Earlier in this series, we discussed how early childhood trauma can cause trouble in later relationships. The focus was on distance, and how these early wounds can make intimacy difficult to achieve. Early childhood trauma can have many outcomes, and a distant controlling demeanor in relationships is only one of them. Sometimes we go about trying to heal our wounds by mirroring our childhood. In certain circumstances, the resulting behavior is self destructive. Today let's look at a story about childhood deprivation, alcoholism and intimacy.
Is your partner chemically dependent?
Does your partner belittle anything you try to do on your own?
Does he or she threaten or scare you?
Consider Jordan, who was in a destructive relationship. When Jordan was a kid, he grew up in a strict household in the midwest. His dad had a problem with alcohol abuse, and his mother went along with everything his father did. Mom was an enabler and dad was unstable when drunk. Jordan's dad would beat him, and Jordan bore at all. He was quiet and obedient. His family was extremely religious, and Jordan believed he would go to hell for his "sinful thoughts" about the opposite gender. Even the Jordan's perception of God was punative.
Jordan was able to get away from his family situation when he went away to college. He went to school and met a woman who was studying law, and was highly motivated. Her name was Carrie, and she and Jordan eventually got married. Carrie became a lawyer and it seems that Jordan had gotten far away from home. But it turns out, Carrie too had a problem with drinking. Her job was very stressful and she drank a lot to "unwind", so Jordan tolerated it. Her drinking got more and more severe, and she began to constantly demean Jordan, especially when he would pursue his own career in journalism.
Carrie picked on Jordan, and if Jordan ever stood up for himself she would become even more belligerent. Carrie was a more sophisticated version of Jordan's father. Jordan took it all quietly as he did when he was a child. He didn't know it, but his relationship with Carrie was mirroring the relationship he had with his father as a child. How strange to be immobilized like this. But, as we all know, such a response is not uncommon. If you had been injured psychologically in early life, it is a trauma. When faced with a stimulus that mirrors the original injury, like Carrie's rage invoking Jordan's memories of fear in childhood, people regress to fight, flight or freeze. This is the primitive survival mechanism. And it is invoked by the field of intimacy - by love itself. When we open up to love, we also open up to the chance of re-traumatization.
Unfortunately, it's that simple. Why was he able to put up with Carrie for so long? Jordan knew he had not done anything to deserve being beaten, but whatever love he had from his father was mixed in with the experience of victimization and unpredictability. He had been traumatized and it left its marks. He chose someone who loved him but re enacted his childhood trauma. A person who did not have the trauma history may have sensed Carrie's flaw or would have left her out of self respect and self protection. Jordan stayed because this is what he knew.
Jordan entered psychotherapy in a depression, filled with a sense of helplessness and self blame. Slowly he learned that this repetition compulsion was scary but that he shared responsibility for allowing it to continue. Jordan learned about his childhood trauma because of alcoholism as well. He attended AL-ANON meetings and eventually confronted Carrie. He moved out and, for the first time, felt the freedom of self actualization. Carrie, to her credit went to AA and committed herself to sobriety. When they decided to give the relationship a second chance, the tables were turned, and this time Carrie had to perform. Today, their relationship is far from perfect, but with the help of marital work and AA, Carrie and Jordan have been able to make it work.
In this crazy and often lonely world, Carrie and Jordan are able to build something together. Love opened them to excruciating pain. Therapy and self actualization have given them a chance to build a better life, despite a rough start. Divorce is always an option, but how sweet it must be, to defeat your demons.
Many people like Jordan and Carrie end up divorcing. It makes sense because the damage done is often just too much. There are many Carries in this world who get angrier when confronted and want revenge. In this story however, Carrie loved her husband and worked on herself to make it right. This is true greatness. Once confronted, our demons often retreat.
Hope is there for those who have the courage to deal with the truth.
Yet, the sad fact is that many people do not learn from their marriage or their divorce and continue to be haunted by demons into second and sometimes third or fourth marriage. To live a better life we MUST all learn from our mistakes. In business life or in school this is relatively easy, but in relationships, what we think we've learned often only touches the surface. We all can do better, whether our relationships are deeply flawed, or just moderately unhappy.
Demons lie within, and they often come from injuries of childhood.
What are your demons?___________________________________________________________________________________
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