An exploration of trust, safety, trauma, instincts and love

I wrote this very long post just over two years ago.  It never made it out of my drafts which contains over 50 unposted posts.  I am posting some old posts to clear what the inner critic didn’t want posted.   I think it meanders all over the place, but reading it back it has some powerful insights contained within it that were working their way to the surface of my conscious awareness at the time :

One of the impacts of suffering trauma of any kind, most especially persistent or repetitive trauma is a loss of trust and safety which can become a major default and expectation. In trauma our limbic system, (the most primitive interior aspect of our brain) is impacted and goes into over drive. At a perception of threat the amygdala sends messages to the hypothalamus which activates the sympathetic nervous system to tell the adrenal glands to release the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine to elevate our heart rate, and release oxygen into the blood which helps to activate our muscles for fight or flight. At the same time the hypothalamus releases corticotropin releasing hormone which stimulates the pituitary gland to release edren cortio-trophine hormones which send the message to the adrenals to release cortisol.

Trauma survivors end up with an excess of cortisol being released into our bodies due to the fact that the trauma response cycle once activated tends to be retriggered over and over. We endure states of hyperarousal in which fear, flight or fight can be re-triggered by things that are dangerous and things that are not. Add to this complexity the fact that in severe trauma we can enter a freeze state if we are unable to escape. Our muscles contract, we go “dead”, hold our breath, feel less pain.

Peter Levine an expert on Post Traumatic Stress explains that the inability to escape, the feeling of being trapped is what leads to a hostage state, if we are able to take flight and escape from the threat we don’t suffer as much in feeling permanently stuck and powerless, we may be able to throw off the stress to a degree, establish boundaries around the threat and rebalance our own systems.

However if we are placed in a position where we are immobilised or prevented from fighting back we tend to become flooded with body chemicals which enact powerful changes upon or innate body balance. One of the most debilitating aspects of being traumatised is the belief that the present is not different to the past. We live with the traumatised reality and view repeating over and over.

I myself go into a kind of freeze many mornings on awakening. There is a sense that I am strung between two worlds. One part of my consciousness is anchored in one reality. In the present, in my body, in the room but another part of my consciousness is in a deeper more far off place which is dreamlike, liquid, sticky and heavy. I feel a sense of deep tiredness, sinking, almost a paralysis and a desire to rest but also a desire to move forward which is tinged with the fear of a shadow memory not fully conscious of being hurt when I took the steps to move forward. Normal life, just reaching out to someone or somewhere else seems fraught with danger.

As I reflect upon this I know that in the mornings I am dealing with significant body memory of times I was immobilised or prevented from moving forward and at present it is very close to the anniversary of the accident where I nearly died and was immobilised in skeletal traction for 101 days.

One of the first significant traumas and ruptures we experience is actually our own birth. When I was ready as a foetus for birthing I felt the impulse to forward along the birth canal. My mother held off going to the hospital and held me in, as she wanted to finish bottling plum jam. I got dammed up, stuck in and then birthed in a very short space of time.

This birth imprint/memory has repeated at critical times in my life. I ended up in early adulthood with a condition of the psyche which was quiet a mild form of borderline personality. How this manifested itself was in feelings of profound push pull in human relationships. The desire to be close then the desire to back off due to a fear of being frustrated or engulfed, those fears then alternating with the fear of being abandoned.

It is now recognised that people who become borderline suffer significant interpersonal trauma such as neglect or abandonment. They carry huge backlogs of frustration and rage which are in not being validated or understood become worse. Normal interactions become tinged with the fear of being close again, due to the fear carried that the person will be traumatised as they were in the past.

A significant causative factor of the borderline conditions is invalidation abuse, the person’s reality is denied and anger results.   Triggering situations which may reflect old abusive ones but not in reality may be avoided. It’s a sad state of affairs. How to reach out? How to trust if and when we have been hurt and traumatised or abused in the past or stopped or threatened or held back from expressing what we needed to express from our heart even if it was anger, disappointment, upset?

These thoughts are on my mind today as I am making significant steps to heal my own trauma. I awoke this morning after a night of very powerful dreams which featured my ex partner pointing out to me all the ways in which I was deficient as a woman I awoke at one point and got up to go to the toilet (a major achievement and sign of progress, for often I can stay paralysed in bed for some time holding in my wee) remembering the accusations of where I fell short, feeling inadequate and outraged.

I managed to settle back to sleep (yet another sign of major movement forward since I have begun recent body centred trauma work) for usually my body goes through a push pull tug of war for hours turning this way and that before I can actually settle back to sleep. The dream retuned, with my ex trying to apologise to me. We were at a dinner and I was seated on his left side and my mother was seated on his right. My mother was siding with my now ex partner as he was then trying to apologise and explain that he had been too hard on me (this was true in real life), but by that stage in the dream I was so angry and was expressing my disappointment to many people who found my anger too overwhelming and decided to move away.

I was left alone in the dream feeling guilty for having over reacted and seeing that at one point my partner was now with a beautiful girl and sharing a happiness together we could not share because I was trapped in my trauma which was beyond my control and had paralysed me, thwarting my desire to love and be loved.

I awoke with a complex myriad of feelings passing through me, one of which was grief. How all of this relates to the blog that I began a short time ago I am not sure. But one thing I do know. When I entered that relationship I was already traumatised and I had also gone through about 4 instances of significant emotional abandonment by partners who could not understand my emotions and reactions.

I carry the guilt of my extreme reactions which I see were not my fault but a (then) unconscious reaction to the trauma of abandonment and abuse which at that point I did not have the consciousness or skills to communicate in a more “rational” way.

I suffer at times from an extremely punishing inner voice. I have read that this voice is one which individuals who are scapegoats due to the fact they carry powerful emotions and insights into emotions suffer in families who deny these and in the book I read about it the author calls this voice “the inner accuser”.

The inner accuser is an introjected (injected into our psyche from the outside voices of parents and others) voice which runs an ongoing monologue on how we are falling short of an externally imposed ideal which has nothing to do with who we really are. It arises out of us as a result of us not being validated, having our true emotional reality ignored, denied or stomped on and a lack of empathy shown.

A few nights ago this voice appeared to me in the dream image of a huge beast which stomped its hooves on my dog killing him underfoot after I released him on a wild plain and watched on powerlessly. This morning after getting out of the bath I was aware of this part of me looking down at my clothes which were laying in a pile on the bathroom floor. It then came out as a killer voice and was almost demonic about how messy I was and lazy and to “pick those clothes up right now”. Luckily I was able to look this subpersonality in the face, I was facing the bathroom mirror at the time. “I don’t think you are being fair”, I said “I’ll pick the clothes up later, it’s not that important anyway, a few clothes lying on the floor.”

I can’t tell you what a major achievement this was for me. Often this “voice” terrorises me and makes me break down in tears. I recognised the voice from my childhood and from my mother’s childhood. One story my mother tells is of how she was forced to clean and had to iron the sheets by her mother. She would stand on a stool at the ironing board and cry “when I grow up, I’m never ironing the sheets”. Guess what we were taught to iron our sheets!

It could be good home economics or just a waste of time dependent on your own view or values. But it’s a major insight for me to understand the multigenerational source of some of the patterns inculcated in us in our family. On another note and again I am not entirely how this is related to this very long and meandering blog but lately I am reading Jeffrey Masson’s book Dogs Never Lie About Love which talks of how dogs just love out of this instinctive childlike essence of being that has no ulterior motive or guile.

This is how we come into life, with our instincts fully alive and awake but dependent too on how others mirror us in the environment. Some of us who suffer abuse will come through because this living, loving part of us that sees deeply, senses and knows will not allow itself to be fully thrown off the scent of it own instincts or be fully conditioned to betray its own deepest impulses. Yet for many of us this betrayal and understanding it may be a huge part of our journey of healing and recovery. Many of us (me included) may become twisted and warped by being told we are wrong, mistaken or off base but the strongest of us will keep pushing through fighting against the inner voice in our heads that would lay what is the best of our instinctual feeling self to waste.

In a beautiful paragraph in his book Masson writes.

Dogs are not worried about how they will be perceived by other dogs. They do not have to hide their joie de vivre for fear of being naïve (oh how I relate to that one!!), and they do not need to feign boredom when they are in fact interested for fear of appearing unsophisticated. Dogs never stand around at parties wondering what to do or say, or why they came, or how pitiful they might seem to more elegant or more amusing or more important guests. They do not struggle to be witty, getting right to the point… Yet they manage to come away with a greater and more accurate fund of information than human do at their parties. For the dog sex may or may not be present, in deed or thought, but information, knowledge is critical: What kind of dog am I dealing with? Who stands before me? Where have you been and what did you do there? But even more basic.: Who are you really? Questers of the truth, that’s who dogs are seekers after the invisible scent of another being’s authentic core. Eoq

Maybe dogs don’t suffer in the way we do as they are not led off the scent by humans who would tell them they are wrong or bad for being who they are, they just keep doing what they do (having written this though some training of dogs leaves a lot to answer for in the way we impose our own very human ideals and values on dogs). Dogs may be neglected as we humans too can be neglected and show the scars and yet they will keep questing and trusting in the hope of one day finding love.

Reading this book made me think so deeply about the ways in which I have responded in my own life and allowed trauma to hold me hostage with the deep unspoken unconscious expectation that the present will be like the past. My binding to the trauma in my own family led to the abandonment of two crucial relationships. I think the pain of that underlay this morning’s reaction to the dream I spoke of above. In the dream the apology had come. I had the opportunity to embrace the apology and move forward but my anger kept me trapped, it kept me trapped in the expectation that the present would me like the past and tricked me into believing it would be too dangerous to reach out and try again. I would be risking getting my fingers burnt.

Exactly how long have these powerful emotional defences been in place? I think back to Simon, my lovely boyfriend of years ago who wrote one day in my diary “for me I see Deborah struggling to love and reach out and fearing getting her fingers burnt”. He had his own issues that led me to fear, but love could have won through. In end it did, he chose someone else due to his own fear of abandonment and I accepted his choice. For him the relationship did not work out, later he came looking for me due to a chain of circumstance he missed me.

Anger has for me broken apart several key relationships. This is a Saturn Mars Moon issue that I have been working on for some times and came to a head with my present body work therapist who has been able to empathise with and contain my anger and in doing help me to understand its necessary place and move forward to a place of risk and trust.

In her book on healing trauma which I mentioned in a recent blog, Babette Rothschild points out that the first most important thing to develop when working with the traumatised person is a place and feeling of safety where psychological defences are understood and worked with rather than labelled as “resistance” or dysfunction. The therapist is working with someone who has undergone extremely scary and painful events which shadow over the present day and the person needs adequate holding and support to work with strong body sensations of the past which impinge so powerfully on the present.

Our psychological defences of anger in trauma keep us safe but in time they may prevent love because anger and fear are so strongly related. When angry we may actually be really scared and that defence needs to be understood in order to be transformed so that the love of healing can flow through and melt the defence when it is no longer necessary and may be self limiting, blocking new experience by old evidence that was true then but is no longer true. We need love to face our fear and the fear of others in a grounded and fully embodied manner. It is our choice to risk and trust and that trust does need to be earned in any relationship.

We who have been traumatised or led to mistrust our true instincts as scapegoats must not surrender our defences too easily to those with whom old abuse may be re-enacted. Recovery and understanding teaches us through trial and error who is and who is not worthy of or trust. Anger is a valid response to invalidation, though and may have lessons to teach us about what we most need, what is most important and where we need to set boundaries. The pain of seeing what was lost in holding onto anger and expressing it was a lesson in the dream I’ve explored in this blog. Did that mean that my anger was bad or wrong? For anger is often related to grief, trauma as we struggle with the deep memories of what was taken from us or lost.

Anger and grief can be sides of one coin that is thrown up by the deep psyche and lands sometimes on this side, sometimes on that. And maybe there is a profound alchemy that occurs as we do work with both. Grief and sadness can unify rather than divide and separate which is what anger does and each may be called for in different situations and at different times depending on what is needed.

The Well, instinctual hunger is calling me now….so for what it is worth these are some of the complex ruminations that have flowed out from me today as I explore the nature of trauma, grief, anger, longing, impulse, instincts, past relationships, hurting, healing and love.

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