Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD Through The R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach*
WHEN LOVE GOES OFF THE RAILS
In a previous article, I mentioned that people who have suffered from unresolved traumatic events seem to also suffer from the pain of relationships that go south, over… and over… and over… and over again. I also mentioned that the person who may seem like the embodiment of your heart's desire at the beginning may be the very person who is LEAST likely to remain so, and that oftentimes these supposed love entanglements are actually an unconscious attempt to "circle back" to a person, and to a traumatic issue, from one's past. What may pass for true love at the start, may really be the latest episode in a continuing attempt to work old traumas out to a better conclusion, once and for all.
One of the first things that should be said about this strange phenomenon is that it has nothing to do with gender. BOTH men and women who are carrying unresolved emotional baggage around with them will go off on an unconscious search for someone through whom they believe they can make the original problem reach a happy ending. Deeply wounded women may search for Prince Charming, while equally wounded men may spend their entire lives searching for the one who looks like a candidate for the "Perfect Womanhood" award.
"DOUBLE DUTY": When Both Parties Are Affected By Trauma: In Part I of this series on relationships, I mentioned the disastrous consequences that occur when TWO persons, who are BOTH unrecognized sufferers of PTSD from past traumas, seek to hook up as a means of resolving and "healing" their past traumatic events. Often, this occurs in relationships where one person is a military service member who is suffering from combat related trauma, while the other person (often the female) has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse (the most common trauma suffered by females).
However, as our middle eastern wars have lengthened and we have had more extensive opportunities to learn about the kinds of traumas that affect military service members, we have observed two important things:
1. The traumatized military service person is no longer always male. As the ratio of female-to-male servicepersons has greatly increased, so has the possibility increased that PTSD-affected soldier (or sailor, airman, or marine) is the wife or girlfriend in the relationship.
2. We now know that, for both males AND females, the original trauma which causes the emotional boat to tip over is NOT necessarily service connected. Many servicepersons, both male and female, have great trauma in their lives before they ever enlist. I have, in fact, spoken to hundreds of servicepersons who said that they enlisted in the service because going to a combat zone was safer than the traumatic life they had lived before entering the military.
What Are Some People Searching For In Trauma-Facilitated Relationships? One would think that the primary thing that people search for in an intimate relationship is love. But some relationships are actually facilitated by trauma, as much or more than they are by love. This happens below the level of conscious awareness; as a result the parties to a trauma-facilitated relationship are rarely aware of the role that old traumas play in a relationship which they are convinced is a love math. In trauma-facilitated relationships, one or both parties may think that they are searching for love, and think that they have found it at last. Often, however, the REAL search that is being acted out in the relationship is actually a search for the resolution of old traumas. A person who has been deeply wounded in the past may continue to search, unconsciously, for the chance to re-confront the person who abused or traumatized them, to bring the conflict to some sort of resolution, once and for all. The result is that- from the very start, and without realizing it - a party to a trauma-facilitated relationship may be unconsciously attracted to someone with whom he/she is in CONFLICT, rather than IN LOVE. Men and women are equally likely to engage in this disastrous search for the past that usually guarantees that they wind up with someone nasty, rather than someone loving.
Read more, in a story about what can really happen in a relationship, by seeing other articles on this site. And read about the topic in "I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall", available through this site.
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