Safety & Reactivity in Relationships

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2008 at 8:00 pm in All Posts, Emotional Healing, Marriage & Relationship Help, Wounds.

How many times have we begun a relationship, full of hope, only to have it crash and burn, or one party flee?

Many of us have relational injuries from the past. This often manifests as a “fear of intimacy.” Beneath this phrase, lurks not feeling safe in relationships. Our fathers may have had tempers, or our mothers may have been intrusive. A past partner may have been abusive, or perhaps their neediness or jealousy was a burden. A multitude of possibilities exist. Whatever the case, we found that relating to another could be costly. We learned to defend ourselves, to shut down, cover up, disappear, attack, or protect ourselves in some other way. We learned to not be too vulnerable, to only let the other in so far, or to run if we got scared. We learned to make ourselves safe by controlling the depth of the relationship in a variety of ways.

Often when we get scared, we react, we become irrational, we move into our limbic brain and rather than being rational, we respond from fight or flight. Some of us have trauma that is extensive enough that we move into dissociative states, fragments of ourselves that look like Dr. Jeckle changing into Mr. Hyde. Irrationality is scary to the other person and a major problem in relationships. It can trigger a variety of defensive postures including early abandonment of a promising relationship. Anger, irrationality, and mood swings directed at the other person almost always create a feeling of not being safe with that person.

Interactions with an intimate other ultimately trigger our deepest wounds, our attachment needs, feelings of vulnerability, and our need for safety. Anything unhealed is bound to get touched and come up. These wounds can vary from feeling judged, to not important, abandoned, or even abused. Regardless, these wounds trigger deep and primal feelings, feelings of desperation, anger, confusion, shame, etc and can cause us to react.

The real problem emerges however, when we cannot own our wound, but instead blame the other person, or expect them to “take care of it” or not trigger us. Ultimately, we have to learn to tend to our own wounds, as well as ask the other to be kind and gentle with our fragilities, to be safe for us. Both parties have to take responsibility for his or her own behavior before we become safe for the other. This requires open and non-blaming communication.

What are your deepest fears in relationship to others? Are these fears related to how you were treated in your past? Have you started to take responsibility for them? Do you have a partner who is willing to stay open and talk to you when you are triggered, when you trigger each other?

A relationship has the potential to be a cauldron for growth and transformation, or pain, fear or flight. Everything unfinished and triggered in that particular combination emerges to step into the dance of that relationship. In the process, we get to decide if this situation is safe enough, or if we want or deserve more. If we are attempting an intimate relationship with somebody who allows us to feel nourished and safe enough, we can stay and do the work and play of learning to love and grow in the matrix of connection with another.

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