The world of intimate bonds is the world of emotions—a field of reactions and hidden desires for safety and acceptance that we all long for. All of us. ~Joseph Schaub, Divorce (or not): A guide
One of the things that trauma does is encourage us to isolate. It encourages us to be away from our family, friends, intimate partners, and communities. How this looks for each of us is different. It may look like us actually appearing to be a hermit and not interacting with people or it may look like we are incredibly social, with many friends and connections, yet all of those relationships are only surface level and we never reveal (much of) who we truly are, our fears, our wants, our needs.
Both scenarios (and a million in-between) are isolation. When we do not allow ourselves to deeply connect with others, that is one way our trauma shows up. Our not allowing this deep connection is a signal for our desperate need for a sense of safeness and acceptance, our need for love and a sense of belonging.
When we have unprocessed trauma living within us, it means our ability to have a sense of safeness — with others or with ourselves — is stilted. For many of us living with trauma, the traumatic events we experienced were perpetrated by people we trusted, people we possibly literally depended on for our actual literal survival. These types of betrayals, especially when perpetrated over and over throughout our childhoods teach us that we can’t rely on another, that the world isn’t safe, that those who claim to love you will only cause harm.
We internalize these lessons and they form the development of our neural pathways that then inform us as adults, once we are far from the harm, how to be in relationship with others.
David Richo, in his book How To Be An Adult in Relationships, talks about the “5 A’s” that make up our emotional needs as humans. These are: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing.
We all need someone to pay attention to us in a way that builds us up.
We all need to feel accepted, just as we are, in all our messy and complicated human glory.
We all need to feel appreciated for our contributions to our families, our friendships, our communities, our world.
We all need affection, be that loving words or begin physically held.
We all need allowing, to be allowed to shift and change and grow, allowed to be complex, complicated, and even contradictory.
All humans have these needs. For those us who did not have most or any of these needs met as children, we have that much more of a desperation to have these needs met as an adult.
But even though we have this requirement to have these basic human needs met, we don’t trust that anyone will ever meet them.
Trauma is a complex and contradictory thing in and of itself. As a survival mechanism we isolate and yet isolation can literally kill us. Without the love and support of our community (be that chosen family, blood relatives, competent trauma informed professionals or hopefully a bit of all of the above), we slowly or sometimes quickly will bring about physical disease, intense loneliness and hopelessness, and sometimes a depression so deep there feels like there is no way out.
But our early life experiences have formed the ideas that we cannot trust other humans to have our basic human emotional needs met. And it takes a great act of courage and strength to reach out and ask for help. And frankly, some days we don’t have that courage or strength.
So how do we shift this? How do we find the resources to move through and past the fears of betrayal? How do we develop our own sense of safeness and trust?
It takes work. Patience. Time. Intention. Mostly, it takes work.
I deeply believe that we need to do the work of calming our nervous systems, connecting deeply to our boundaries and reclaiming our bodies as our own, finding our ways to our own center and ground. And then we need to continue this work through deep embodiment and trauma processing work.
Then slowly that sense of safeness, and our ability to trust others and ourselves, will grow.
We are not meant to do this processing and healing work in isolation. In fact, we actually cannot successfully do it in isolation. We need others, we need to do this work in relationship. This is the point of therapy, to help a person heal in a safe relationship so they then can take what they learn (and the ways they have shifted) out into the world and apply it to their other relationships.
Of course, therapy is not for everyone and frankly not all therapists (sadly) are competent.
However, that does not change the reality that we need to do this work of healing, of developing our sense of safeness, of cultivating trust, within relationships.
It does not make us weak to need other people, it makes us human. It does not mean we have a character flaw when we yearn for deep connections with others, it makes us human. It does not make us “less than” or “too much” to ask another for support, it makes us human.
Where this is tricky perhaps, is that we can’t rely on any singular person to fill all our emotional (or any other kind of) needs. No one person will ever be able to do that. We need a community of people and we need to be able to rely on ourselves in way that is helpful for us and not harmful.
Stephanie Bennett-Henry wrote :
No one is going to love you exactly like you imagine. No on is ever going to read your mind and take every star from the sky at the perfect time and hand it to you. No one is going to show up at your door on a horse, with a shoe you lost. Do you understand?
That’s why you have to love yourself enough, so that any other love just adds more candles to the cake you’ve already iced.
Our work in processing our trauma is loving ourselves, it is the cake and the icing of our making. But we don’t need to, and I would argue can’t, do this work alone. We build ourselves up as we build our relationships, our relationships grow as we do, we learn to trust others as we learn to trust ourselves.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum, honestly. The point being however, we need both. Both our own willingness to do the work, and people to support us and or guide us in this work.
It is true that no one person is ever going to meet all our emotional needs. Knowing this is part of our own maturation process. However, we can have a community of people, even a relatively small community of a handful of folks, who together can help us get our needs met.
That’s how we are supposed to be. In community. Serving each other and ourselves.
This essay was originally published in my weekly newsletter on June 10, 2018. It has been revised and edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe to my weekly(ish) newsletter here.