It’s not the case that “nobody will love us unless we love ourselves.” 

It IS the case that if we don’t feel SAFE with ourselves— in our own head— that it’s hard to feel safe with anyone else. 

The attacks that come from outside us are one thing.  Our ability to prepare for and defend against danger from without will always be imperfect. 

But we have far more influence over the attacks we launch against ourselves, in our own head. 

When abuse, neglect, or other trauma is a part of our personal history, we often arrive in adulthood with certain beliefs about ourselves. 

We often believe we’re not worthy. 

We often believe we are “born to suffer.” 

We often believe that there’s nothing we realistically CAN to to positively impact our quality of life. 

We often believe that if we express what we feel— or if we’re even too in touch with what we feel— it will lead to humiliation and punishment. 

We didn’t ask for these beliefs. We seem to arrive in adulthood with them fully formed— often because they’ve been conditioned in us for years in some of our most important relationships. 

We carry these beliefs around with us wherever we go— and even when we’re not explicitly focused on them, they impact our safety and stability in every context. Especially our relationships. 

It’s hard to feel safe with ANYBODY if we’re constantly on the verge of belittling ourselves for not being enough. 

It’s hard to feel stable in ANY situation when we’re so vulnerable to thoughts about how hopeless the situation is and hw helpless we are. 

It’s hard to feel secure in ANY relationship if we’re constantly subjected to memories and narratives in our own head bout how relationships are necessarily dangerous and deceptive. 

Many of those beliefs, attitudes and thoughts aren’t at the forefront of our minds all day, every day— but every trauma survivor can tel you how the lurk at the periphery of our minds. 

We can be spending time with or in a relationship with the most trustworthy, transparent person on the face of the planet— but if our nervous system is still responding to trauma cues from years of conditioning, it’s going to be really hard to meaningfully internalize that safety. 

If we’re going to meaningfully recover from trauma, particularly complex trauma (i.e., inescapable trauma that we endured over time or in close relationships), we need to prioritize making our internal world and our self-talk safer. 

We need to be serious and real about how the messages and treatment we received over the years shaped our nervous system and our belief systems. 

One of the reasons why trauma survivors can be confusing to people who aren’t looking through an explicitly trauma-informed lens is because the ways trauma impacts our ability and willingness to attach and take interpersonal risks isn’t always obvious or logical. 

Trauma has a way of making us feel REALLY “crazy.” 

We want closeness but we’re afraid of it. 

We want space but we get very lonely very quickly. 

We crave structure but we’re terrified of it. 

We need to understand but we know there are no words for so much of what we’ve been through. 

You need to know you’re not “crazier” than other people who struggle emotionally and behaviorally. Trauma impacts our nervous system in overwhelming, often unpredictable ways. 

But Job One in trauma recovery is always going to be making our internal world safer and more stable. 

If we want ANY external changes to register, we need to have a realistic handle on what’s happening inside of us.

One thought on “Why trauma recovery is an inside job.

  1. Doc, my heart was beating so fast by the time I finished reading this; must be what you’re referring to…oh, man, my nervous system is whacked? No wonder I can still be triggered even after so much time and hard work. Sheesh, I sure hope that’s not forever because it’s foundational?🙁


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