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September 3, 2021

Instinct Injury: How Trauma causes us to Blindly fall for Toxic Lovers (& Things).


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“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” ~ Mary Oliver

I sniff, taste, bite, swallow, and revel in sensation.

My lover sparks feelings—the likes of which I have never known. There’s never been enough of me here—in my body—to experience touch, intimacy, and sex in this way.

I thought I knew chemistry, but, like so many of us, I was living in a type of upside-down world. I have, up until recently, chosen partners who smelled wrong and tasted off.

Danger was familiar, and safety was suspicious; biologically, this was deeply confusing.

As a child, I was placed in unnerving situations with people who were supposed to care for me. But they were still overwhelmed by their own unprocessed trauma. It leaked out onto me physically and took up residence in my psyche.

As I grew, my “yes” was often an inverted “no.” In contrast, no was a mumble or a prohibition that I turned against myself. I am learning how to shift this.

This has become my mantra—more than that. Mantras are mental. This is the soul speaking. This is the primal howl from my womb and drum in my breast:

“I know what I know; I feel what I feel, and I won’t deny it.”

Animalistically, we know what smells good, tastes good, what we want to eat, f*ck, or kill. It is wired into our biology as both predators and prey. As primal beings, we are both.

Why do we habitually choose things and people we know are not good for us?

We are instinct-injured. We are denatured. We are floating heads living in concrete jungles. We have forgotten the wisdom of the woods and have dulled our senses to the bite of our own instincts. 

Predator is a word that is often associated with someone who hunts and defiles innocence. Prey, on the other hand, typically denotes a victim. Prey and predator is a co-arising dynamic, not only in nature but in our psyche. We all house, internally, both a victim and a perpetrator—the hunter and the hunted.

“Hurt people hurt people.” Yes. But this is a cop-out. Not everyone who has experienced trauma goes on to be intentionally destructive in others’ lives. 

What happens in a person’s psyche that there could be so much disparity in how we, as individuals, process pain? 

It has to do with how we internalize and frame abuse or neglect. When we are wounded, we pull the perpetrator into our psyche—as well as the hurt. The bully in our life will become our inner voice. Abuse soaks into our cells.

The desire to protect what is good, vulnerable, and innocent is innate. When that is disrupted, through either abuse or neglect, a parasitic process develops in our psyche. When we are instinct-injured, the urge to hunt and protect gets turned against ourselves or others. 

A person who may seem too good to be true could struggle intensely with insecurity and issues around self-worth. The urge to please and caretake may actually be a survival strategy, an adaptation to getting their needs met, known as fawning. We do this when we must keep the person who is hurting us close—to feel safe. Another person also struggling with self-worth may have developed a more dominant strategy for dealing with the same conditions. Dominance may manifest as bullying or other overtly aggressive behaviors. 

People pleasing and dominance are behaviors that are adapted when simply being seen, heard, and valued is not enough. Vulnerability is not enough—performance is needed to meet our needs.

Our primal wound is the pain of not being seen—not being heard or met in our vulnerability. 

Never are we more vulnerable, more susceptible to influence, nor in greater need of compassionate care and support than when we are children. 

For the most part, the people who wind up wounding us are not evil so much as inept. They lack emotional maturity; they are doing what was shown to them, and they are more concerned about us fitting in than they are about the development of our souls or creativity. 

Society is not a soul-friendly place. 

To assure that we blend in appropriately, measures are taken to stifle the impulses—creatively and instinctively—that exhibit our uniqueness. 

Often as children, we are told that feelings and dreams are not as important as our outer accomplishments. As a result, we cut ourselves off from our interior world and feelings. We dull our desire for the vivid, the real, and accommodate and compromise instead.

Socialization frequently involves telling us that what we feel, see, or need is not valid. We are encouraged (or forced) into activities and social situations that don’t feel good. 

Perhaps you remember a person, a family friend, or a relative, who made you uncomfortable as a child. Those are instinctive warnings. Our bodies know when someone is safe or when they are dangerous. 

Out of social niceties, we may be required to interact with what we instinctively know is wrong. Our body is saying no, but our family is saying yes. When faced with being authentic or being accepted, we will choose acceptance. It is the more prominent survival need but, emotionally, it has a high cost. 

When we override our gut-born responses—be they yes or no—we are causing instinct injury to ourselves. 

Instinct injury is one of the reasons that we will find ourselves, later in life, in relationships and social situations, or even professional ones, that may look good on paper or may match a certain standard that we have been conditioned to conduct ourselves in, but they don’t actually feel good. 

I twisted myself into knots for years, trying to maintain personal, professional, and even family connections that were not conducive to my well-being. It was a shared dynamic. I acknowledge that the way I showed up in those relationships was not good for anyone involved, primarily myself. 

Extracting myself from unhealthy or incompatible relationships was a form of social death. All kinds of feelings that had been suppressed and repressed surged to the surface, flooding my nervous system with powerful sensations, visions, and urges. 

The denial of our instincts and emotions will eventually, and inevitably, lead to neuroses and the subsequent need to soothe and numb them. Waking up can hurt.

How do we awaken our instincts and ignite our creativity?

To repair this primal bond, we must return with reverence, curiosity, patience, and a deep breath to the wisdom of our bodies.

We need to ask ourselves: what do we know or want that is inconvenient or potentially life-disrupting? What do we need—deep in our bones? 

We weave webs of repair between soul and body when we honor our desires, feelings, visions, and dreams. 



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