Few of us get through life unscathed.
And the guy you care about has had bad things happen to him.
He’s been hurt, shamed, embarrassed, rejected…
And he’s stuffed those experiences deep down.
Sometimes you get a glimpse of what he carries inside.
Every so often, you say something innocent…
And he reacts like you verbally attacked him.
He lashes out, and you have no idea why.
What happened is this:
You accidentally stepped on that landmine of buried emotions.
Emotions he’s ashamed of. Emotions he’s never processed.
And they boil up and spill over and burn you.
That’s why you need to understand trauma.
The Challenge of Feeling Safe
The emerging science of trauma is transforming how we understand relationships.
One of its most important contributions, for me, is the understanding that we need to be able to feel safe with the people we love.
Trauma keeps us from feeling safe.
It tells us that the world is dangerous and we need to keep our guard up.
It tells us that attack can come anytime, anywhere.
It pins us in a past we can’t escape.
If you’ve ever wondered why your guy sometimes treats you like an enemy, even though he knows you love him and would do anything for him, then chances are there’s trauma in his past.
Trauma comes in many kinds: developmental, relational, shock trauma.
Sometimes we don’t even remember what happened to us to make us this way.
But the signs are there.
Here are some signs that your guy might be dealing with trauma:
- He seems to crave intimacy only to push you away when you get too close.
- He reacts to you as if you were someone from his past.
- He has a pervasive sense of himself as defective, shameful, or bad.
- He’s often on edge, as if expecting disaster to strike at any moment.
- He has a very low stress tolerance.
- His emotions blow up out of nowhere.
- He uses substances (like alcohol) or activities (like video games) to numb himself.
Trauma changes how the nervous system is wired, so that it’s very difficult to feel safe in the world.
Dr. Jekyl & Mr Hyde
It is hard to be in a relationship with someone who’s struggling with trauma.
It’s almost as if they have two sides: the person you love who’s kind and caring, and the person they become when triggered.
In a good relationship, your partner is self-aware. He realizes that he changes when he gets triggered. He may even hate the way he overreacts but feel unable to stop.
The process of healing from trauma involves learning to feel safe in your body again. (Generic talk therapy, which ignores the role of the body, can actually make things worse.)
It’s tempting to think that your love can cure him, but that is not your job. Training the nervous system to feel safe again takes time and professional support.
What If He Won’t Talk About It?
What can you do if he’s unwilling to seek that support?
What can you do if he refuses to see that his triggers are making you feel unsafe?
One thing you can do is get help yourself.
Very few of us have no trauma in our past.
Learning how to regulate your own nervous system can help you maintain a sense of safety and autonomy, so that you don’t get caught up in his reactivity.
In the end, no matter how wonderful he is, you can’t spend the rest of your life walking on eggshells, never knowing when he might explode.
Healthy relationships should feel safe.
How might your relationship might change if both of you made the vow to be each other’s safe space?
If your partner is not interested in making the relationship feel safe for you, you may be in a toxic relationship. Learn more here.