In this episode, I'm explaining and simplifying the concept of traumatic re-enactment and talking about three common forms it shows up in our lives. Obsessing & Trying Really Hard, Self-Loathing & Self-Sabotage, and Fawning and People-Pleasing.
Episode Transcript Below:
What is Trauma Re-enactment?
Trauma re-enactment is the idea that when we have unresolved traumatic energy in our system, we tend to repeat or re-enact the trauma. Freud had a concept similar to this called repetition-compulsion. And many theorists think that this is the system’s subconscious way of seeking resolution and I tend to agree with aspects of that idea.
It is my personal belief that we are here to heal. That we have a responsibility to do the work of reconnecting with self and others and increasing our own regulation and embodiment to bring balance and regulation into the world. And to change the trajectory of future generations - our children, and our world. I really believe in my tagline - as you heal yourself you heal the world it’s so important to me and so close to my heart.
And part of healing is looking at the structures - emotional, and nervous system structures within us that cause us to get stuck in trauma loops and traumatic re-enactments. Once we recognize them and build awareness around them, we can start to gently break the loops and teach our brains and bodies new ways of functioning and relating in the world that come from a more authentic place. We can stop perpetuating and traumas and dramas from old family systems.
From the physiological perspective, taking into account the work of trauma pioneers like Dr. Allan Schore, Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Stephen Porges, and Dr. Bruce Perry, the brain
In Dr. Bruce Perry’s book - the boy who was raised as a dog, Dr. Perry talks about the brain’s tendency to organize through re-enactment. He writes about his experience with a little girl who witnessed her mother’s murder and was injured during the attack. He really beautifully writes about his sessions with her and how she would act out what the perpetrator had said to her and her mother and how she would tell Dr. Perry what to do and he would just witness it and allow the re-enactment to take place. He proposed that in this context in the therapeutic relationship, the re-enactment was helping her brain make sense of the event and take back some autonomy and control which is a really big part of our healing from trauma. He mentioned that sometimes this process of re-enactment can help the brain organize the event and de-sensitize the event. Eventually, he said, after quite a few sessions she stopped the re-enactment and she began to rock herself back and forth. And it was a really fresh perspective on traumatic re-enactment and the human brain. Especially in the context of a safe relationship.
In THIS podcast, I’m talking about unconscious ways we can re-enact our traumatic responses and experiences.
#1 Obsessing, Trying Really Hard, Desperation, Clinging
Obsessing - even obsession with healing and recovery - can be traumatic re-enactment. And, I know you’re like WHAAATTT! Isn’t it normal to eat, breathe, and sleep healing and recovery?!?
Well, it’s certainly normal to want freedom from the pain of trauma. And we could say that a normal part of recovery is going through this phase of obsessing and trying really hard to consume and understand everything and sort of attack your healing work like you would a big project in your professional life or something. I remember being there myself where I just needed to find the next thing that would WORK or give me a semblance of relief when i was in the thick of recovery.
And there are other ways we can obsess too, we can obsess about what other people think about us. We can try really hard at work and try really hard to keep our house clean and we can try really hard to prove ourselves to people.
And we can cling on to relationships and to other people - or to our jobs.
And it all comes from that same place of real desperation to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be validated.
And this comes from constantly being ignored, pushed aside, neglected, or abused in childhood. We learned how to work for love so conditional love patterning where you have to perform for affection and parents punish through withholding affection to show disapproval.
Or we learn to obsess and fantasize - so we can get into obsessive fantasies with novels and movies and escape reality and cling to the fantasy as a way to disconnect from what’s really going on in our real world.
Trying really hard is an insidious way that we re-enact also. This was one that really tripped me up along the way - it was a message from my inner-child calling out and saying can’t you see how hard I’m trying - because i had spent so much time trying to get my mom to love me. To be present with me. To appreciate me. To stop hurting me. And so somewhere along the way, my system got super stuck in the trying. And i didn’t see how much that trying and obsessing and desperation was hurting me, it was pushing people away and it was pushing things away that i really did genuinely want and desire.
Because i got so focused on the obsessing and desiring, but i had never experience what it was like to actually GET what i wanted. To RECEIVE.
Okay - it’s the receiving of love and connection that breaks the loop of trying really hard. And you can allow yourself to recieve love and connection by noticing how hard you are trying and acknowledging how hard it must have been to try try try and be constantly disappointed.
The cycle of holding out hope that a parent might finally keep their promise. Holding out hope that that emotionally unavailable guy will finally commit. Holding out hope that you might magically one day experience healing as if it suddenly will just come upon you.
These are all ways we learned to survive and escape the pain of some pretty horrible situations. And the reason it’s hard to break the loop is because obsessing and trying hard did work really well growing up. It really helped us escape the deeper pain of abandoment and misattunement and relational ruptures.
But in healing - we exchange the obsessive desperate clinging that comes from feeling unworthy and unloveable and damaged at our core. We exchange that modality for trust in ourselves that we are enough. And we want to embrace a more empowering and grounded exchange in our relationships with others where there is less clinging and obsessing and trying and more trust in our own worthiness. And our own ability to handle our lives and to trust that the right people, things, and opportunities will come. We want to come out of the overwhelming fear that we are missing something, or missing out on something.
#2 Self-Loathing & Self-Sabotage
Self-loathing is a trauma response particularly as it relates to childhood trauma. Because it comes from the system believing that cutting off the self through criticism and judgement is the only way to make it out alive. Survival again. It’s the deeply engrained belief that the self is useless and nothing.
And so the self-sabotage springs from here - because how can you nurture and love and deeply care for and work for the good of someone that you hate? And this is how we feel about ourselves. Usually this comes from family patterns of enmeshment - where it wasn’t safe to advance as an individual and be an individual and individuality is condemned in the family home.
In shaming and narcissistic family structures, the family is set up to be very enmeshed and codependent and everyone in the family plays their role. And there is role playing in every family, even healthy families. But in abusive homes it’s insidious and it cripples the children’s sense of self because they learn that success brings on abuse or punishment from the parents or other members of the family system and so they learn to blend in and hide their true nature. They stop having goals - and they may fall into addictive patterns and behaviours as a way of re-enacting the unresolved trauma of being unable to have a self and be the self.
This was a big one for me. After a successful music performance, or an achievement I would find that my mom would find a way to really shame me shortly thereafter. It was her way of showing me not to rise above her, or move beyond her. And so, even after I had ended my relationship with my mom I had this internal setting that caused me to back away from being seen or noticed or too successful and it caused a lot of procrastination and confusion for me until I identified what was happening under the surface.
And this is an unconscious thing that is carried on into adulthood until we recognize that our brains and nervous systems grew up in fear and shame and that we are interpreting self expression, self care and self-actualization as a threat because it threatens the connection to the tribe and the family unit.
#3 Fawning and People-Pleasing
Fawning and People-Pleasing aka codependency is of course another trauma re-enactment. It’s relational re-enactment and some call it trauma-bonding I decided recently that i am going to call it survival-bonding. Because that’s what it is - it is latching on to another out of a fear of being alone since we subconsciously know that being alone will ask us to look at some uncomfortable aspects of ourselves in the way of emotion and sensation. And, because we felt so alone for so long in our families. So, we learned how to get pseudo-connection through pleasing/approval seeking. And sometimes we learned to lessen the abuse. And so it gives us a way to perpetuate the old traumas and dramas of being and feeling used abandoned, responsible for someone else’s emotions - trying to fix someone else and soothe someone else’s pain as a way of offloading our own. And it doesn’t work.
And I will say there are many forms of this - there’s a spectrum and it can range from you know super harmful patterns to more minute ways of pleasing and fawning.
So, I want to normalize all this because i think the psychological jargon of trauma re-enactment and trauma bonds and all this can become a bit daunting and feel a little bit heavy.
So here’s the deal - there is no shame in any of this stuff. If you’re listening and you have the urge to go into the shame spiral and feel really bad about yourself, please understand that this is normal.
These are normal survival responses and patterning and the reason there is even psychological jargon around them is because they are common, lots of people have this kind of stuff going on and the pattern caused it to be categorized and named and looked into.
The thing with all of these patterns is they block us from being connected to ourselves, what we really want and they block us from having authentic connections to others as well. Because if we’re walking around life and living out a trauma re-enactments and projecting our past onto the other people around us, where is the room for real, deep, nourishing, and lasting connections. How can they emerge right?
So what we want to do to break these loops is to connect. To connect to our pain. To connect to our own story both our thought-stories but more importantly our body stories - our bodies have a lot to say to us - they have a lot of wisdom and they have a lot of stuff to present to us when we listen. When we learn to come back to them and approach our own systems from a curiously compassionate place.
So if you’re in a trauma drama right now if you find yourself feeling desperate, or people-pleasing, or hating yourself. The best thing to do is to understand this is a response to trauma. It is normal. And it is completely possible to step out of the trauma drama and live a real, authentic life from an embodied, connected place.
And, I gotta tell ya from someone who has stepped out of the trauma drama and into real life, it’s a much richer, deeper way to live. And it is worth the uncovering and the re-connecting and the journey which is always ongoing, to gain that deeper access to what i call the well which is really just the self - the essence, the core of who you are that i believe is untainted and unstained by trauma.
So I hope this has helped you. If you have questions go ahead and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the shownotes, I will have a link for you to work with me 1-1 if this is resonating with you, you can book a single session to get questions answered or you just feel you need a little extra support on an issue. AND, you can also work with me for 5 sessions if you want to really take it a bit deeper.
Okay - thanks so much for listening i love you guys. I love your courage and your persistence. I have nothing but gratitude for you all. Remember to continue forward in healing because as you heal yourself, you heal the world.