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November 8, 2019

The Downfall of Reinforcing our Past Trauma in New Relationships.

Trauma.

It sounds so tumultuous. So heavy.

And yet it’s really just another word for injury. Injury of the body, mind, or spirit.

Traumas come in all shapes and a sizes and so many can be on the micro level that perhaps they even go unnoticed for a time. Hidden for years as if locked away inside a memory box, hinges rusted and keys long lost. Concealed, but not gone.

Scientists and psychologists who specialize in memory say that when it comes to long-term memory, nothing is ever truly forgotten. Once a memory is made, there is always a trace of it somewhere, deep down amidst the chaos of neurons and synaptic connections. It lies dormant, just waiting for the right cue to reach in and pull it to the light. But that doesn’t always happen. At least not so clearly.

Some memories come to us in the form of habits. Ways that we process things, patterns that we may exhibit in relationships. They may not be so much a declarative memory as a procedural one. Much of the time we may not even notice what we are doing, even if our actions are not inherently serving us.

Take, for example, relationships. So many of us are guilty of absentmindedly falling into the same nonfunctional tendencies with our new partners that we had in the past. Logically we may ask ourselves, “Why? Why do I repeat this and feel this same way now, even though my situation is completely different?”

The answer? Your brain loves the familiar.

We are conditioned biologically to cling to what we know, consciously or unconsciously, and often the latter. Patterns keep us sheltered; they’re predictable—which is why we often hit repeat. These patterns, whether or not constructive, have safe qualities to them as they’ve successfully kept us alive in the past, even if perhaps they were less than ideal. And that, my friends, is all the brain cares about. Stay alive. Survive. Live to see tomorrow.

With each failed relationship, every letdown, each disappointment, we begin to build a callus that encircles our heart. It doesn’t necessarily make us colder, just harder to crack into. It’s a protective measure. Our brains push us to keep our distance, overanalyze every little detail to a fault, looking for the next bomb that could be right in front of us.

If the search is rendered empty, then our brains move on to Plan B: arm-length measures in full effect. Canceling on someone or giving them an out before they can disappoint you; keeping relationships “open” as to avoid “pressure”; rationalizing and making excuses for poor behavior; the list goes on.

But here’s where things get tricky. Enter new person who has their stuff together, is responsible and a planner, communicates regularly, and actually does what they say they’re going to do.

Suddenly all of these walls and artillery you have set up are no longer needed. Your weaponry remains yet has nothing to defend against. They don’t have a job…and that realization comes in the form of sneaky anxiety. You’re not having to respond to things like you did before and your brain doesn’t know what to do. It doesn’t feel safe so it continues to try to implement its combat regardless of lack of evidence. In fact, this individual’s actions are authentic and human, making you feel wanted, seen, and important.

Someone recently told me, “You shouldn’t be impressed by the right thing. Expect it…you deserve that in your life, that’s not the pot you win, it’s the ante to have a seat at the table.” Simple yet profound advice, and even so, our brain just can’t seem to break the cycle. Similar to homeostasis, it carries a relationship “set point” that requires a gradual change. Logic does not always win.

So, what do we do? Create a new set point. Set a new bar. Meet this person where they are clearly showing up. Date with conscious intention, looking at what’s in front of you. Take it in. Do the actions of this person substantiate your old fears? Let that be the new evidence to help yourself retrain your brain. It takes time and perseverance but is well worth it in the end.

Stay present. Live for the here and now, in this moment only. Enjoy the wonderful things you are now being afforded in this thing called life and love—soak them up. Learn from the past, your trials and tribulations, and acknowledge your trepidations, but do not allow the yesterdays to predict your tomorrows. Yesterday is gone, not forgotten. And tomorrow is full of possibility. But neither are now. Live for that, live for today.

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