Money issues can trigger the hell out of us.

Financial strain can be stressful for many people. 

But for complex trauma survivors, financial stress can be a particular kind of trigger. 

In our culture, money isn’t just money. 

Money is often the thing that stands between us and danger. 

Money is supposedly the thing that ensures safe, stable housing. Money is the thing that supposedly ensures that we’ll have food to eat and feed our pets. 

When money is uncertain, our safety is uncertain. 

On top of that, our culture attaches all sorts of moral connotations to money. 

We live in a culture that often implicitly— or even explicitly— tells us that hard working, virtuous people make money. That “hard work pays off,” and people who have a sufficient work ethic don’t have to worry about money. 

When our income is insufficient or uncertain, many trauma survivors tend to process that fact through a shame-bound lens. It connects RIGHT to our trauma-based beliefs that we are not good enough…and the “proof” of that belief is right in front of our eyes, in our lack of funds. 

Again: it’s not news that money can be an overwhelming source of stress for many people. 

In my view, we don’t pay NEAR enough attention to how seemingly unsolvable financial problems contribute to emotional and behavioral struggles with addiction and suicidality. 

Our culture has been loath to acknowledge that poverty by itself can be a traumatic stressor, even if abuse or other widely acknowledged traumatic stressors aren’t involved.

Even therapists get a little “crazy” around money, in my experience. 

I have always had a personal struggle charging people for my services as a therapist. It’s my experience that the people I most want to work with, the people who I feel can benefit most from my skills and experience, are usually the least able to pay the gong rate for my time. 

Thus, over the years, I built up a large caseload of people I saw either for free or steeply discounted rates. 

When I would try to talk about my conundrum with other therapists, I would frequently get an odd response: they told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for “charging what I’m worth.” 

Over and over again I was told that my problem was a self-esteem issue— and that if I worked on my own issues, I’d feel better about charging people for therapy. 

Don’t get me wrong— I’m sure my own trauma baggage does play a certain role in my beliefs and feelings about money. But this response— again, mostly from other therapists— always seemed to miss the point of WHY I struggled to charge my patients. 

The reason I’m telling you this story in this blog post is because I find it really interesting how quickly, even among therapists, money comes to represent something bigger than just the means by which we pay for resources. 

It becomes about self-esteem, self-worth…and the fact that I’m still reluctant to charge my patients seems to, at least for some people, boil down to the idea that there’s a piece of m own personal development work that I’ve been reluctant to do. 

Yeah. Money’s a big deal, emotionally. And a PARTICULARLY big deal when our history includes abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma. 

Do not shame yourself for getting a little— or a lot— triggered when money is an issue. 

We cannot escape having to deal with money in our culture— which means we cannot escape having to confront our feelings about or memories involving money, either. 

In the end, we need to remember that money is just like any subject that we’re going to encounter in our trauma recovery: a subject that is potentially loaded with meaning, and one around which we need to remember our tools and skills. 

Do NOT fall into the trap of overidentfying with your bank balance. 

Do NOT fall into the trap of letting your financial struggles reinforce your shame-bound trauma beliefs. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re going to have some seasons where money is tight, and other seasons where it’s relatively secure in your experience. 

Remember that nothing is permanent— and that’s the good news. 

You are not weird, wrong, or weak because money triggers you. It triggers a LOT of people. 

Breathe; blink; focus. 

And handle today, today. 

Trauma will try to SHRED your relationship with yourself.

One of the most common, most devastating effects of trauma is how it affects our internal dialogue. 

Trauma absolutely hijacks how we talk to ourselves. 

And it can just SHRED our relationship with ourselves. 

In trauma recovery, one of the first things we do is start listening to how we talk to ourselves. 

(This is especially true if we’re struggling with a dissociative disorders, in which case how we talk to the various PARTS of ourselves, and how they talk to each other, is going to be a BIG part of recovery.) 

For a lot of people, listening to how we talk to ourselves doesn’t come naturally. 

Often we don’t even REALIZE we’re talking to ourselves— but we are. Constantly. 

Sometimes our self-talk is more verbal; sometimes less. But we’re ALWAYS communicating with ourselves. 

We’re always interpreting the world to ourselves. 

We’re always telling ourselves narratives— stories about what things mean, who we are, what we’re all about. 

Trauma has a way of seeping into those narratives— so insidiously that we very often don’t even realize it. 

People who grow up being abused often tell themselves stories about how they must have “deserved” it, or even “asked” for it, somehow. 

People who grow up neglected often tell themselves stories about how it must be THEIR fault that they didn’t get what they needed— they must not have been attractive enough, interesting enough, or otherwise “good” enough to be loved. 

We tell ourselves these stories not because we hate ourselves— we buy into these narratives because our brain SOMEHOW has to make sense of what the hell is going on. 

Traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect aren’t normal. The human organism isn’t designed to just handle them. 

We ARE designed to figure out how the world works and what things mean, so we can survive and thrive in the world— so when we’re exposed to atypical occurrences like abuse or neglect, our brain does what our brain was designed to do: it creates a story out of it. 

Those stories very often lead us to feel like sh*t about ourselves. 

Thing is, we don’t KNOW they’re just stories. We think those stories about how supposedly “worthless’ we are and how we supposedly “deserved” what happened to us are real. After all, they FEEL “right,” don’t they? 

(They actually feel more “familiar” than anything— but our brains aren’t great at parsing those issues out, especially when we’re young.) 

These are just a few examples of how trauma messes with what we say to ourselves and damaged our relationship with ourselves— often without us even realizing it at the time. 

If we want to realistically recovery from trauma, we have to pay lots of attention to that internal dialogue and that relationship with ourselves. 

We can’t just let it go on autopilot. 

Remember, autopilot in this case is the conditioning that our trauma left us with. Those old stories that sound “right” because they are familiar. 

There IS no meaningful trauma recovery without repairing and reimagining our relationship with ourselves. 

And there IS no repairing or reimagining our relationship with ourselves IF we don’t pay attention to how we talk to ourselves. 

It’s real important we not call ourselves names. 

It’s real important we err on the side of having our own back. 

It’s real important we get, and consistently STAY, on our own side. 

Yes, it’s a hassle. A lot of recovery IS a hassle. 

It’s also worth it, because YOU’RE worth it. 

No matter what kind of story your brain is telling you right now. 

Yeah. Trauma bonding is definitely a thing.

Trauma can sometimes get us in our heads about our attachments— to people, families, organizations, and institutions. 

We very often feel “crazy”— or worse— for feeling the way we feel about people or organizations that caused us pain. 

It seems we hear the term “trauma bonding” thrown around a lot in online discourse. Just today I saw a thread with credentialed mental health practitioners disagreeing about whether it was “real.” 

Trauma bonding is a phenomenon where we feel attached to people or organizations that abused us or otherwise caused us pain. 

The term “trauma bond” is—like many terms in psychology— more of a description than an explanation of anything. That is, we see this thing happen, and this is what we call it when trauma is involved. 

The reason the concept of “trauma bonding” CAN be useful is because we often come through traumatic experiences with scrambled expectations and experiences of how we “should” feel and behave. 

On the surface, it may SEEM to make no sense that we’d feel attached, let alone in some ways positively, toward a person or organization that hurt us. 

The fact that we often DO have mixed feelings about those people or organizations can lead us to believe that maybe the abuse, neglect, or other trauma wasn’t that bad. 

After all, if it WAS that bad, wouldn’t I just want to get the hell out of there and never look back? 

If the “trauma” WAS that bad, wouldn’t I just reject that person or that church or whatever, and feel nothing but hate and contempt toward them? 

But we know that’s often not survivors’ experience. 

When we are in relationship with a person or organization for a prolonged period of time, we very often developed layered, nuanced, stable relationships with them. 

This is especially true if we are dependent upon that person or organization for physical survival, or if an organization or group is our main (or only!) source of connection or social support. 

As we recover from trauma, it’s important that we avoid the minefield that some people REALLY want to drag us into— of feeling responsible for our own trauma. 

Some people would LOVE for us to believe that we played a part in it— and that to assert otherwise is to affirm “victim mentality” that will only keep us stuck. 

They’ll tell us, well, if you didn’t or don’t HATE your abuser, if you kind of MISS aspects of your abuser, if you didn’t LEAVE that supposedly abusive situation over the course of years…you must not have found it TOO painful, huh? 

It’s important we not fall into that trap, because one of the most common struggles trauma survivors face is blaming ourselves for what we went through (a tendency that the culture is only too happy to reinforce). 

That’s why it’s important to understand that trauma bonding IS a thing. 

OF COURSE we’re going to have mixed feelings about people and organizations we were involved with and/or dependent upon for decades. 

But experiencing a trauma bond doesn’t mean you LIKED it. 

It doesn’t mean you ASKED for it. 

Critics of the concept of “trauma bonding” assert that there’s nothing particularly special about the bonds trauma survivors form with their abusers— that it’s sufficiently explained by attachment theory. 

That discounts the stigma survivors experience about having mixed feelings about their abusers. 

There’s no question influencers often co-opt psychological and/or trauma concepts and publicize them in ways that make them easy to misunderstand or misapply. 

But it’s overwhelmingly important that we— survivors in trauma recovery— are VERY clear on the fact our responses to what we experienced are going to be a mixed bag. 

You are GOING to have responses that don’t seem to make any sense. 

That’s okay. That’s normal. 

You just focus on you. Just focus on today. 

Your needs; your challenges; the skills, tools, and resources YOU need to make it through TODAY— and move forward in your recovery .001%. 

Do not let the word “trauma” freak you out.

Do not get freaked out by the words “trauma,” “dissociation,” or even “recovery.” 

I know— they ARE evocative words. And they DO refer to serious concepts. 

But there are lots and LOTS of people who won’t go NEAR the skills, tools, and philosophies of trauma recovery— skills, tools, and philosophies that could help them feel and function a LOT better on the daily— because they don’t feel that they “belong” in the tribe of trauma survivors. 

Trauma does this thing where it tries to convinces us that we’re not REALLY “trauma survivors.” 

It does its best to throw doubt into us about whether what we experienced REALLY qualifies as abuse or neglect. 

Trauma likes to convince us we’re big fakers— regardless of what we have or haven’t experienced in our lifetimes, or what we do or don’t experience now in terms of symptoms. 

The concepts associated with trauma— especially “abuse” and “neglect” often evoke shame and doubt in us. 

We don’t want to think about them. We very much don’t want them to have been real, actual parts of our life story. 

And we DEFINITELY don’t like the idea that things that happened to us once upon a time are still affecting us in our daily functioning. 

We have ALL kinds of feelings about how “weak” or “screwed up” that would make us. 

So we try to keep it all at arm’s length. 

I’m not REALLY one of those “trauma” people, we tell ourselves. 

I’m not one of those people who are stuck in a “victim” mindset, always focusing on their past “trauma,” we say. 

We spin this whole fantasy that if we don’t use the words associated with trauma and recovery, then it’s not quite real. 

Maybe we can just opt out of it if we don’t acknowledge it, we think. 

The thing is: our nervous system doesn’t especially care if we use ANY of the language associated with trauma or trauma recovery. 

Whether or not we like or buy into the word “trauma,” our nervous system was STILL injured in EXACTLY the way it was injured. 

We STILL have EXACTLY the symptoms we have. 

We STILL need EXACTLY the time, space— and skills, tools, and philosophies— we need to meaningfully recover. 

I completely understand why anyone— hell, everyone— might be ambivalent about making “trauma survivor” part of their identity. 

The culture does its best to reinforce that ambivalence, by telling us that too many people are identifying as “trauma survivors,” especially on the internet. 

All I know is what I know: the hundreds of people I’ve worked with in trauma recovery have very rarely (that is: never) had a problem OVER-identifying as trauma survivors. 

Most of them have had the exact OPPOSITE problem: actually identifying things that have happened in their past as having had the painful, cumulative impact they ACTUALLY had. 

That is to say: the problem, from my point of view, ISN’T that “too many” people are identifying as trauma survivors. 

The bigger problem I’ve seen is that too many trauma survivors have been shamed and gaslit into rejecting the very IDEA that they COULD benefit from the skills, tools, and philosophies of trauma recovery. 

Don’t let the label freak you out. 

Look past the label— for now— and peep the skills, tools, and philosophies we’re talking about. 

Are there things in the trauma recovery paradigm that would help YOU be safer and more stable, today? 

Are there things in the trauma recovery paradigm that would help YOU feel and function better, today? 

Then let’s not get lost in the vocabulary. 

Let’s get to work creating a life worth living, TODAY. 

Yeah. Addictions and eating disorders are seductive. But…

Behaviors like addiction or eating disorders can be seductive. 

They whisper in our ear constantly. 

They don’t get tired. They don’t get discouraged. 

And they stay on message— that message being: “your problem will be solved if you just Do The Thing.” 

The problem in question could be whatever. 

It could be something we’re feeling. It could be a practical problem we’re struggling with. 

But whatever the problem is, our addiction or eating disorder WILL find a way to frame just Doing The Thing as a perfectly reasonable solution. 

The thing about addictions and eating disorders that we need to understand is, they have access to ALL of our data. 

That is, they KNOW us. They know us WELL. 

They have access to ALL of our past experiences. ALL of our hopes. ALL of our fears. 

And they are NOT shy about USING the access they have to our data. 

The strategy your addiction or eating disorder will employ to get YOU to Do The Thing will be tailored to YOU. 

Whether our addiction or eating disorder chooses to use our most personal hopes or our most dreaded fears against us on an particular day will depend upon the state of mind we’re in, whatever is most real and important to us on that particular day. 

Yes. That’s how good addictions and eating disorders are at picking and choosing their tactics. 

Once we know what our addiction or eating disorder “sounds” like, we can begin to create strategies fo dealing with their shenanigans— but we have to keep in mind that addictions and eating disorders are ENDLESSLY adaptable. 

They are REALLY good at not “sounding” like themselves. 

Addictions and eating disorders are kind of masters of disguise that way. 

In the end, though, they always tip their hand. 

Remember that your addiction or eating disorder DOESN’T care about you. 

They’ll SAY they do— but they don’t. Not really. 

They just want you to Do The Thing. 

And that, ultimately, is what makes them so recognizable— the fact that they always bring the “conversation” back to how Doing The Thing will Solve The Problem. 

Any ultimately successful strategy for managing an addiction or eating disorder has to start with an unambiguous commitment: that Doing The Thing is off the table. 

Once we COMMIT to the principle that we won’t Do The Thing, no matter WHAT ingenious, seductive argument our addiction or eating disorder comes up with, we are ultimately indomitable. 

We WILL win. 

But our addiction or eating disorder WON’T go down without a fight. 

They’ll try to adapt. They’ll TRY to tap into all of your very personal data, they’ll TRY to take advantage of the mood you’re in right now, they’ll TRY to take advantage of your energy level and even your deepest, darkest fears. 

All to get you to Do The Thing. 

Wanna know a secret, though? 

Our addictions and/or eating disorders can’t MAKE us do anything. 

They can’t GET you to do a goddamn thing. 

They need YOU to Do The Thing. 

All they can do is try to convince you, try to coerce you, try to scare you, into Doing The Thing. 

Remember that. 

As seductive, as persuasive, as coercive, as scary as addictions and eating disorders are, they are ultimately limited. 

They are ultimately powerless. 

When they next try to get in your head, remember this blog. 

Recognize your addiction or eating disorder, even in disguise. 

And remember these four words: they can’t make you. 

It’s about more than thoughts and feelings.

Lots of complex trauma symptoms aren’t just thoughts and feelings. 

When we think of psychological struggles, we often think of painful thoughts and feelings. 

Very often discussions of psychotherapy revolve around cognitive therapy— a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts and feelings. 

When we think of therapy or recovery meetings, we think of people talking to each other about their feelings. 

But many times trauma symptoms, notably flashbacks, AREN’T confined to thoughts or feelings. 

Rather, we “feel” them…everywhere. 

Lots of people reading this know what it’s like to get triggered, to be thrust into flashback…and for our ENTIRE body to respond. 

My own pattern of physical responsiveness when I’m triggered is shaking and shivering. 

Often we’re not even all that aware of the thoughts or feelings that accompany getting triggered, because our body’s physical reactions are so overwhelming. 

Sometimes when we’re triggered we’re actually separated from our thoughts and feelings, at least for a moment, by dissociation. 

When we experience an emotional flashback in particular, it’s not so much that we’re thinking in child-like ways or feeling things we felt as a child (though that does happen)— it’s that we feel LIKE a child. 

In my experience, talking ourselves through a flashback or abreaction is incredibly important— but it’s only the start. 

The aftereffects of abuse, neglect, and other trauma don’t just distort our thinking or hurt our feelings— they get hard wired into the physical cells and reflexes of our body. 

Because of this, many trauma therapists feel that physical movement and soothing is central to trauma recovery. 

Some theorists, such as Peter Levine, believe that getting trapped in traumatic situations short circuits our instinct to flee and escape a dangerous situation— and that to resolve trauma symptoms, we need the opportunity to physically discharge the energy from our thwarted escape attempt. 

Many people who utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) techniques in their therapy or recovery describe its impact not just on their thoughts and feelings, but on their overall physical reactivity. 

Some people report that tapping on various points of their face and body, like proponents of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) recommend, helps create change in their body as well as their thoughts and feelings as they work to integrate trauma. 

People who have experimented with the “HeartMath” technique report a similar phenomenon— that it takes their recovery work beyond thoughts and feelings, and anchors it in their physical self. 

The research literature on what works and doesn’t work in trauma recovery can be complicated and sometimes confusing. There are valid criticisms of the way psychological research is conducted in general— and it’s hard to make generalizations about what will work for specific people, based on what’s performed well in a research trial. 

People and their traumatic experiences can be very, very different from each other. 

What works to heal them may look very, very different— and it may not necessarily conform to the “by the book” application of ANY known healing technique. 

What we DO know is that healing often has to go beyond what we think and feel. 

Trauma hits is in the body as well as the mind— so we have to pay attention to our body if we want to realistically recover. 

This might mean more than talk therapy or support groups. 

Keep an open mind. 

Keep your recovery focused on you. 

And remember: it’s not just about thoughts and feelings. 

I think I heard somewhere that “the body keeps the score.” 

No. You’re not an “oversensitive needy piece of sh*t.”

I hate when people oversimplify the concept of “ask for what you need.” 

With complex trauma survivors it’s just not that simple. 

Complex trauma survivors have not only a complicated relationship with our needs— we have a complicated relationship with the very IDEA of HAVING needs. 

Of all the words that tend to be repulsive to a complex trauma survivor, “needy” is among the MOST repulsive. 

We’ve often learned to blame ourselves— specifically, the fact that we have needs— for what happened to us. 

Sometimes we’ve had experiences where we HAVE expressed our needs, we HAVE asked for our needs to be met— and had it all used against us. 

Sometimes when we’ve expressed our needs, we’ve been mocked. 

Sometimes we’ve been ignored. 

Sometimes we’ve been refused in ways that were cruel— even scarring.

The thing about the very concept of having “needs” is, it’s necessarily entwined with the concept of vulnerability. 

Complex trauma survivors tend to be EXQUISITELY aware of how vulnerable expressing our needs makes us. 

After all, when we express our needs— let alone ask for them to be filled— we are showing someone else a vulnerable side of ourselves. 

I HATE when people frame “ask for what you need” as a matter of courage versus fear. 

It’s just not that simple specially for victims of abuse and neglect. 

I’ll spoil the suspense: you’re NOT an “oversensitive, needy piece of sh*t” for just wanting— or needing— to be comforted when you’re feeling sh*tty…no matter how you feel. 

(Yes, I took that turn of phrase word for word from someone— not a patient of mine— who expressed feeling that way.) 

Needing comfort does not make you child-like. 

Needing support does not make you weak. 

Most human needs are universal— and when we’ve had experiences like abuse or neglect that deplete our resources and damage our nervous system, those needs become even more important. 

After all, as Abraham Maslow hypothesized, it’s really hard to get higher level needs, like self-esteem, met, if we’re still struggling with more basic needs, like shelter or safety. 

If you feel a certain kind of way about having needs, let alone expressing them, you’re not alone. 

If you struggle to identify your needs, you’re not alone. 

If you struggle to believe that you are worthy of getting even your most basic needs, like safety or comfort, met, you’re not alone. 

You need to know that that ambivalence about getting your needs met isn’t about fear or weakness. It’s about what you’ve been through. 

Complex trauma survivors, by definition, know the cost of vulnerability. 

We know the potential costs of being expressive about our needs. 

We know that there really ARE people and institutions out there that WILL take advantage of our neediness. That’s not our post traumatic imagination— that’s real. 

The thing is: it’s far, far riskier to NOT be in touch with your needs, than it is to realistically acknowledge your needs. 

Yes, we often have to pick and choose how and to whom we express our needs. Yes, the pool of safe people to be openly “needy” around is often smaller than we’d prefer. 

But we’re not gonna realistically recover if we deny, disown, and stuff our needs indefinitely. 

Needs, like feelings, don’t stay stuffed. 

As the saying goes, we banish them to the basement— and they go down there and lift weights. 

It’s never “just” grief.

It’s never “just” grief. 

Grief and loss have a way of triggering so much more than grief. 

Coping with a loss is bad enough— but very often, especially for trauma survivors, grief and loss trigger a cascade of symptoms and memories that just make everything else more complicated and painful. 

If you have an addiction, grief has a way of turning up the heat and making your well-rehearsed coping and safety strategies seem far away. 

If you struggle with an eating disorder, your ED will often find a way to twist your experience of grief into a perfectly reasonable-sounding argument for why you’d feel better if you just skipped a meal or three. 

If you struggle with depression, grief has a way of making all the work you’ve done in learning to talk to yourself in more realistic, compassionate ways seem stupid and trivial. 

If you struggle with complex trauma, grief has a way of throwing open the doors to memories that you may have thought you’d processed— or you may have not even been aware of— to come flooding in. 

Our temptation is often to try to compartmentalize grief. To keep it over here, until we feel we have the bandwidth to return to it. 

But grief is like trauma in that it has a tendency to quietly seep over and under every psychological barrier we try to put in its path. 

The thing about grief is, it doesn’t hit the same way twice. 

Sometimes a loss hits us and knocks the wind out of us— leaving us almost dissociated from it’s true impact. I always think of the character of Pete Campbell on “Mad Men,” who, after he was informed his father had been killed in a plane crash, blankly asked Don Draper, “Am I going to cry?” 

Some losses feel like they tear right through you. Literally shred you. 

Some losses feel like an atomic blast that you see and hear from miles away, unfolding in slow motion, almost unreal. 

Very often a loss will trigger some of our least adaptive coping strategies to surface and do their thing. 

It’s really, really hard to take care of ourselves when we’re hit by a loss. 

The temptation can often be to try to take care of everyone around us. Part of us might think we can keep our grief at arm’s length if we reframe OUR responsibility here. 

But we can’t. Not really. 

Even if grief is kept at arm’s length— it’ll wait there, patiently, until our arm gets tired. 

We need to remember, when we get hit with a loss, that the game hasn’t changed in terms of what we need to do to protect our safety and stability. 

The temptation is to throw out all our recovery stuff. 

I did that once, when impacted by a loss. I don’t recommend it. 

It’s REAL important that we remember the things we’e established we NEED on the daily to stay stable and safer. 

I’m always talking about how we don’t get days off from recovery— and that includes days when we’re trying to keep our head above water after a loss. 

The basic tools of recovery— internal communication, self-compassion, time and energy management, activation of internal resources, safe space imagery— all become EXTRA important when we’re grieving. 

Everybody reading this has had to cope with loss. Everybody reading this has had, and will have, to face the question of how do we stay stable and safer even as we grieve. 

The answer to that is the same as the answer to a lot of other “in recovery, how do I…?” questions. 

One day at a time. 

Trauma can make us allergic to small talk.

You and I are not for everyone— and that’s okay. 

Although there’s going to be a voice in your head that is going to try, hard, to insist that it’s NOT okay. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve had experiences in your life that not everybody is going to understand. 

Those experiences may not be easy to explain. Trying to explain them may cause embarrassment or spike shame in us. 

The reactions and responses those experiences have created in us may not be easy to explain. And they’re often VERY difficult for other people to understand. 

The truth is, after we’ve ben through certain things, our capacity to relate to other people is often altered. 

We often have difficultly relating to people who can’t, or won’t, understand what we’ve been through. 

And we can’t just ignore that fact. 

It took me a long time to accept that I was never probably going to have a relationship of much depth with people who didn’t share at least some of the experiences I’ve had. 

Because there’s no explaining— not really— what I go through when my addiction is pouring poison in my ear. 

There’s no explaining— not really— what I go through when my instinctive fear and hatred of abandonment is spiked because of something in the present that’s triggered memories of the past. 

I may WANT to explain those things to someone— but the real truth is, not everybody on the planet is going to “get” it. Not really. 

So we’re faced with the reality that having experienced certain things DOES kind of limit the pool of human beings with whom we’re probably going to have particularly deep friendships or relationships. 

This used to make me really sad. 

Like every complex trauma survivor, I was already convinced that there was something “wrong” with me, and I didn’t feel I could particularly AFFORD for the pool of friends and relationship partners out there to be any smaller than it already was. 

Now, I feel a little differently. 

One of the things experiencing trauma tends to do to many people, myself included, is it decimates any inclination we ever had to engage in small talk or superficial conversations. 

It took me a LONG time to realize that my massive social anxiety was at least partially due to the fact that my past has left me almost allergic to talking about the weather. 

I know now that the people with whom I’m ever going to be particularly close are probably going to be those people who, like me, like to dive deep— who see no point in playing in the shallow end of the pool. 

I know I’m not for everyone. My intensity; my complexity; my struggles and what I’ve had to do to conquer and contain those struggles— they’re all working against me when it comes to establishing and enjoying uncomplicated relationships. 

But I know now that’s okay. 

I know now that those experiences, as painful as they’ve been, have actually made it so that I’m FORCED to examine the questions of what I want and need in relationships. 

They’ve FORCED me to ask questions about who I am that I might not have otherwise gotten around to. 

 I wouldn’t say I’m grateful for these reflective opportunities. I’m not, particularly. 

But I am at the point where I don’t hate the fact that my past has probably limited my prospects for friendships and relationships. 

After all, who wants to talk about the weather anyway? 


Dealing with regret in trauma recovery can be really tricky. 

A lot of trauma recovery is letting go of things we weren’t responsible for and accepting things we could not change. 

That work is hard enough for most survivors. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that the things we endured were our fault. 

Often in recovery, we’re exhorted to “take responsibility” for our lives— which, to a lot of people, seems to mean blaming ourselves for whatever we went through and the emotions and behaviors that have developed in the aftermath. 

What we learn in trauma recovery is that the truth of “taking responsibility” is often nuanced: while it ABSOLUTELY requires us to take responsibility for the choices and responses we DO have influence over, it also requires us to place appropriate blame on the bullies and abusers who caused us pain in the past, and relinquish our need to control emotions and behaviors that we DON’T have influence over. 

Sorting through all of that can be a bitch. It can take awhile. We can’t rush it and we can’t be glib about it. 

Then there’s regret. Things we did, and wish we hadn’t. Things that we wish every day we had the chance to do over or undo. 

Sometimes our regrets are related to our trauma history, but in my experience, often they’re not. 

My own regrets deal mostly with my relationship history. 

My brain loves to remind me of times when I didn’t express things I should have expressed; when my boundaries were either too rigid or too relaxed; when I prioritized my comfort and what I perceived to be my emotional safety over authenticity and intimacy. 

I can look at my relationship history and see where my experience as a survivor of complex trauma influenced my behavior in relationships and friendships—  but while contextualizing my behavior can help explain some of it, it doesn’t change that a lot of my relationship decisions in the past strike me now as infuriatingly immature and inauthentic. 

When we think of our regrets, we tend to cringe. 

And for survivors of complex trauma, it’s REAL easy to let that train of thought lead us to a pretty dark place. 

Complex trauma survivors often believe we are broken. That we just can’t function normally, especially in relationships. That we’re hopeless and may as well not even try to get close to people. 

The truth is, human beings of EVERY background struggle with relationships at times, and making poor relationship decisions shouldn’t mean a “sentence” of lifelong loneliness for ANYONE; but because complex trauma survivors come with the baggage we come with, it’s easy for us to get into that groove when we’re reflecting on our relationship history. 

It is for me, anyway. 

If you follow my work, you know the emphasis I place on self-compassion. Talking ourselves through rough moments. Being on our own side, having our own back. 

It’s REALLY hard to do that when we’ve been ruminating on our regrets. Particularly our relationship failures. 

The bitch of it is: it’s in those moments, when it’s REALLY hard, that it’s MOST important to be on our own side. 

To have our own back. To not abandon ourselves. 

To not buy in to what we were told about ourselves once upon a time by our bullies and abusers. To not repeat the behavior of our bullies and abusers toward us. 

Tonight, I’m really struggling with relationship regrets. And, just like many survivors of complex trauma, i’m convinced that nobody in the universe could possibly understand my pain, its complexity, its nuance. 

After all, I, like every complex trauma survivor out there, believe that I’m fundamentally alone in my pain, fundamentally unique in my brokenness. 

But I’m not. 

And part of me knows that, too. 

It’s a part of me I’ve developed, on purpose, in the course of my recovery. 

We all need to cultivate a part of us that can sit with the hurt, angry, lonely part of us on nights like this one— when thinking about our regrets has led us down a path. 

We cultivate that compassionate, supportive part of ourselves the same way we develop any part of us: one day at a time, with intentionality and consistency. 

You’re not alone. 

Neither am I.