Is there any way to strongly encourage someone to get therapy for childhood trauma that has never been processed? My friend has shared the trauma with me but says she has dealt with it and does not want to talk to a therapist. —Teresa
(This is a continuation from last weeks column)
Many times, trauma survivors re-live childhood experiences with an unresponsive or abusive partner. They re-live it because it is familiar to them, they are attracted on an emotional level to a partner who facilitates the re-enactment of previous dysfunctional relationships. For example:
Donna and Ricky came to therapy because Ricky was at a loss in knowing how to deal with Donna when she became emotional. This was Donna’s third marriage and Ricky’s second. When the couple argued, Ricky said he felt like Donna was provoking him to hit her. “I have never hit a woman and don’t plan to start now.” Donna said she really didn’t want Ricky to hit her but her previous husbands would hit, slap and push her when they argued, so physical aggression was “normal” for her.
Donna also shared that her childhood home contained domestic violence and her father would beat her mother when he was drinking. Countless times she witnessed this violence. AND countless times she said she would never marry a man like her father.
Unfortunately Donna never got involved in therapy to understand the traumatic impact that domestic violence had in her childhood. She actually chose a man who was not a batterer, a healthier, kinder man for her third husband but lacked the thoughts, emotions and behaviors to let him love her in a healthy way. She still had her trauma script playing and was indeed trying to provoke him to hit her.
It is important to recognize unhealed trauma as a dynamic force in an intimate relationship. It can super-charge emotions, escalate issues, and make it seem impossible to communicate effectively. Issues can become complicated by:
*Heightened reactions to common relationship issues.
*Emotionally fueled disagreements
*Withdrawal or distant, unresponsive behavior
*Lingering doubt about a partner’s love and faithfulness
*Difficulty accepting love, despite repeated reassurance
In a relationship, a history of trauma is not simply one person’s problem to solve. Anything that affects one partner impacts the other and their relationship. Trauma-informed therapy works by helping couples begin to see how they experienced traumatic abuse or neglect, and how it still affects them, and impacts their current relationships. The goal is to help each partner learn to understand each other’s story, how it impacts their relationship, and how to process thoughts and emotions in healthier ways.
Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City
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