Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD Through The R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach*
THE FOUR FILES OF RELATIONSHIP:
#1 MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Those Telltale Signs: Are your unsuccessful relationships or broken marriages accumulating, like old cars on blocks in the front yard ? Are you setting new records for "serial monogamy" ? Do the marriages and relationships that wind up on the rocks bear an eerie similarity to each other? Do you enter each relationship with the best of intentions, only to conclude time and again that you are the victim of yet another "no good" who was only out to manipulate or exploit you? Is your family life, and the lives of your children, becoming chaotic, spinning out of control, or exploding in domestic violence or verbal abuse? Do you continue to believe, with each new hook-up, that "This time it'll be different !" Only… it never is? Do the children, who used to love you, now fear you or walk on eggshells every time you walk in the door? Do you talk to your family as though you are on the battle front, instead of the home front? Do you avoid going to family gatherings, weddings, or your child's little league game, because you're afraid a chopper will fly overhead and you'll hit the deck in front of everyone?
It's What You CAN'T See That Matters Most: Okay, it's time for straight talk. Living this kind of life is roughly equivalent to being stuck inside a whirling blender. To the one inside the blender, its all one big mush. You can't distinguish anything clearly. You've got to get outside the blender to see more clearly what ingredients are really combining to make up this kind of problem. When people are living their lives marching through one failed relationship after another, IT ISN'T BECAUSE THEY WANT IT TO BE THAT WAY. In general, I find that people usually approach relationships with the best intentions. But "intentions" are the function of your cognitive "thinking" brain... the very function that PTSD may disable or periodically take "offline." (See Chapter 3, I ALWAYS SIT WITH MY BACK TO THE WALL). As a result,your life goes off the rails because your relationships are largely steered by the part of your brain that acts on emotions, not logic and good intentions.
Do Failed Relationships Mean that You Are A "Failed Person": Absolutely not. There is a distinction to be drawn between the things we do and the inner person we are. Relationships, and the way you conduct them are something you "do". If you have PTSD, and are doing relationships unsuccessfully, it may cause you and others pain, but is not necessarily a reflection on your character. It is unlikely that anyone has ever explained to you why this occurring. If you don't have this information, you cannot learn how to correct past mistakes. It IS possible to learn (l) why your relationships are not going well, (2) how to make your present relationships better, and (3) how to ensure that your future relationships are put on a better footing.
Trauma And "The Bad Hookup": For starters, many people with old and unresolved traumatic issues actually marry, or enter into relationships with partners who subconsciously remind them of the VERY TRAUMATIC PROBLEMS OR PERSONS THEY ARE SEEKING TO ESCAPE. Strange, but true. You see, when "old business" in our lives doesn't get satisfactorily resolved, we continue to carry it around like baggage throughout life, looking for an opportunity to work it out, "just one more time," once and for all. So, while toting this nasty burden around, we may be likely to later meet someone who unconsciously reminds us of an awful event in our past. Ironically, instead of running for the exits, the traumatized person is often ATTRACTED to someone who ought to look like their worst nightmare. Instead of re-encountering the REAL person who was involved in an old traumatic event (which might be difficult, dangerous or impossible), the new "hook up" serves unconsciously as a "stand - in" for the old predator. This is particularly true for people who have suffered sexual, verbal or physical abuse. They may be civilian, or they may be military. Remember, many military personnel suffered any or all of these things before they entered the armed forces, or even during their service.
How Trauma Invades Marriages and Intimate Partnerships: (Note: everything I say in this column applies equally to men and to women; trauma does not gender-discriminate in the way it messes with your relationships.) It may happen that the person who is SOOOOO bad for you, but who looks like Prince Charming or your Ultimate Dreamgirl, is actually perceived by your brain as someone else,namely a renewed "opportunity" to revisit an old painful or traumatic situation and take another "whack" at it, always under the belief that "it will turn out differently, this time. " But it rarely does. Each time a new relationship is entered into for the wrong reasons , it is usually a subconscious attempt to go back into the past and "set things right". But we can't change the past, and unknowingly misusing present-day relationships in a vain attempt to solve old traumas only creates more trauma, in the form of violence, ruined marriages and relational wreckage that creates tremendous human misery for adults and severe emotional damage to children. Now, take the above scenario and multiply it, times two. This is what happens when BOTH parties to a relationship have an unresolved traumatic past. BOTH go looking (unconsciously of course) for their worst nightmare, so that they can "make it come out right this time", and BOTH find it in each other. Like keys in a lock, each one fits the other's unresolved issues. What results is like a relational IED. Need we say more? Actually..... we DO need to say more, and will examine this topic more closely in Part 3 of this blog on relationships.
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