To Risk or Avoid: The Complexity of Old Trauma and New Relationships~

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In EMDR there is an expression known as ” looping.” It means put simply, getting stuck in a rut of a negative cognition or negative thought that tends to go around and around in circles until the therapist can offer re framing or a suggestion that interrupts the loop. What if as survivors of trauma, we also get stuck in loops with painful relationships? Survivors of child hood trauma will often admit that they are caught in a debilitating nightmare repeating painful patterns in intimate relationships until they wish for death. How do we stop these painful patterns? How do we get out of the loop, step off of the merry-go-round, or interrupt the pattern?

Fear keeps us paralyzed. It keeps us stuck. Stuck in this fear we would rather avoid relationships, authority, career options, and family. Avoidance, though lonely, is the only way out, or so it would seem. To avoid means not getting stuck in a loop, a painful pattern, or going around in circles. In exposure therapy we teach that facing fears, even if only in baby steps, is essential to healing a frantic fear such as a fear of heights, or spiders. If we use this as an example of healing then it would make sense that facing our fears and getting out there to experience relationships, authority, a career and a family would be the path to healing.

Survivors of trauma are often advised to take risks to get out there and experience relationships rather than avoid and stay home sometimes in isolation for months. What if however, the risk is in giving ourselves permission (while experiencing a relationship) to use our voice to be true to ourselves? What if the risk is recognizing when the past is in the present (in a relationship) and standing up by speaking out and saying,” I can’t do this anymore because my gut says it doesn’t feel right, and I know if I stay here I am not being true to myself, and the risk I thought in staying right here in this relationship is actually another form of avoidance. What if the risk is actually in letting go and being brave enough to say “No I can’t do this anymore.” This is my voice and even though its frightening to think that you may reject me, as has been the case in my child – hood, today I know I will survive and get through your rejection.

As a little boy or girl surviving a terrible trauma means losing your voice. To speak up for some is to risk being bullied, attacked, or tortured so why would you speak up as a woman or a man? The risk then is actually speaking up and using your voice when things don’t feel right. The risk is not in experiencing a relationship with a partner, friend, or authority figure. The risk is speaking out and in that courage stepping off the merry go round, interrupting the pattern and having the faith that each time you use your voice to speak your truth that eventually you will experience a relationship that is not painful. The risk is in speaking your truth and if that ends the relationship because the other person can’t handle the truth, then so be it.

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