I follow The Holistic Psychologist on Facebook, and she recently shared something that really resonated with me. If you are interested in psychology, trauma awareness, and/or self-healing, you should definitely go check out her page! I am always finding great information there and this likely won’t be the last time it sparks a post of my own.
The post that inspired today’s message was based on her own experience with trauma. It hones in on a time in her journey when she was unaware of how her unresolved trauma was impacting her relationships. She talks about betraying herself and her needs, denying parts of who she was for her partners.
She also talks about setting unrealistic expectations that places pressure on the other person in the relationship. Believing that another person will and SHOULD meet our needs, understand our emotions, and make us feel a certain way. The idea that someone else will “complete” us because of the narratives we’ve grown up with in movies, TV, and books focused on the fairytale romance.
I’ll let you go read the post for yourself in full if you’re interested in the non-paraphrased version. Essentially she was revealing her own experience as a means to share what she’s learned since. That understanding your partner’s trauma is a love language because it enables healing.
This entire post resonated with me because I have come to learn the same. When I started my self-healing process, I was emotionally involved with someone… it was complicated. That ‘situationship’ for lack of a better term, basically served as a mirror for the things that I hadn’t healed. Looking back through my relationship history, I can see the same mirrors sprinkled over pretty well every experience. The difference in this case was that I was ready and willing to face the trauma and actively work on healing.
The mirrors that I experienced in this time actually helped me understand a lot about myself, and for that I will always be grateful. I came to understand that same concept of “blaming” others for the way that I felt or for not meeting my needs and expectations. I learned that my feelings, needs, and expectations are my responsibility to manage, understand, and communicate.
To be clear, this does not apply to abuse and is in no way meant in a victim-blaming way. I’m talking about projections and triggers from childhood that come up, and taking accountability for acknowledging the true origins. This is what helps us process and take our power back.
During this time I was practicing an exercise that my therapist referred to as “the power of noticing”. This exercise is pretty simple – all you do is stop and reflect any time you have an emotional response. I found that when I reflected on something that brought up a strong triggered emotional reaction, I realized it was linked to something much deeper. That is the goal of the exercise. You try to trace the emotional reactions back as far as you can, and your memory recall usually helps you trace it all the way back to childhood.
What this meant for me was that I often gained the understanding that I was responding to a situation with him in the present that unconsciously reminded me of something I had felt in the past. It is easy to see now how dangerous that is in relationships. It leads to many assumptions and overreactions, which is what causes problems. You unconsciously treat them as though they are the ones that caused you pain, when that hadn’t been their intent at all.
If the other person doesn’t understand where the triggers are coming from in order to be patient and understanding with you, they can start thinking you’re too sensitive, crazy, etc. I’ve realized how important it is to be able to talk about those triggers and the trauma they are linked to so your partner can understand and support you through them. This makes vulnerability and authentic communication an integral part of the success of a relationship.
Reality is viewed from the lens of our own experience. That is why there is that old saying “there are three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth”. This isn’t to say that either party is necessarily lying about their experience, that said, each person viewed the same event very differently because of their past experiences.
I’ll give you an example from a book I read recently titled The Completion Process by Teal Swan. This contained many examples, but one really stuck with me on this topic. Imagine a married couple:
The husband takes off his wedding band and jumps into the shower. He gets out, forgets to put the ring back on, gets ready for work, and heads off. The wife comes into the bathroom to find the wedding ring on the sink, and she has a meltdown. Now with no context, to most people this would seem like a gross overreaction, right?
Well, in her previous marriage, this woman had come home to find her husband’s ring left on the sink with a note. He left her. The ring on the sink became an unconscious trigger that brought up her abandonment wound. In his mind, he simply forgot to put the ring on and it should be no big deal. In her mind, she linked the ring on the sink with the idea that he didn’t love her anymore and he was about to leave her. Two very different perspectives on the same event.
She didn’t make this association consciously, rather her mind and nervous system made that association for her based on that past trauma in an attempt to protect her. That is what happens with trauma – it puts us into a survival mindset, which is what brings on those triggers. When our brain and nervous system experiences something that is linked with a past trauma, it sends off warning bells in our mind like “oh no, it’s about to happen again.” That unconscious thought process often is what results in these emotional outbursts.
Because of all of the trauma I’ve uncovered in my process, I had started to think that I needed to stay single indefinitely until I felt that I had fully healed. I didn’t see how it would be possible to have a healthy relationship if those triggers were going to keep coming up and causing problems. I saw the triggers as an unhealed part of me, something that needed to be fixed before anyone could love me.
Now I understand that you can still have a healthy relationship and be loved while working on yourself. I understand that relationships are opportunities for growth and healing together. There will always be triggers that may come up, likely for both partners, and now I know that is okay. We can witness the trigger, process the emotional response, and communicate that to our partner so they will understand.
The key to all of this working is in having a partner that is willing to do the same work. So unlike my original belief, you don’t have to be fully healed to have a strong healthy relationship. Rather, you have to both be willing to work through one another’s “stuff” together. With this new mindset, I will most definitely be carrying this with me into any and all future relationships.
In closing, I leave you with the quote from the original post:
Understanding your partner’s trauma is a love language.The Holistic Psychologist
Finding someone to be there when things are good is easy, but things won’t always be sunshine and rainbows. Instead, look for the person willing to listen to the painful parts of your past, make an effort to understand your trauma, and be there to support you through it. Be willing to do the same for your partner. This requires vulnerability and trust on both sides, and it will set a solid foundation for a loving and healthy partnership.
With love and light,