Relational Trauma

From Matt Licata’s blog:

The tragedy of relational trauma presents itself as a cellular fragmenting, more primordial than a mere cognitive dissonance, neurally-encoded and rooted in the soul.

In addition to the chronic empathic failure and narcissistic injury which goes to the very core of our sense of self, what can be even more devastating is a deep knowing that “I’m alone in this.” The absence of companionship, of feeling felt and understood, is at the heart of trauma and devastating to a human being wired to rest within a relational field.

To provide even a sliver of hope, a moment of safety, where they can feel felt and understood, just one moment where they can re-link, re-associate, re-embody, and know a new world is possible.

I’m dealing with “relational trauma,” due partly to being left alone, and partly because Mother’s mirroring was non-existent.  Her way of treating me convinced me that I was not the person I am.  Erica calls it “mis-representation.” I notice that, if I can do something easily, I assume everybody can do it, if I have difficulty with something, I assume I’m the only one who can’t do it. I remember when I discovered that I had been gifted with all the skills to teach folk dance.  Someone was teaching a dance, we went four steps into the center, did a four step turn, and started the dance again. I asked her if the four step turn carried us back out to the circle, and she didn’t know what I was talking about. It was clear to me that if you took four steps into the center, then you had to move back out somehow. I realized that I have a very strong sense of the geometry of the dance, the shape it makes in the space where we’re dancing.  Not everybody has this.  Not everybody can talk about what they are doing while they are doing it. It wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that I learned that not every body got A’s. I always got A’s so I assumed everybody did.

Another helpful thing that Matt says is “neurally-encoded.” I often get angry at myself that I have been working for so many years and don’t seem to have got anywhere. The “neural-encoding” expresses how deep trauma has made a physical difference in the body.

Last night, someone in my Quaker support group — for which I am enormously grateful — pointed out that I am very good at giving language to my experience, and also able to stand back and witness myself. That started me thinking about how I learned to do that. It’s the scientist in me.

Because I had so many experiences in my 20’s of being left by a man before we had even really started to have a relationship, I often thought “nobody ever loved me and nobody ever will.” When I was in my 30’s, I bought a house in Brunswick, Maine, and settled down because I decided I would probably never get married. A gay friend of mine had moved out of the relationship he was in and needed a place to stay. I invited him to stay with me. At one point, we were both working in the kitchen, I said “Nobody ever loved me and nobody ever will.” Ron said “That’s not true. I love you.” A short time later a woman friend responded the same way. The next time I thought “Nobody ever loved me and nobody ever will” my scientist popped in with “That’s not true. Ron loves me and Trudy loves me.” I created an imaginary page headed “Data to disprove the hypothesis that Jenny is unlovable,” and put down Ron and Trudy. I added to the list everyone I could think of that I knew loved me, and would recite it to myself. Eventually I stopped saying “nobody ever loved me…” I still struggle with feeling unloved occasionally, but it’s not a big deal. More important to me is the belief that I am unable to love, and I have been helped a lot by the quote from Elizabeth Goudge: “Love is not some nice thing that you feel but some hard thing that you do.”

Another practice that I started doing, I don’t remember when, was called “Take a big step back…” I used it when I was feeling angry at myself for something — being depressed again again, not being able to get something done, numerous things I criticized myself for. Then I would tell myself “Take a big step back” and look at myself, as best I could, from outside. “Here’s this woman, traumatized in infancy, struggled with depression most of her life…” Sometimes it doesn’t work, but more and more often, I see a person up against huge odds, and my heart goes out to her.

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