeling fine until suddenly you are full of anxiety. Sometimes it seems like it comes out of nowhere and for no reason. Pause and assess what happened right before you got anxious. Were you trying to talk to your spouse, but they were consumed by TikTok? Maybe your spouse grabbed another beer out of the fridge or asked you to put the kids to bed tonight. Identifying what triggers you is the first step.
- Recognize your reactions/behaviors because of those triggers. As a trauma survivor, maybe you notice you shut down when your spouse drinks, or you become angry anytime your spouse asks you to do the dishes. Maybe you shutter when your spouse tries to kiss your neck. These reactions show the defense mechanisms you employ to try to create distance and safety.
- Recognize your negative thought patterns. When you notice the trigger and see yourself reacting, what are you telling yourself? Recognize the thought pattern after the reaction to the trigger. The thought may be “of course this happens, stuff like this always happens to me,” or “no one loves me even my spouse.” Maybe it’s something like “he doesn’t care about me,” or “she’s getting sick of me.”
- Recognize the beliefs you hold about yourself because of the trauma. This may not be something you tell yourself in the moment, but it’s the beliefs you hold about yourself that leads you to have those negative thoughts and reactions. Your beliefs may be “I am unlovable,” “I am unappreciated,” “I am an object,” or “I am weak.” Beliefs are I am statements. Take a moment and write down all the I am statements you can think of, positive and negative. As a trauma survivor the negative beliefs likely stem from your past trauma.
- Rebuild the beliefs you hold about yourself because of the trauma. We can change behaviors and reactions, but if we don’t heal the root of the problem then the behavioral changes won’t last. If you feel like you are unlovable, your behavior will reflect that. But if you change your belief about yourself then the behavior will also change. Take the list of negative beliefs and write the opposite of that belief next to it. “I am unlovable” becomes “I am lovable.” Read the new positive beliefs list to yourself several times a day. Put reminders of those beliefs all over your house. We believe what we tell ourselves, so lets start telling ourselves positive things!
- Rebuild your negative thought patterns. Challenge the negative thought patterns. Is it true that he is going to leave, or that she is sick of you? If you don’t know the answer, have a vulnerable conversation with your spouse about it and get their perspective. If these thoughts are not true, challenge them with what you know to be true. “He will support me and stay by my side.” “She loves me.”
- Rebuild your reactions/behaviors when you are triggered. With proactive work around changing your beliefs and your thought patterns, the behaviors will start to shift. When you start to retrain your brain to truly believe that you are lovable and that he isn’t going to leave, you will find your defenses start to lower. You start to turn towards him more for love and affection, or you open up to her more about your stressors and worries.
- Engage in conversations with your partner about your triggers. The best way to heal is to communicate and share your feelings with your spouse. If you are in a healthy relationship, your spouse will want to support and help you. Talk with your spouse about the behaviors, words, or situations that are triggering for you.
- Set boundaries with your partner around the triggers. You set the boundaries. Identify what behaviors you are and are not comfortable with and what level of physical and emotional intimacy you are comfortable with. You must feel safe for your brain to learn to calm down and not see your relationship or spouse as a threat. If him kissing your neck is a trigger, then set a boundary of no neck kisses.
- Adjust those boundaries as time goes on and your level of safety increases. The goal is to heal from your trauma and overcome the triggers. The boundaries are great for developing safety and trust. Some things may always be a no-go, while other things you may be comfortable with once safety and trust is established. Reassess your boundaries periodically to determine if any of them need to be adjusted.
This process takes time. Several months to several years depending on the level of trauma. It is helpful to have the guidance of a therapist to help you through this process as well. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or if you want to find a couple’s therapist near you.