If you are reading this, you have taken the first step towards meeting your need for healing. You have reached out for help. Contrary to popular opinion, that is a sign of strength and courage…A lesson learned over the years Dr. Dawson spent getting educated in psychology is that individuals have basic needs that simply cannot be met by only one other person. To live fully, we have to be able to meet our own needs. One way to do this is to find a relationship we really enjoy – someone we really connect with. But the basic needs for all of us are essentially the same: good food, deep sleep, intimate sex, safe shelter, companionship, love, and happiness within ourselves. In happy lives and successful relationships, people have learned to respect and balance these needs.
But, if we let ourselves love, the risk is always there of getting hurt. Like loving life, there is always a risk of losing who we are. From birth to death, we could die – at any time! As in loving relationships, there is always a risk of losing friends, family, and other loved ones. There is no subtracting this risk from life. Luckily, most of the time, we carry on just fine. Then, suddenly, life changes. Chaos hits us in the face and we find ourselves back at square one! Sometimes, we just can’t cope and this could be one of those times.
Coping With Trauma
Especially in trauma and loss, when you have faced serious injury, death, or the loss of an important relationship, it’s natural to feel like life has changed. But we can’t quite put our finger on why. It can help to understand that the impacts of trauma and loss and their symptoms occur in a systematic way.
For example, the brain copes with trauma by getting stuck in patterns of neural firing that help us avoid reliving the trauma. So, we avoid the places where the trauma happened. If it happened at work, we avoid going back to work. If it happened at home, we might go and stay in a hotel for a while, or with a friend, or actually consider moving.
These same coping strategies are seen in relationship trauma. Though occasional arguments between intimate partners are to be expected, when “blow-outs” happen too often, there is a threat to the survival of the relationship. Whenever survival is threatened, coping strategies kick in. One of these is to move as far away from one’s partner as one can get. This can involve sleeping alone for a while, moving out, or taking a well-deserved break.
At the same time as we try to avoid or escape images and thoughts of the trauma, another way the brain copes is to repeat the images perceived at the time of the trauma. The brain is paradoxically making efforts to escape the images at the same time as it keeps repeating them! This tends to increase the fear that the trauma is going to happen again, because it is happening in one’s mind, over and over and over. It’s in one’s dreams and nightmares. It’s in one’s daily thoughts to the point where it gets difficult to concentrate. Memory can seem to worsen. Because the brain is focusing on processing the trauma, it’s ignoring other things.
Though this isn’t usually done deliberately, after a severe trauma or loss, some people cope by seeking out arguments or putting themselves in situations more likely to lead to another trauma, such as drinking and driving or other dangerous situations. Therapy can offer different coping strategies which can help you calm the brain’s responses to trauma.