Trauma is a word that probably gets thrown around too much. When that happens words often lose their accuracy and impact. So what is trauma and what does it have to do with keeping relationships crappy?
o When an experience is overwhelming the brain does not encode the memory of the event(s) in a way that puts a narrative to it and a time stamp on it. Instead it stays implicit in memory taking only the form of body sensations and feelings (i.e. It doesn’t exist in thought; it’s only felt and there is no sense of when these feelings belong to [back then, right now, etc.]).
o Later, when an event or environment or relationship feels similar to the original trauma (which the person is often hyper-vigilantabout and often assigns threat to experiences that are not actually threatening) the person becomes “triggered”. Which means they are vulnerable to remembering the traumatic experience only not through explicit thoughts but rather through painful, disruptive emotions and body sensations. This is re-traumatization.
o In order to not re-experience the trauma the person unconsciously activates behaviors designed to: compensate for failing self regulation, distract from the actual emotions being felt as well as to communicate the need for help.
o This unclear and unprocessed way of dealing with triggered emotions usually upsets other people (especially if they have their own trauma) and causes them to react in ways that only increase the dissociating and compensatory behaviors. In other words, things never get a chance to get better because they are communicating in ways that are too hard for others to understand or deal with.
How trauma keeps our relationships crappy
The long and the short is, when trauma causes us to lose trust in others we gain an assumption that vulnerability will equal re-traumatization. Therefore we no longer communicate openly about our needs; to ourselves or to others. Instead our emotions and needs go underground (they become more dissociated or unconscious). Only showing their heads through our body sensations or impulsive/repetitive ways of relating. These ways of relating are often confusing or irritating to others because they signal our needs without us owning our needs (like having a bigger emotional reaction to something than expected but then denying we are feeling passionate about that issue). When the others in our lives are struggling themselves with emotional health this often causes them to react in ways that hurt or upset us and we become defensive (either through becoming combative or avoidant or a combination). This launches a negative relational cycle.
Solving the truama and repetitive relational struggles
Books like "The Body Keeps the Score" and "Parenting From the Inside Out" and "Emotions Revealed" are great tools for learning about this process. As well as therapies such as EMDR, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and others. For more on how psychoanalysis or psychotherapy would impact this, see this blog post: http://analogcounseling.com/therapy-blog/what-makes-psychoanalysis-different-from-other-therapies-and-why-its-so-valuable