A professional note by a colleague: “This article braves 5 major areas and addresses 6 essential questions. To fully understand how to appropriately utilize this article, it would take a person who is in the beginning or middle of this struggle a year of two visits a week with a skilled mental health professional. I consider this an epic article.” ~ Dr. Daniel Cohen Ph.D., Life Member, APA.
Areas of focus
1) Struggle as a Gift
2) Leaning on Love
3) The Choices We Make
4) Courage & Distraction
- Why would anyone avoid the struggle?
- What interferes with leaning on love?
- How can you know when you’re choosing toxicity over healing?
- Why would someone choose toxic behavior?
- How does one cultivate courage?
- How can you tell when you self-distract?
Ideally, love is shared between two people who see forever in each other’s eyes, and they grow old together, embracing challenges as they arise with courage, confidence, and mutual effort. Each empathizes with the other, drops whatever they are doing to mend any accidental offences, and prioritizes the other above all else. Earning and sharing trust are at the forefront of their union and they travel life’s sacred journey, hand-in-hand, without making excuses for not showing up emotionally. But what if only one has self-expectation of showing up for the partner while the partner has no such self-expectation? What if only one shows up emotionally – and the other expects this one-sided deal will go on forever, without offering the same?
Make no mistake about it: love can be as frightening as it is rewarding. Those who dare to embark upon the true journey, walk a sacred path to touch eternity – as that is the spark in the eyes and hearts of those who embrace this rare and precious experience.
Each struggle is a gift – an opportunity to show how well you, as a team, can handle it. In any loving relationship, whether you’re together for 2 months, 2 years or 2 decades, ‘struggles’ emerge. In healthy relationships, sharing the burden strengthens your union. Avoiding struggles undercuts trust by giving the message(s): “We can’t do this together” and/or “I’m not here with you to deal with this. You’re on your own. I don’t’ care if it is fixed. You want it fixed? Do it yourself.” Why would anyone avoid the struggle? This is the key question to be answered in this article.
Every couple has struggles on some level. Financial are often among the first stressors for most starting out. Leaning on love not only eases all tension, including financial, but empowers the couple as a united front. That having been said, leaning on love – while easy and pleasurable for some, is almost impossible for others. The inability or unwillingness to lean on love complicates every struggle and ultimately gives the smallest of issues power to tear a couple apart – either by forcing the healthy partner to give up on the lonely, burdensome effort, or by defining to both that they truly have no interest in choosing “us” over self, or any other distraction.
Keep in mind: all struggles are designed to build a foundation of trust. All struggles provide an opportunity to strengthen internal trust and your bond as a couple. Avoidance is toxic, and poisons relationships – always.
When handled properly – with heartfelt, unconditional love as the main ingredient, struggles become part of a couple’s recipe for happiness. Without unconditional love, channeling of positive energy, a desire to earn trust, and a mutual decision to nourish devotion to defend against toxic interference, there is no success. Both partners must equally prioritize their union above everything else in order to be triumphant as a couple. This balanced path begins with vulnerability and a willingness to share and feed love freely so it can be leaned on in times of crisis.
What interferes with ‘leaning on love’? Unresolved childhood trauma is often a major culprit. Is it possible to dissolve that obstacle? Yes – but it takes enormous patience and honest effort. Both people need to be sincerely interested in rekindling passion (assuming they began with it). It takes commitment on both parts. Note: as a medical professional I assure you that the human body is designed to heal itself, and the human mind/ brain/ spirit craves inner-peace and calm. To illustrate those observations: the skin, when cut, seals itself off; broken bones heal from within; the brain produces neurotransmitters to self-calm (i.e. serotonin).
Recognition that everyone has experienced disappointment at some point in life is the first step along this healing path; the second step: awareness that, in addition to run-of-the-mill disappointment, some have survived devastating pain. With these two points to guide, it helps to repeat what was stated above: the mind craves healing and inner peace. To achieve healing, the mind forces unresolved issues to resurface throughout life’s journey, giving the traumatized spirit a chance to review – ideally, with perspective and emotional support, so balance can be achieved. Some craft defense-mechanisms which boil down to self-distraction – in spite of the true desire of the spirit to heal. This will be explored in a moment.
As issues and past trauma arise, the choices we make are either to deal with them head on, or to avoid resolving them, by self-distracting. Dealing with unresolved issues requires commitment and tremendous courage. Avoidance is easier – thus, chosen by most. How can you know what you’re choosing? There are hints.
Self-distraction may spiral into more self-distraction. A person with unresolved childhood trauma often enters the spiral by perpetually avoiding dealing with inevitable hurt, negligence, or even abuse that he/she inflicts on a loved one. This is commonly followed by a ‘self-excuse’ which might sound something like this: “Oh I see I caused you pain but I’ve been busy/ confused/ upset myself . . . (the list goes on) all day / week/ year. How could you expect me to step up and deal with what I inflicted on you?” Or it might sound like something that boils down to this: “It isn’t convenient to deal with this now.” The first few years of these excuses might earn ‘forgiveness’ by the one who was hurt, until either the abuse/ neglect stops and trust is finally earned, or growth on the part of the abused leads to separation from the painful relationship, as no more ‘slack’ can be cut.
There are more self-distracting techniques used by survivors of childhood trauma who, until resolved, abuse their partners. One is to self-praise one’s own efforts as ‘progress’ while ignoring the betrayed trust, as if these self-assigned ‘gold stars’ in any way mend the broken trust: “I am finally noticing how I inflict pain on you. That’s progress!” stated without recognition of the actual specific thing(s) done to disappoint or otherwise betray trust. Another: “But look how well I’m doing in so many other areas!” as if this recognition should somehow un-ring the bell of broken trust or spontaneously crazy-glue a shattered heart back together again.
Another cleverly toxic tactic: “I want you to continue to hold me accountable” suggesting the offending person is incapable of self-reflection in the moment. This puts the burden on the offended as it takes the offender off the hook – at least that is the way the offender sees it. With tremendous pride in the illusion of personal growth, the offender fails to earn trust or mend the broken heart of the offended, who continues to feel disappointed and pushed away. The offender feels remorse which is self-proclaimed as ‘payment enough’ for the offense.
Sadly, the offender might then deem the ‘offense’ not worthy of further consideration, time, effort etc., comparing it to a far worse heinous crime – therefore, the offended is ‘lucky’ to have not been the recipient of the more hideous offense. After all, it isn’t as bad as . . . whatever the offender can conjure. Bottom line: feelings hurt are not mended by the offender – and though there is some remorse, the pattern continues.
The offender chooses a vicious cycle of toxic interactions and behavior over self-reflection and healing. Why? Even though logic shows this vicious cycle of avoidance on the part of the offender inflicts self-abuse, shame, guilt and more, this is the choice that is made. The offender actively chooses to avoid self-reflection which could heal all damaged relationships, simply because it is easier and requires no courage.
Self-reflection leads to awareness, embracing emotions, recognition, questions, an honest search for answers, and ultimately centered peace along with physical wellness. You can see how much easier it is to choose avoidance – though, when laid out this way, you might notice the rewards of self-reflection are so much greater. Yet, courage is required and, as stated, most who have been traumatized in childhood choose self-distraction over courage until perspective is gained.
How can one actively cultivate courage? The answer begins with learning how to spot the many ways in which we tend to self-distract. To be clear, we all self-distract to a degree. Healthy self-distraction permits us to calm ourselves so we can move to building courage. Problems arise when self-distraction is permitted to become the cowardly goal, rather than a tool to permit us to self-reflect.
It is necessary to understand how to identify ‘self-distraction that leads to self-reflection’ so that we can spot and dissolve the tendency to permit it to default to more self-distraction. The latter represents an unfortunate spiral feeding a perpetual cycle until one actively breaks the pattern. To learn how to cultivate courage, it helps to recognize that it actually grows on its own with the right nourishment. The logical question becomes: what nourishes courage?
Every time you spot your own distractions, and view them honestly, you strengthen your own internal courage. Once you have the confidence to spot distractions and actively choose to look at them for what they are, you build self-trust which goes hand-in-hand with spiritual courage. If you’ve read this far, you are interested in learning simple truths about self-distraction, strength of spirit, and how you can spot distraction in yourself and others so that you can facilitate your own healing journey.
People often self-distract emotionally by investing energy into blocking thoughts. There are clear signals when this occurs, such as self-destructive behavior including but not limited to overindulgence (i.e. work, food, exercise, sex, gambling, shopping), or personal neglect (i.e. permitting the body to fall below or climb above target weight or muscle mass, unkempt nails, hair, skin, etc.). These are examples of how one chooses to put ‘dealing with emotions’ on the back-burner. When skilled at self-distraction, one can find ways to avoid addressing emotions altogether.
One adept at self-distracting actually redefines effort into ‘emotion’ as ‘the distraction’ rather than as an important step along the path to healing mind, body and spirit. What does this type of redefinition look like in real time? How can you tell if/when you do it?
Anyone who channels every ‘spare’ moment into devoting time to charities, hours upon hours of hobbies &/or projects that require so much precision and attention that ‘but of course’ no time for emotion would be permitted; work (excusing the investment as necessary to pay household bills – ignoring feeding of emotional relationships within the home); or any other ‘excuse’ to avoid dealing with hurt inflicted emotionally on a loved one who states, “That made me feel sad/ angry/ frustrated etc.) demonstrates this type of self-distracting avoidance – ultimately avoiding the essential building of courage, spiritual strength, and trust with loved ones.
Self-distracting people often buy into the lie: emotion will distract from a good and effective outcome of ‘the project/ work/ donation effort’. The defenses include but are not limited to: “After all, only a ‘good person’ would devote every spare moment to charity – right?” and “Only an ‘excellent bread-winner’ can make ends meet and/or support the lifestyle to which one has become accustomed (aka: doing it because of love of family and those supported).” In truth: what the individual succeeds at doing, in real time, is defining ‘emotion’ as the distraction rather than the gateway to inner-peace.
A child raised in this type of spiritually starved environment is traumatized by toxic vibrations in that very ‘well-intentioned’ home (especially during the most emotionally vulnerable years – before the age of 9). Such exposure often results in an adolescent with either excellent numbing skills, or anger management issues.
Numbing might be accomplished by using external substances (i.e. mind-altering drugs, alcohol), revealed by behavior easily spotted by most casual onlookers, or by mastering the unfortunate skill of silencing the heart by internally numbing. A hint signaling this might be the case: people who master internal numbing present as cold, distant, emotionally unavailable individuals who might excel at intellectual pursuits, but who can’t give or receive satisfying, consistent love with another human. Words don’t match facial expression, empathy is clearly absent, and ‘logic’ remains the focus.
Another sad scenario would be a person who lashes out at others – seemingly unprovoked, with loud words, behavior, or disruptive actions including but not limited to throwing fits of rage in public places, picking fights etc. This path pushes people away as often as the ‘silent, numb’ approach. In either of these cases, until the childhood trauma is put into perspective through interventions which might include EMDR, EFT (tapping), and talk therapy with a well-educated relationship counselor, healing is unlikely, and a satisfying love relationship with another healthy human is nearly impossible.
People who have unresolved childhood trauma might do well if paired with another emotionally numb person, but only if both agree on emotional boundaries, and a parallel existence without desire to build or expectation of earning trust is acceptable to both. Unresolved trauma does not permit a mutually satisfying relationship with another healthy, balanced human unless extraordinary sacrifices are made by the healthy person – or, until the trauma is put into perspective.
To be very clear: casual by-standers and well-intentioned people are not equipped to help heal a person who struggles with unresolved childhood trauma, as it is an emotional emergency that requires professional help; a journey of extraordinary courage and spiritual strength. Healing is only possible for the traumatized survivor who has the right support, is more than just ‘willing and able’- one who is very highly motivated to do so.
This is your sacred journey. All steps taken and avoided are your personal choice. I wish you spiritual courage, emotional healing, balance of mind, body and spirit, fulfillment, and positive energy. ~ Dr. Iankowitz