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Ask Brenda

How do I get my fiance to understand that I have undergone sexual trauma for the past 10 years and am now trying to deal with it? I don't think he realizes how hard it is for me. (Name confidential at reader's request.)

That's such a good question. Too often a partner's lack of understanding can result in serious problems for a relationship, so it is important he become more informed. I'd suggest he start by reading one of several good books on the market, then consider meeting with a counselor who specializes in sexual trauma. Both of you will gain power with information.

I also discuss the interference of trauma and loss in my book Body Sense. Both trauma and loss can result in changes in your belief system and also in feelings flashbacks, consequently causing interference in a relationship. Many people are familiar with feelings flashbacks directly related to the physical aspect of the sexual abuse but are unaware of the flashbacks that are reoccurences of the core feelings that you experienced at the time of abuse. I call these feelings flashbacks and these can be triggered by totally unrelated events, even years later when something happens to reactivate what I call a trauma bond. At that moment, you can pop into a feelings flashback. That pulls you into the same feelings that you felt long ago, leaving you vulnerable to over-reacting or reaching for food or exercise (or another method to dissociate) to get out of the feeling. Those can include: caretaking, raging, withdrawal, eating, drinking, working too many hours, eating disorders, compulsive behaviors, including shopping, gambling, etc. and more. It is not really that difficult to understand, but I'm giving you the fast version. Here's an excerpt from Body Sense that you may find helpful to share with your fiance.(Pg. 25)

"Trauma bonds are an unpleasant trio in the Cycle of Pain, consisting of feelings flashbacks, core feelings and core messages that pull you into past pain. Trauma bonds operate best when they remain unexamined. But they can be dismantled when you have knowledge of how they work and take direct action to stop their interference in your life.

It can be helpful to think of a trauma bond as similar to the large rope that holds a ship to the dock. The rope is made strong by the interweaving of several smaller threads. As you read and complete the exercises in the following chapters, think of yourself as having a small hacksaw in your hand and actively sawing through that trauma bond, piece by piece. Every bit of work you do helps tear it apart.

Muting core feelings by using food does not make pain go away. It simply pushes pain down into a holding spot. Core feelings--part of the trauma bond--remain inside and grow, dictating to and directing you as unseen messengers. These feelings have incredible power. Your core feelings can become a base for emotional development. They shape how you see yourself and can severely limit your potential They can become part of your belief system.

As you can see on the Cycle of Pain diagram, core feelings inevitably trigger core messages. Born as coping mechanisms to get through a traumatic event or loss, core messages usually take the form of a destructive attack on yourself in which you either deny the traumatic situation took place or assume undeserved responsibility for it. It is crucial that you identify your unique core messages in the words that you use.

Some examples are these:

"I'm not any good if I don't lose weight."

"I'm responsible if anything bad happens."

"I can't do anything right."

"I'm a failure if I make a mistake."

"Something must be wrong with me."

Identifying these core messages strips them of their power over you. Acknowledging these feelings lessen their grip on you. You disable the connections to past trauma, you learn healthier responses, and you discover that your need for food (or whatever else you are using to dissociate or get away from the pain with) decreases. Later in the book, you'll learn more ways to disrupt and destroy core messages....

Some of those core feelings include: alone in the world, fearful, powerless, rejected, stupid, trapped, unlovable, unworthy, hopeless, not good enough, out of control, dirty, empty, defective, abandoned, bad, betrayed, different, and more. "

As you can see, past trauma can continue to interfere in your life and relationship until you learn how to battle your way through that pain. Your partner can be an asset to your recovery when he learns about abuse and particularly when he becomes tuned in to your triggers and core messages. He can make sure he is helping you with replacement messages.

I'm very pleased that you are taking the time you need to take care of yourself and hope that your fiance will understand how much courage that is taking.

My best in your recovery.


Copyright Brenda Crawford-Clark