“We rewrite the definition of brave and it is this:
love again love again love again.”
Stop thinking you’re not deserving, said a friend once. In his mind, I was single because I didn’t think I was worthy of love.
But it wasn’t true. I always thought I deserved love, that’s why I complained so much about it to others as a child growing up in a loveless home. That’s why I did every manipulative thing I could to demand it from people, which never worked.
The problem wasn’t my thinking, it was my nervous system. My internal alarm was in opposition to my thought processes. This is the missing key for most of us.
Every time I got close to someone – and I did this often because I’m a people person wired for deep connection – my alarm system would start firing and I would go into freeze, fight or flight. My body remembered that closeness inevitably led to suffering.
I began to spend my time with people who weren’t kind towards me, because they didn’t trigger this response. They felt familiar, whereas the people who loved me felt unsafe. I avoided them, and if I couldn’t do that, I hurt them.
None of this was intentional. Being with unloving people just perpetuated the false alarm ringing in my head at the approach of anyone who showed love and care towards me. I lost a lot of good people out of my life as a result of this, and when I finally saw this years later, I was hit with a tsunami of grief.
Until then, I believed that I had been unlucky to be surrounded by so many uncaring people in my life. And there were many, but the only ones that I didn’t have a choice about being with were the ones I was with during childhood.
Everyone else was a choice, although unconscious. While many people left me, I also did much of the leaving. While many people hurt me, I also perpetrated hurt.
This, more than any other part of my emergence from the fog of traumatic shutdown, was the most painful part of my healing. Much worse than acknowledging the extent of harm and abandonment inflicted on me by those who were supposed to keep me safe.
I saw how I had not only abandoned those who demonstrated love and care towards me, I had abandoned myself. I had closed myself off from the love that was there for me.
I spent many nights praying to be released from the overwhelming pain of this realisation, but in the process of allowing myself to endure it, be supported through it, and learn from it, I found my way.
Joseph Campbell says ‘the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek’.
I had to rewire the false alarm that was always sounding in the depths of my longing for connection, putting the brakes on my life when I so badly wanted to accelerate.
This healing didn’t happen through positive thinking. If our thinking has become unrealistically negative, then we do need to find a more helpful way to look at the world. But that is often a by-product of rewiring a traumatised nervous system.
Relational trauma can be repaired through the embodied experience of love and care that is nonthreatening. If we were wounded in relationship, then we are healed there too.
As our neural pathways make new associations between attachment and safety, the old pathways connecting attachment with terror will begin to crumble. One way I did this is through a form of intiatic art therapy called Guided Drawing, a gentle yet effective approach I have since trained in as a practitioner.
The dark part of me is still there, the part I called the attachment monster. I think she always will be, but the difference is I know how to soothe her and contain her so she doesn’t hurt anyone.
Now when she gets scared, I know how to hold her, and together we stay open to love. I know now that she isn’t a monster at all, just a little girl wanting to be held.
image found on WeHeartItShare