by Benjamin Fry
The answer is yes, (or no) it doesn’t matter…
Relationships are the final frontier of mental health. The journey to “should I take him back or not” begins a long time before with the loss of the self. This loss comes from the incomplete process of the automatic response of the nervous system to threat in our environment, and usually starts in early childhood.
Trauma is the medical name for these incomplete nervous system processes, but when people hear the word in common language they think of events far more serious or obvious than they can usually locate in their own lives. For hundreds of millions of years organisms have been refining their response to threat. We are at a time in the evolution of that system when things have gone a bit wrong. It may even become our ‘Darwinian Achilles heel’.
Our responses to threat are supposed to go smoothly through an arc from mild adrenaline response, to fight or flight, to freeze; and crucially back again. The human system is the only one to get stuck and not be able to return. This means that threats in childhood become frozen into the potential energy system of our bodies, like little unexploded bombs. And there they sit, sometimes for decades, until something, or someone comes along to set them off again. And that’s when the fun starts.
Nothing can trigger these explosions (or as we call them, trauma reactions) like another person, and of course particularly that special other person. The problem is that these reactions are always themselves incomplete, and can indeed often restart the whole nervous system activation process because they themselves seem like a new threat. So usually there is a repeating cycle of stimulating these very difficult experiences, which have been waiting around in the body (trauma is in the body and not in the event) just waiting to find a way out, but not completing them (which we call discharge). So the experience itself becomes a trauma, and the original trauma gets refrozen.
Oddly, part of our experience of this is to like it. We get magnetically drawn towards our trauma templates and trauma cycles. The body knows what it wants to do, which is to discharge this energy, and unconsciously this innate wisdom takes us there. These relationships we get stuck in which go round and round but never work are actually just manifestations of our trauma cycles trying to release over and over again and needing the trigger of the other person to do it
Of course, that is not a healthy relationship.
Pia Mellody, one of the architects of health in relationship has a model of human behaviour which goes roughly as such; I’m born perfect, I get screwed up and don’t reach full maturity, I behave oddly as a result, so my relationships are a disaster.
The cure is to work on the relationship from the inside out, from the self with the self, rather than with the other. Only then can I bring myself next to another from a position of health. Then I will be triggered into my own trauma (guaranteed) but I will deal with it in my own psychological and physical space, and not try to use the other person to medicate my reaction.
That work on the self, and the trauma reduction work specifically, freeing us by completing trauma and stress cycles, is the work that we do at Khiron House. Watching people’s relationships blossom as a result is one of the most gratifying fruits of our labour, but you only get there through doing the hard inner work first, during and after.
So in this case, the answer to the lady’s question is “yes, or no, it doesn’t matter; what’s important is how you take care of yourself and the work you do to free your body from the accumulated energy which this relationship is triggering.”
Benjamin Fry works across a range of services and media using personal, professional and scientific expertise to help people to a baggage-free life. A published author, and a past columnist for The Times and Psychologies magazine, Benjamin is a social activist in mental health. He founded Get Stable in 2010 to get effective treatment paid for by the state and his great passion is to bring treatment, which works, to all levels of society and across all severities of conditions.
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