Trauma and Falling in Love: A Personal Reflection of Why all my Intimate Relationships Look the Same
The pattern is this; one person meets another person, they both smile at each other, they both feel seen and experience a rush of oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine and adrenaline (Moor, 2021). These chemicals produce feelings and the mirror transmitter sensors that recorded the smiles interpret this powerful combination as falling in love. That feeling is then chased until it runs dry and then one person blames themselves or the other person for the absence of those sensations. Sometimes a friendship is formed, often times it’s not. By this time, however a dependency has been established with the other partner and the need to keep up the hormone level remains. This can be established through fighting, drama, substance use or through the repeated patterns of trauma responses.
When a person has grown up in a home where they experienced trauma to the body, or more specifically, to their nervous system, the body perpetuates that need for the feeling-sensations the trauma creates. Adrenaline (hormone) and dopamine (neurotransmitter) have remarkably similar expressions in the body, both increase heart rate, and both give a rush of energy to the body and dopamine makes you feel really good. Unfortunately, both chemicals are automatically released and controlled by the Limbic/autonomic Nervous System. On the inside it’s difficult to differentiate them from each other.
So, if we look at this critically, falling in love is not a feeling, it is an interpretation of the chemical reactions that are occurring in the body. These feelings have been categorically defined by the individual’s prior experiences. I know this takes all the fun out of it, but as a psychotherapist and pseudo scientist I examine patterns, and in doing so, I try to help people end suffering so they can create more fun in their lives.
People who share with me about their relationship struggles often have so many beliefs around their relationships such as rules of conduct, conditions and roles that often impede genuine feelings for the other person. If they would only do this…then I would be happy, when we have the house/car/boat paid off then we will be happy, when the kids are bigger, when they were smaller, that’s when we were happiest. These are all conditions, created by our imagination to give excuses for why we can’t be happy right now in this moment. Many of us spend our entire lifetimes chasing “if only’s” and “when”.
Relationship training starts at the very beginning of our lives, and we are imprinted with the relationships we experienced in our families of origin or the institutions some of us must endure while young like the foster care system. We form self-centered beliefs about ourselves based on our environments because we don’t know what exists outside of our “fishbowl.” Once we grow up and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, it’s too late for our bodies to change, it has been conditioned already. The rest of our lives we get to heal from that conditioning if we so choose, or we live out the same basic mannerisms and relationship styles we learned as children only now, we have a fully formed pre-frontal cortex, our executive functioning brain that has learned how to problem-solve. Part of this problem-solving skill is that we tend to blame ourselves or others. We think we can solve the trauma by feeling it or by understanding it, but we cannot because it has already happened. We cannot change what happened, we can only change the meanings we ascribe to what happened. Through somatic-based therapy we can change the associations we have with what happened which in turn has the capability to alter the limbic system’s automatic flooding of the nervous system.
What is so difficult for some of us that have experienced abuse, emotional and/or physical neglect, sexual exploitation and molestation, is that our bodies were in constant hypervigilance. The autonomic nervous system was always on, and we were in fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode sometimes every day for years. I remember crying a lot in elementary school because it was the only safe place to do it. The grown ups never knew what to do with me, so they just let me cry in the nurse’s office. School was a safe place for me until that eventually stopped being a safe place too.
Whether you are someone who experienced childhood trauma or in a relationship with someone who has, it’s important to back off on judgment and pity and begin to value what their experiences teach us. Our bodies aren’t broken or wrong, they are healing. Our anxiety is valid and often stems from fear of more abuse and abandonment. When we fall in love with the wrong person it is because they made us feel something, or anything other than numb and unwanted. That is everything.
I have had the pleasure to learn how to be this loving space for myself. I still get a rush when I’m having a flush of chemicals go through my body, I’m human. However, the difference now is that I stop myself before I get involved with another human being and wait. I wait for a friendship, a platonic friendship to form. I ask myself can I truly be myself around this person and are my feelings just this chemical reaction that’s going to subside in a few days, weeks or months. Was there a crisis or emergency that brought us together, this is what’s known as a Trauma Bond and can be a powerful propellant in a new relationship. The strange thing is, since I’ve started requiring more than just feelings with my new acquaintances, they get scared and run away. Seriously. Today, I don’t want to start The Pattern all over again. I am healing from a lot, and I don’t need any more practice doing what I’ve always done. Today I want less drama and more reality. Today, I’m going to respect my body and my nervous system and in doing so I am able to respect other people and their healing journeys as well.
Moor, A. (2021, 06 09). BestLife Health. Retrieved from BestLife: https://bestlifeonline.com/what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-fall-in-love/