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Relationship Support Services

Internal stress, past trauma and other outside relationship influences

Internal stress, past trauma and other outside relationship influences

Prior personal psychological trauma can have a complex ongoing influence on our relationships and is often at the heart of why people read each other stereotypically and negatively. Trauma can have an especially significant impact if it occurred when we were young, before a well-developed understanding was formed. If one was so young when originally stress-exposed that verbal patterns weren’t yet developed, trauma memories might only emerge in physical pain responses; or someone may cry uncontrollably like a small child or young baby, finding no words to express their upset, only ‘feeling’ sudden loss of trust, support or love. Sometimes we can’t even properly recall what has caused our traumatised responses. 

Our past experiences and complex psychological responses become absorbed and imprinted when young and at all human developmental stages. Our original family, previous generations’ patterns of parenting, and the reactions we observed in adults or older siblings may all have impacted us. The result is both emotional and physical at times, due to overstimulation or understimulation of our senses and emotions, especially if trauma occurred at crucial moments or milestones in life. 

As a result, instead of relating to everyone individually, we ‘other’ those who remind us of those ‘others’ who have hurt us in the past. Some even prefer to be around people who they can at least predict will treat them in a certain way. Most of the nastier, jolting, distressing, suddenly upsetting experiences in our human relationships overlap with these unconscious and previously learned trauma patterns. Our responses often happen automatically, are not always logical and can surprise our partners and even ourselves. 

Some of the experiences associated with a traumatic response include:

  • We can exhibit or accept adult aggression, especially unpredictably loud, violent or painful behaviour; or we may learn fear or freezing responses to such behaviour, or mirror the responses we observed in our parents.
  • We can become ‘dissociated’ leaving us feeling out of place and disjointed. This can impact our sense of stability in place and time and stem from frequent home or school displacements, or from never having the security of ‘settling’ and putting roots down into something familiar.
  • If our own emotional development wasn’t imbued with ‘pro-social’ rule-learning or empathic boundaries, we can grow up to see this as usual or ‘normal’. We may in turn neglect a partner or child’s needs, or become neglected ourselves.
  • We may have experienced bullying or emotional deprivation from detached parents and too little or too much early engagement of our developing nervous systems.
  • As adults, we may inadvertently strive to overcome emotional upsets by pursuing ‘successful career status’, personal wealth, or popularity for its own sake.
  • Children growing up isolated, lonely, with inadequate care or in fear may be become over-entitled to more adult experiences while very young. Or they can be ‘parentified’ by parents who have their own difficulties with boundaries, or are struggling with personal distress.
  • Other trauma may manifest in intense emotional experiences, including frequently depressed or over-elevated moods, suspicion, mistrust, anger, anxiety, hurt, betrayal, malicious gossip, or bullying.

It usually isn’t enough to just learn about and understand how trauma impacts us. Healing from trauma, and the pain that negative imprinting can cause, has to be an ‘inside job’ and a courageous personal undertaking. With the support of your psychologist, however, you can gradually address the impact of trauma with therapy and concerted practice. It is possible to change ingrained patterns and responses and support is available to help you.

Re-processing our own traumatic experiences also helps us better understand the ways trauma impacts others. Preventing and reducing overall psychological distress between all people could also be seen as everyone’s collective community responsibility. Ultimately, less distress in communities helps make all individuals less overtly stressed in their interactions with others. Interpersonal and community life may begin to feel more genuine, full, connected and satisfying. 

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