Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD Through The R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach*
WHEN LOVE GOES OFF THE RAILS: A TALE OF RELATIONAL DISASTER
When things go off the rails, as we like to say, a trainwreck's close at hand. This is precisely what happens when both parties to a bad hookup are well intended, but are led in to the relationship unconsciously, as a result of old and unresolved traumas in their lives. Without realizing it, the persons involved are not really in the relationship for love (although they invariably THINK that they are). Often they are in the relationship so that they can use is as a "stage" on which to re-enact old traumatic events that did not come to a successful end. When this occurs, the relationship that is supposedly based on "love" ultimately reveals itself as being based, IN REALITY, on hatred and rage. Not exactly a prescription for a happy marriage.
In a previous article, I told you the story of Steven, the abused child who grew up to become the abused husband of Amy. Here is the other side of the story - which is Amy's.
Amy's Story (Or: "The tyranny of the weak"): Amy is an Air Force recruit; she also happens to be Steven's 6th wife. Steven is her second husband, even though she is barely out of her teens. Still a child herself, Amy has had one child after another. It's almost as though, by giving birth to more children than she can possibly care for or support, she is populating her life with other children to serve as the playmates who will ensure that she will never be alone in life.
Amy, you see, was a victim of longterm and pernicious (that means REALLY AWFUL) sexual abuse in childhood. Her mother remarried after her biological father's death, In an all-too-common scenario, her new stepfather took Amy as his sexual partner when she was a tiny child. He then pimped her off to other males, while her mother stood passively by and offered her no protection from this horrible exploitation.
Amy left home too early in life, in order to escape abuse. Her greatest need was to regain POWER AND CONTROL in her life, to counteract the helplessness she had experienced while a child. Her first stab at the "power grab" was to search for "power by association". She believed that by associating herself with a very powerful male, she would be protected against men like her stepfather. Wrong choice. Her first husband was not only powerful , but actually DOMINEERING and CONTROLLING. He was a "ghost" of her stepfather, like a repeat of her worst childhood nightmare. Undeterred in her search to take back her power, she unconsciously decided that another way to get power and control in her life was to marry someone who was EXTREMELY PASSIVE… a regular doormat. Steve was her Prince Charming - a perfect fit for this role. He was "locked" in his original role of a submissive, abused 5 year old who would not dare oppose his father, for fear of being beaten. All Steven wanted to do was "appease" his father in any way possible, in order to stave off more abuse. He would do with same with Amy.
Bingo. Amy had found her "love match", or so they both thought. In truth, Amy was herself a wounded pre-school aged child in the body of an adult. Her wounded child engaged in the kind of thinking patterns that virtually every preschool child displays: "If I get whatever I want, whenever I want it, it means that I am loved, and also that I am powerful." So, to prove to her inner child that this was in fact true, she began acting out in bizarre, violent, and abusive ways. She began to inflict abuse on Steven, as well as others, just to see if he would oppose her. If he did not, she felt triumphant. She violated societal rules norms of behavior in mind-boggling ways. Her sexual promiscuity was unbounded. Her substance abuse (an attempt to self-medicate the pain of her trauma) began to climb to dangerous heights. She became highly volatile, meaning that her behavior would change rapidly, and escalate quickly into abuse of other persons. She demanded to do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it, and expected Steve to fulfill her every desire.
Sound familiar? Amy had become the very image of Steven's father. She fulfilled the fantasy role that Steven needed in his life, in order for him to go back and "re-locate" his abusive Dad, and demand answers. Well, he never got any of the answers that he needed from real-life Dad, nor did he get any from Amy, either. Amy's behaviors, many of which were symptoms of an aggressive pattern of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, acted as "triggers" to Steve, and would send him into full-blown post traumatic stress reactions in which he re-lived his old childhood abuse. His life descended quickly into chaos and flashbacks, until he no longer wanted to go on living.
On her part, Amy wasn't truly any happier. All of the uncontrolled aggression and acting-out behavior she displayed was simply a "test" of those around her. Through the lens of Amy's traumatic past, her uncontrolled behavior and lack of boundaries was proof positive of her power. After all, her stepfather had great power over her, and HE didn't let any boundaries (sexual, moral, social or legal) stop HIM, did he? So, if Steve never stood up for himself, it was a sign to Amy that SHE was very powerful, indeed. She could do exactly as she wished, to greater and greater extremes, and no one would stop her, just as her stepfather had. Unconsciously, she was in the very act of "overcoming" the helplessness of her childhood, but in the most self-destructive way possible. Although Amy's behavior appeared unsavory, immoral, and downright disgusting, the fact is that she was a victim. And in order to "resolve" her prior victimization and make it "come out right this time around", she had become a total tyrant over Steven.
Stay tuned for the epilogue to this story, to see how it ends.
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