It’s not you, it’s your amygdala: How relational trauma can show up in your adult relationships
Our amygdala (the little almond shaped structure in your brain) plays a big role in how we process threat cues and alarms us to respond in a way that keeps us safe. In terms of relationships, the amygdala registers when certain people or experiences trigger our fight or flight response (we all have those people) and learns quickly how to protect us from harm. Here are some sneaky ways that self-protection mechanisms from relational trauma may now show up in your relationships:
You’re highly independent
Many of us think independence is the gold standard to healthy functioning. However, when used as a defence mechanism to keep us from the vulnerability of relying on others, a high degree of independence may be an underlying trauma response. This may show up as feelings of shame in asking for help, attempting to manage difficult experiences on your own, and refusing to lean on your friends or partners for support.
You feel responsible for managing people’s emotions
If we are raised by emotionally unavailable caregivers, or have been in relationships with partners who have an inability to be attuned to emotional needs, we learn to be responsible for regulating the emotions of others. This behaviour is condoned when we notice that our efforts in managing the emotions of others are rewarded by increased love, affection, connection, and approval. The good old amygdala strikes again, registering that our efforts to emotionally caretake others is often met by feeling more secure in these relationships. When we attempt to break the emotional caretaking cycle, our amygdala alarm bells sounds, noticing the feelings of anxiousness, isolation and guilt that can often be associated with breaking the emotional care-taking role.
You find yourself repeating the same toxic relationships
Whether you continuously find yourself in the same relationship and break-up cycle, or often feel like the rescuer saving your emotionally unavailable partners, it's not you… it's your amygdala! When we have experienced relational trauma in the past, it is not uncommon for our brain to register these often chaotic relationships as “normal”. Our amygdala feels at ease with familiarity because we have been down that road before, and repeating similar relationships can often be associated with less uncertainty, and a sense of predictability. For some, repeating destructive relationship cycles gives them an opportunity to re-experience their relational trauma, and try to change the outcome in an attempt to heal their past wounds. If this is you, you may find yourself falling for people you hope to save/change, or attracted to relationships with similar patterns to that of the dynamic between you and your caregivers.
To learn more about the sneaky ways our relational trauma may impact our adult relationships, book a session with Krisztina.