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Feel It to Heal It

How to Overcome Disorganized Emotions After Trauma

By Veronica WrenPublished 2 months ago Updated about a month ago 6 min read
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I’m totally buggin’. Photo by author: Veronica Wren

In the ongoing endeavor to prevent my past trauma from leaking all over my current relationships, I make a concerted effort to regularly check in with my emotions to make sure they’re in line with a given situation.

These check-ins often occur in the form of long-winded rants to my illustrious best friend, during which we solve most of the world’s problems.

The other day we were chatting about our excitement for our upcoming visit. We’ll be meeting each other’s partners for the first time, and while I’m confident we’ll all get along wonderfully, I’d been feeling unusually anxious about it. I couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong or missing in my relationship, but I was having trouble putting my finger on it.

My partner and I have been together for a little over 6 months and things are going great. We challenge each other, he treats me well, and I’m feeling positive about the direction we’re headed. He makes me laugh, gets along great with my dogs, the attraction is there, and his communication game is off the chain. This is undoubtedly the healthiest romantic relationship I’ve ever been in.

So Why Do I Feel So Panicked?

Having patiently listened to me overexplain all of this, my stunning friend gently suggested the reason I was feeling uncomfortable could be because I’m simply not used to experiencing safety with a partner.

Her words hit me like a ton of insightful bricks. Something was decidedly missing from my current relationship: abuse.

Our talk helped me realize I wasn’t truly feeling anxious or doubtful about my relationship. What I was actually experiencing, for the first time, was safety, and it was freaking me out.

Why on earth would my brain try to convince me I was missing chaos when I’d fought so hard to escape it, you ask? Well, so did I.

Break the Chain: The Power of Conditioning

Survivors of intimate partner violence have been conditioned in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. This can influence our perceptions of what feels “normal” or familiar in relationships. The turmoil we experienced becomes ingrained in our neural pathways, creating an unconscious association between volatility and connection. The absence of drama and danger may create instinctual feelings of unease, apprehension, or even boredom. Consequently, we may find ourselves drawn to situations that mirror the pressure we once knew, mistaking it for passion or depth.

My brain had been conditioned to associate intensity and violence with romantic connection, intertwining my perception of love with chaos. As I struggle to adapt to a newfound environment that’s calm and stable, the absence of chaos can be disorienting.

Ties That Bind: Trauma Bonds

Within the recesses of a survivor’s brain lies a complex web of trauma bonds — a product of the intense emotional and physical experiences endured during abuse.

Chemicals released during times of stress and danger, such as adrenaline and cortisol, can create a powerful emotional attachment, blurring the lines between love and harm. This can lead to a heightened state of arousal and emotional bonding. As a result, those who have experienced relationship trauma may feel a magnetic pull towards future relationships that evoke similar emotional responses, even if they are ultimately harmful, perpetuating the cycle of re-victimization.

The neural pathways created during my period of abuse continue to influence my own feelings and choices, drawing me towards situations that evoke similar responses. By being aware of these effects, I can learn coping strategies and warning signs to help me protect myself from future harm.

You Saw This One Coming: Attachment Styles

Attachment styles, typically developed in early childhood (although they can change in reaction to experiences), can significantly influence how we navigate relationships as adults. These styles shape our perceptions of intimacy, trust, and emotional security. There are four main attachment styles: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant.

It’s common for survivors of domestic violence to develop more of an anxious or fearful attachment style. Anxious attachment may lead to restlessness and insecurity in a healthy relationship, as the absence of drama and volatility feels unfamiliar. Fearful-avoidant attachment can evoke mixed emotions, as survivors grapple with a desire for connection and a fear of vulnerability.

Understanding the impact of attachment styles is essential for survivors seeking to rebuild their lives and cultivate healthy relationships. Different attachment styles can influence our emotional reactions to safety and stability, leading to feelings of restlessness, insecurity, or even apathy.

I look forward to delving deeper into the impacts of trauma on each of the attachment styles in future posts.

Me and Trauma Vibe Like That: CPTSD Symptoms

I’ve been struggling more than usual with my CPTSD symptoms after some slight life road bumps which have ramped up my stress levels to an uncomfortable level.

As someone who has experienced or studied trauma may be able to guess, the added stress has led to a depleted social battery, low sexual appetite, irritability, and other behaviors that I’m sure have led to me being a general joy to be around. This increase in symptoms has also led me to question my feelings and experiences even more than usual.

Symptoms such as those above can intensify the challenges survivors already face in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. It can also make it difficult to trust the validity of our own emotions, experiences, and decision-making skills. It is essential to acknowledge the impact of these symptoms and communicate openly with a loved one who can validate our experiences and understand our unique needs.

Late Night Talking: Open Communication

Sharing feelings and concerns with trusted partners is crucial in navigating any healthy relationship. For trauma survivors, discussing past experiences, triggers, and the often inconsistent emotions we encounter can promote understanding. The ultimate goal is a safe space where both partners can openly address their needs, fears, and desires.

Acknowledging and processing discomfort that can arise in a healthy relationship can help us break free from the cycle of violence, avoid self-sabotage, and embrace a future enveloped by love, respect, and security.

In future posts, we’ll delve into more specific things you can do to help loved ones who have experienced trauma, but for now, I recommend exploring the resources here.

Conclusion

Complex and confusing feelings can arise for abuse survivors who enter healthy relationships. It can be tough to recognize that feeling uneasy, apathetic, or stressed in a healthy relationship is not necessarily a reflection of dissatisfaction, but rather a product of the trauma we have experienced.

By understanding the science behind these emotions and engaging in open communication with partners, we can discover the joys of comfort and safety in fulfilling relationships. Learning how to receive secure, healthy love is a brave step toward reclaiming our lives and finding solace in the embrace of those who genuinely cherish us.

This is something definitely worth exploring with my partner (perhaps in a follow-up post?) as he’s exceptionally emotionally attuned and would, I’m sure, have some great insights on the topic.

Subscribe in one click to receive your FREE digital copy of my new guided journal, “Empower and Heal: 90 Days of Transformational Prompts for Trauma Recovery, Self-Discovery, and Growth”, delivered straight to your inbox!

Veronica Wren Trauma Recovery Book Club

Maame: A Novel — Jessica George

This post contains affiliate links. This just means if you click a link and decide to make a purchase, I'll earn a few extra pennies to support my book-buying habit (and do an elaborate, celebratory dance around my apartment just for you). My promise to you is that I'll only ever recommend resources I truly believe in and have found beneficial in my healing journey. Happy reading!

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About the Creator

Veronica Wren

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn't. Subscribe here for your FREE exclusive guided journal

❤️‍🩹 bio.link/veronicawren ❤️‍🩹

Domestic Abuse & CPTSD Recovery Coach

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