How Trauma Impacts Your Ability to Feel Safe in Relationships
Trauma may change the nervous system so that your ability to create and sustain nurturing relationships is altered. This can lead to the limiting belief that love and connection aren’t safe. You may find it hard to trust others, withdraw or avoid people.
When a sense of connection is missing from your life you may carry distress in the nervous system. Survival responses are activated, and you can get stuck in anxiety, agitation or shut down for long periods of time.
Messages you receive from the culture encouraging autonomy and independence can make you feel shame about your healthy need to connect with others when you’re facing adversities. You may feel that you need to heal and be happy on your own first, to not be too needy.
“You heal on your own.”
Actually, it’s biologically essential that you connect to and co-regulate with others through nurturing relationships. Your psychological and physical health depends on it.
“You need to be happy on your own first.”
Loneliness brings pain – it increases psychological and physical health problems like heart disease, compromised immune functioning and depression – all issues related to nervous system dysfunction.
“Don’t be needy.”
Social disconnection and social exclusion activate the same pain pathways as experiencing a physical injury. The need for connection doesn’t make you needy, it’s a part of being human, and even more important in times of chronic or traumatic stress.
A nurturing relationship is perhaps one of the most powerful forms of nervous system regulation there is. Co-regulation is a powerful antidote to distress. It can help you to shift your nervous system back to a state of safety, ease, and calmness, especially after chronic or traumatic stress.
Choosing to nurture your relationships with your friends, and in your family, work, and community, creates a relational web that can support you through difficulties and adversities. It’s also easier for you to support others when you’re in a regulated state. Being a co-regulator for another person who is experiencing distress is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Having people in your life who can help shift your nervous system out of survival mode will improve your emotional, psychological, and physical health.
Moving from survival mode to connection when you don’t feel like talking could look like: visiting a park where people are, going to a class, taking a walk where others are, or spending time with a pet. It could also involve reaching out to others by calling a friend, chatting with someone in your community (e.g., at the library), visiting someone you trust, or working with a therapist.
Education leads to regulation. Ready to learn more about how your nervous system works?