Trauma Therapy Session 23: Talking to people you love about Trauma. Five ways they might reply.

Talking to people is one of the hardest parts of this process. Lots of todays session focused on the things which make it difficult and the responses you might receive.

Only a few sessions left of therapy. Can’t entirely believe that. Excited to be able to step back from the hard work and take another crack at this wonderful thing called life. Dam though I will miss Chris, his genius mind and skilled delivery of a craft so broad and impactful in its mastery.

Todays focus…

We briefly discussed and agreed that we would not use the time as planned for EMDR. Chris checked in where I was with the impact of the box. The frequency or duration of the flashbacks or nightmares had not noticeably changed but they were less upsetting. Chris helpfully defined the measures of impact across frequently, duration and distress. Advising that one can improve independently of the others.

I was grateful that it was the level of upset which was improving. Though it would be lovely to improve them all this at least provides some relief. And honestly the two things top of my list were how I manage relationships moving forward, and a brief mention of some of the impact I find from a slightly over amped cleanliness muscle.

Talking to friends and family. The backstory…

There have been a few tricky conversations over the last couple of weeks. One with a family member and one with the most wonderful friend I could have ever wished for. Both left me feeling a little rejected and, unworthy.

I have to stress my upset by these conversations is a lot about how I receive their response, that and a very traumatic incident from many years ago relating to a rejection by friends. I briefly outlined some of the prior incident to Chris as I felt it was relevant. I know I worry a lot about not being good enough and loosing people I love. I don’t know if that worry is exaggerated or reasonable and the history felt relevant. So for your benefit…

When I was around sixteen I found myself dropped into a very unexpected world in school. Having had some really enjoyable friendships for years I walked into school one day to find every single one of them was totally blanking me. They did not look at me when I spoke to them, they would not respond to anything I said. They literally acted like I was invisible. It was the most extreme and torturous reality and it lasted for months until I quit school and started working full time, dropping out of my A levels from the sheer pressure of not being able to manage in a world where people had shifted from loving me one day to blanking me the next. I didn’t find out until years later the reasons for it and even now I am not sure I entirely understand, but maybe that is a story for another day.

For a long time after that I simply had no friends. No one I spoke to outside of a work context. There were a few people in work I really enjoyed the company of and occasionally went out with on “works nights out” or travelled with on the bus. But really I had no-one. It was not until I had Gwen and I wanted to build the relationships for her with children her age that I found myself in mum and baby groups making an effort to connect. I did also get some of the best advice of my life around that time. “People like talking about themselves. If you are anxious just think of a few questions to ask them before hand. You will be fine.” This advice unlock a lot of opportunity as I hated talking about myself.

Fast forward to not being worthy again.

Wether it is my gender identify or my acknowledgement and attempted acceptance of a horrific past I am feeling very unworthy and uncertain in my relationships right now. I know how wonderful all the people around me are and I can’t help but feel a little out of place. (I spent hours debating with Stephen the other day how I was the broken plate in the china shop and now people can see the cracks there is a natural inclination to want to hide the chipped, cracked china at the back. At least that’s how I feel. I am constantly fighting a desire to slip away and quietly retreat).

Some of the conversations I have started have been difficult. Not just for me but for those I am speaking too. I get no-one really wants to hear about the dark terrible things which happen to people. We all shy away from the darkness. And none of us are taught how to support people who may be struggling with trauma or mental health issues. We all have a natural desire to want to help, fix, repair. And for some of these things that is just not an option.

I was going to just continue to avoid speaking to people. I had already found lots of reasons why for each of my friends the timing was wrong. But following that really difficult conversation I know I can’t hide. I must face into this or live in constant fear that they will find out and recognise me for who I am and realise that it is not good enough for them. (I probably also need to continue and try to recognise the things I have been through are not the same as who I am. And the wonderful strength I have shown and the glorious positivity I have dragged behind me on the way, may actually make me more worthy).

This is a huge turn around. Immediately following the latest difficult conversation I considered just cutting myself off from everyone. I honestly felt like as though painful and upsetting as it would be I couldn’t live with the uncertainty of finding out little by little I was not good enough to exist in the world I had created. I got stuck for a couple of days in the mindset that I had built this life at best on denial and at worst on lies. That I was about to spend months watching it crumble around me and it would be better to get all the pain over with at once. Better that I controlled its demise.

I managed to pull myself back from that thinking. However I concluded that I did need to be more open with my friends. I needed to tell them the things which I worried would change how they see me . I could not live under the shadow of fear that they would find out and decide to step away or try to stay friends when the foundations were ruined. So I am now in the space where I need to work out how I do that. One of the big considerations I had was how people might respond. I had experienced some responses and Chris helped me worked through the other possibilities. These were the key types of responses and how I might reply or deal with them.

Needs more data…

This appears to be a natural response. We like knowledge it makes us feel more comfortable. There might be some people who would want to ask more questions.

The best response would be to answer what I am comfortable answering and be prepared to shut down the conversation if it is getting too much. To simply say we can come back to it another time, or it is just too upsetting to discuss the details now.

Shut down the conversation…

Some people might find it too upsetting to even acknowledge the difficult things. They might ask me not to talk about it or tell me they don’t want to know.

Chris’s advice on this was brilliant. To be curious about why they feel the need to do that. If it is too much to ask directly why they want to shut it down and talk about the content, be curious about the process. How would it make you feel if I told you more?

All about them…

Some people might look for connection in sharing their own experiences and feelings.

Perhaps let them take the space and time in a first conversation to off load or call out what they need to discuss and then sign post you are going to come back to the conversation and create some space for you.

Gets really upset…

They may get really upset and try to minimise or make light of the traumatic events. It can’t be that bad. You should look on the bright side.

On this one I need to practice holding firm a little. Being clear that these things are not light things or to be set aside. They are big and impactful and awful and it’s right to acknowledge that.

In shock/ processing…

Some people might find it a lot to take in or wrap their heads around they may be quiet or not respond.

I should give them space and time to process. It’s part of an ongoing conversation.

Some other top tips…

I need to think about how I support myself in these conversations. They will be hard and I may struggle to handle the response. What can I do before or after to take care of me.

Give context, say what you need. I hope this does not change our relationship. I don’t need you to fix this. I just need you to listen.

The 1st reaction is not the last. I always have thought of conversations as discrete one off interactions. Really they are part of a longer ongoing dialogue.

I will save the brief OCD conversation we started exploring for another blog. I hope if you are struggling to build connection with people around traumatic events in your life you find a way to talk and be heard with love.


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