Trauma: Help In Understanding

Imagine, if you will, standing on the very top of the highest peak of a great mountain. All around you, the most magnificent view. Yet, you find yourself only able to look down, in all directions, the precarious slope, falling away in all directions to certain death. Wouldn’t you become rigid with terror, afraid to move, even to breath? And so very alone. This is the real cost of trauma. When, we are overwhelmed by stress, when we are not able to resolve it, to comfort ourselves or receive the soothing embrace of another…in short, when we experience trauma, either from a single event or a lifetime of pain… we often lose the ability to connect with others.  Even if the pain was not created by another person, the rawness of the wound, the chaos of once-assumed “realities”, the stripping of a felt sense of safety all collude to build a wall, high, wide, and thick, between us and the people we once may have counted on and enjoyed.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel. First, though, it helps to understand this confusing, and common, phenomenon, of trauma. And given what we already know about attachment, and the visceral need for love, this phenomenon can be life-threatening.

My clients with trauma born of abusive and neglectful childhoods dance painfully on the razor’s edge, between the seeming life-threat of being with others, and the misery of their loneliness. A woman I worked with for several years put it this way: .

You are so right about those traumatized children. Then those children become troubled adults and connection seems to elude them forever. And you can’t blame them if they just can’t go on because really they’ve been dying of isolation their whole lives. But because as you say, love is a need, the sheer will to survive drives them to try again as if they forgot the agony of the last rejection even though they have a photographic memory of it and recall even the subtle look that told them, “move on.” But still, they ready themselves to take a walk in the minefield where they lost a limb, and an eye, and three fingers on the left hand. In sales seminars they say it takes 100 no’s to get one yes, but Jesus!

Many of my clients live in this daily landmine of social rejection, real or imagined, vigilant to the perceived dangers all around. Some even find it ultimately unbearable, and attempt to take their own lives. Yet within them, I find uniquely delightful people, deeply sensitive and deeply caring, who call to my heart with the courage that shouldn’t, yet, impossibly, is there. Some animal instinct for survival reaches out, despite the danger, and asks for help. It is not an easy road, it takes a lot of work, and it’s a little like riding a roller coaster, as we unpeel the layers of hurt that have been built up in body and mind. So we go gently.

On the other end, a life they could never have imagined. It is as if, in scanning the horizon, where they only saw danger, now they also note beauty, intrigue, even the mundane. They are not immune to hurt now, but that is not where they live anymore. Let Amy have the last word:

And so, one day you meet someone who takes in blind dogs and cats with engine rotor chopped limbs and who collects outsider art and knows something about mental illness and to whom you are highly attracted and she actually sees you and loves you even more because you’re so damaged. A Complex PTSD love story. It can happen. I can’t imagine it happens much. But then you learn how good at love you are although you really suspected it all along. And yea, you’re still being rejected all around you, because you didn’t develop right and people are going to notice that and it continues to cause you pain, but this one, this person is really fundamentally good and kind and she’s a little fucked up (like everybody) too and it works really well. And you might find a couple more good friends. But you keep telling yourself “everything is temporary” because you have to be ready since your body knows the seriousness of isolation. That’s love. – A.Q., 3/4/14

Peace to you all.