May 9 • 23M

OPENINGS #4

Caring for Ourselves, Our Trauma Responses, and What is Ours to Hold

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OPENINGS is a chance to ask me any questions you have about relationships, healing, care, and being a human in the world and I'll share my advice with you and our subscribers!
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Hello dear ones,

In this episode of OPENINGS: a monthly advice podcast, we’re talking about the trauma responses that can come up with anxious attachment – and how to care for ourselves when they do. And we’ll also discuss how we can hold another’s trauma alongside our own, without directing the focus away from ourselves.

A reminder that you can submit your question to me, via email, at hello@margeauxfeldman.com. Please use the subject line OPENINGS SUBMISSION, and try to keep your question to 250 words or less. 

You have until Friday, May 27th at midnight (whatever timezone that is happening in for you) to submit your questions for our next episode.

As always, OPENINGS is free for all subscribers. But if you’re able to show your appreciation by becoming a paid subscriber, you can do so for $5/month, you can follow the steps here.

As always, you’ll find a transcript below. And here are the links to the resources I mentioned in the episode:

  • Polysecure by Jessica Fern

  • No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

  • Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma workbook by Janina Fisher


TRANSCRIPT

Welcome dear ones. Thanks so much for joining me for episode 4 of OPENINGS, a monthly advice podcast. Today we’ll be talking about the trauma responses that can come up with anxious attachment – and how to care for ourselves when they do. And we’ll also discuss how we can hold another’s trauma alongside our own, without directing the focus away from ourselves.

A reminder that you can submit your question to me, via email, at hello@margeauxfeldman.com. Please use the subject line OPENINGS SUBMISSION, and try to keep your question to 250 words or less. 

You have until Friday, May 27th at midnight (whatever timezone that is happening in for you) to submit your questions for our next episode.

As always, OPENINGS is free for all subscribers. But if you’re able to show your appreciation by becoming a paid subscriber, you can do so for $5/month using the link in this post.

Alright, let’s get to your questions! 

How can I heal/handle trauma responses (beliefs I’m unlovable, wanting to reject before being rejected, wanting to leave, feeling too anxious to show up authentically, sitting with body convulsing/full-on shaking when having honest conversations because of fear of abandonment, etc) in a new romantic relationship where we haven’t committed and security has not been established because we’re still in the first few months developing feelings for each other? This is particularly hard when a (somewhat healed but still present) anxious attachment system makes me somatically feel like I will physically die without them and my chest aches in a deep, deep, horrifically painful sadness at the thought of them not being in my life. Sadly, relational trauma needs to be healed in a relationship, which feels like a catch-22. Also, how can I work with the trauma response of having a barrage of thoughts of sexual acts with them that feel like a way to disassociate from my desire to want love and the overwhelming fear of not getting it, by distracting me into imagining seducing them instead, since sex and seduction feel more in my control (like I can manipulate attraction from them) and that feels safer, even though it’s not what I really want?

First I just want to say that I love that you’re asking yourself – and me – these questions because it shows that you really want to show up authentically in this new connection and take care of yourself at the same time. And as someone with a LOT of abandonment trauma, I really resonate with the symptoms you’ve described here. 

In response to the first part of your question, I find myself wondering: “have you talked about your attachment style and/or needs with this new person?” I ask because I hear you naming that you’re still in the first few months of being together, as though that is too early to tell them how you’re feeling. In my last romantic partnership, we were talking about my anxious/disorganized attachment in those first few months because I need to be able to do that in order to build secure attachment with someone. If me telling you that I worry about abandonment is not going to be received well, I want to know that as soon as possible. The reality is I needed quite a bit of affirmation in those first few early months and what enabled me to feel secure was that he didn’t make a big deal about that need of mine.

That being said, I hear that you want to not responsibilize this person and that you want to be accountable for caring for your nervous system responses – which I love. It’s here that we learn about building secure attachment with ourselves. At the end of the day, there is no amount of affirmation we can receive from another person that will abate that fear of abandonment. Because the reality is that relationships do end and we can never guarantee that our present connection will last forever.

Those younger scared parts of you need to know that YOU won’t abandon you. That no matter what happens in this connection with this person, YOU will be here to comfort yourself if the relationship ends. So many of us did not receive the support we needed when we experienced relational loss growing up. After my mother’s death, we went away on a vacation and came back and acted as though everything was fine. We never marked the date of my mom’s death or her birthday. It was as though she never existed. This meant that I did not get the support I needed to process this loss. Her death felt like abandonment and no one was there to comfort me. Loss can be excruciating, but what is even more painful is to not be seen and cared for in our experience of that loss.

I also think about, you know, the ways in which I wouldn't receive a similar kind of comfort, when I would have breakups as a teenager. I would be so sad and heartbroken because obviously, each breakup really activated that earlier abandonment and loss. And my father's response was, you'll find someone better. And while I get that that was meant to be validation. What I really needed in those moments was for him to hold me as I cried. And to just be there with me in that sadness.

So when we've had experiences like this, the question becomes, what do we do to offer ourselves that comfort that we didn't get? One of my go-to’s is placing my hands on my heart, closing my eyes, and taking many deep breaths. As I do so, I tell myself “I see that you’re scared. That makes so much sense. And I’m not going anywhere. I see that you’re scared. That makes so much sense. And I’m not going anywhere.” Learning how to be with ourselves in these moments is so key because underneath every activated nervous system state is a missing experience. I just want to name my gratitude to Kekuni Minton, who offered me that language for understanding the missing experience. You can learn more about Kekuni Minton’s work through the school of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. By giving yourself the missing experience, that younger scared part of you sees that they will be taken care of this time.

Now for the second part of your question: how can I work with the trauma response of having a barrage of thoughts of sexual acts with them that feel like a way to disassociate from my desire to want love and the overwhelming fear of not getting it, by distracting me into imagining seducing them instead, since sex and seduction feel more in my control (like I can manipulate attraction from them) and that feels safer, even though it’s not what I really want?

Oooooof. I really resonate with this question. And I want to start by naming that for myself anyways, I grew up with that longing for love and care and connection that boys, my age, people my age were not able to offer me. And so I learned that the closest thing I could get to that love was sex. And so sex and seduction became the like scraps that I could get to feel desired, wanted, longed for. And sex and love got really conflated for me. I'm not sure if that is your experience. But I offer that because I just see how it makes so much sense that you would go to sex and seduction as feeling safer than feeling and wanting love.

Based on what you've shared here, this sounds like an activated flight part to me, as flight’s main role is to help us access pleasure when shit feels really awful and hard. One of the ways flight does that is by distracting us through dissociation and other thoughts like these sexual acts of seduction you’ve referenced. Here, the work is honestly quite similar to what I suggested earlier. First, you acknowledge that flight part is here, trying to do its job, and you thank them for trying to protect you. Then, you get curious about what this part needs in order to feel safe enough to be present. You might ask “What are you trying to protect me from?” Or “What are you worried will happen if we don't have this distraction of sexual thoughts?” and see what this part says. And then you can start to explore what it might look like to do something else instead, and this is where you really get to collaborate with that part. 

Again, this is an opportunity to show your trauma response that there is an adult present now: YOU! And you have the capacity to be with the fear and discomfort of that desire for love from this person. And you will be there for you if this doesn’t work out. 

And I want to recommend a couple of books that might be useful. The first is Jessica Fern’s book Polysecure. You do not need to be non monogamous in order to really benefit from this book. In particular, the final section of the book focuses on the elements to building secure attachment. And to not just about building secure attachment with others, but actually like building secure attachment with yourself. And I cannot tell you how useful this work of Fern’s has been for me. So that would be my first recommendation. I'd also recommend looking into parts work either through Richard Schwartz's book No Bad Parts. And Schwartz doesn't use the language of like fight flight freeze submit, which is what I use and have used here and my response to your question. But there's a lot of great exercises in there for talking to those protector parts like flight and getting to understand how they're trying to protect you and how to move away from those old modes of protection that aren't serving you anymore. And finally, I have learned so much from Janina Fisher's work, and she has a really amazing workbook called Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma. And I'll put all of those recommendations and links into the notes for this episode.

All right. Our second and last question:

Throughout the years, I have been getting better at sitting with the grief of my own childhood trauma, containing it and self-regulating. However, last year my younger sister came to me about her own experiences of childhood trauma - which obviously involved the same people/situations, as we grew up together - although I am glad she could confide in me and I am currently working towards creating a secure attachment again with her, these direct revelations have made it very difficult for me to sit with my feelings of grief/sadness/anger again as I feel like it added an extra layer to my own/collective trauma. Sometimes I feel like I am back to where I started.

How can you sit with your own trauma when you are also processing and sitting with the trauma of the people you love? 

I get overwhelmed at knowing that no matter how much I heal, it does not directly help the healing of my loved ones, let alone everyone else who may be going through a similar experience to me. I guess sometimes it feels like healing is selfish and does not help the general state of the world because the pain keeps being perpetuated anyways (!)

Thank you for this question and for sharing your experience. I want to start with the end of your question first. If there is one thing that I believe, it’s that when we heal ourselves, we heal the world that we live in. It might not feel like your individual healing is having an impact on your loved ones, but I can’t help but wonder if your sister’s disclosure has something to do with all of the work that you’ve been doing to heal yourself.

I think about the saying “hurt people hurt people.” The reality is a) we’ve all been hurt in some way. And b) we will all hurt others because humans are messy and we will fuck up. That being said, when we commit ourselves to our healing, we are mitigating the hurt that we may cause others. When we commit ourselves to our healing, we are breaking intergenerational cycles of hurt and harm. If you’re someone who wants to have children, your healing has a direct impact on the children you may have. Not just in terms of how you parent. But the field of epigenetics is revealing how unresolved trauma can be passed down by impacting the shape of our genes.

Now to your question: How can you sit with your own trauma when you are also processing and sitting with the trauma of the people you love? 

That’s a lot of trauma to be sitting with. And it’s here that we need to have some firm energetic and emotional boundaries. Of course you will be impacted by the knowledge of your sister’s trauma and pain. And you can be there to support her in her journey towards healing. Where we need to be careful about is those moments where we have taken on their pain as if it were our own. I often think of this metaphor of holding a bunch of basketballs in my arms. Each ball represents my trauma, my dad’s trauma, my brother’s trauma, another person’s trauma, etc. Very quickly, it becomes unwieldy, our body starts to ache at the stress of trying to hold them all and balls start dropping. Because we cannot carry what is not ours to hold. As a somatic practice, I imagine myself holding one of the basketballs and handing it back to its owner and I say the words “This is not mine to hold.” Again, this act isn’t an abnegation of support and love. It’s a practice of not taking on too much pain. Because when there’s too much pain, we get stuck in overwhelm. 

Another practice that might be helpful is to set a timer and say “Okay, for 30 minutes I am going to be here with my sister’s pain. I am going to cry, scream, do whatever it is I need to do. And then I am going to turn the focus back on myself. I am sure that there are so many things that you can do to support your sister: helping her find a therapist, connecting her with resources that have supported you, being there to listen to her as she does her own processing. And, at the end of those moments, set a timer, be with the pain, and then practice handing the ball back. Then, you can set a timer for yourself. I’d recommend giving yourself as much time, if not more, as you did for her. In this way, you show your younger parts that you are here for them and for the work that you’ve been doing together.