Have you ever noticed in a disagreement with your partner when you feel flooded with very strong emotions, but they don’t seem to be about the current issue? This is an example of how we have stored information in our midbrains, and it is retrieved in a nanosecond when we are triggered by a similar event.
The spouse makes a comment where you feel disrespected or criticized, and your body floods with emotions, but they’re actually related to an earlier time when you were criticized or disrespected by someone else very important to you.
Understanding how we are affected when we are triggered by a past event
Our midbrains are designed to hold information to protect us from traumatic events, to keep us safe or prepared for the future. The problem is the midbrain stores these traumas or even significant slights, and they affect our current reactions.
The trick is to understand this mechanism and be aware of how we are affected when we are triggered by a past event. Peter Levine explored this phenomenon in his book, “Waking the Tiger.”
I work with couples where one or both of them have been traumatized, and it is often sabotaging their current relationship.
It’s like carrying around a huge bucket of hurtful events, and hoping it won’t affect your current relationships. Those events show up as your current relationship touches similar situations.
It’s possible to resolve the earlier trauma to allow the midbrain to be less reactive to triggers, and thereby greatly improving their relationship.
Sexual abuse is the most significant trauma
Sexual abuse can hinder our current interactions.
Picture a sexual abuse victim, currently being touched in a similar way that he or she was touched by his or her abuser, and having a flooded feeling of disgust and fear. This happens all the time with couples, and they don’t understand what is happening.
Awareness is the first step. Resolving the trauma is the second
The best way I have found to resolve these traumas is with a method that accesses the midbrain to release the event and resolve the reactivity.
I researched many methods until I came upon some work done by David Grand. He was using EMDR when he found a way to allow for a more complete release with a method he calls Brainspotting.
He wrote a book called “Brainspotting” and has developed a worldwide association using this amazing method of trauma release. I have used this method for years with excellent results. I work with one or the other individually, or if they prefer, they can process together to increase empathy and understanding.
Exploring the attachment styles
A part of helping couples find a healthier way to relate after their trauma has been resolved is to explore their attachment needs.
Emotionally Focused Therapy
Sue Johnson’s work with Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has been a valuable resource to educate and practice healthier attachment. After the trauma is understood and released it’s easier to learn and make changes with EFT.
To try and apply CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) or even EFT before the trauma is addressed is like putting a band-aid on a large gaping wound. Not very helpful.
The good news is as we understand our triggers, and resolve them, we can gain the information we need to have healthier, happier relationships.