I have had to learn some high-powered tools to get me through serious rough patches in my marriage. There were times when both my partner and I thought that everything was coming apart at the seams and there might not be a way back to “good.” But we made it through. We keep making it through, due to those tools I learned years ago and practice daily. These tools are subtle, too. They deal in perception of the day-to-day, and they inform us toward minute adjustments in thought and behavior.
One of the most impactful of these tools deals with perception of violence. Some of the most insidious forms of violence are those little jibes and digs we give to one another. The quiet, almost imperceptible barbs we dole out and secretly hope go unnoticed. They don’t go unnoticed. We are sensate beings, and we feel even the little things. For people dealing with trauma, those little things affect us enormously. Us, because I am one: a person dealing with past trauma.
My history of trauma became crystal clear to me as I attempted to use my relationship tools. At first, I’ll be honest, my rage would unleash and there would be no control. Use a tool? Ha! I’d be lucky not to get physical. But the pain of hurting my partner would strike us both. Again I would try, and many times I would fail, over and over, until one day I could do it. I could observe my emotions but not become them. I could actually be calm. I could really relax. I could say my piece, and then listen without getting triggered.
It’s a process. And the trauma likes to stay as long as it can. It lives with you. It’s familiar. It’s occluded yet orchestrating your thoughts and behavior on autopilot. I remember fighting with my partner in the middle of the night. We were staying at his parents’ house. The fight escalated beyond control and I flew out of the bed, raced down the stairs, and began to whimper and hyperventilate on the floor in the corner like a wounded animal. My mother-in-law held me as my body involuntarily jerked from time to time. That is what trauma can do. That is what my trauma did to me. But it got better. I kept moving forward, acknowledging my faults, and integrating better thoughts and behaviors into my being.
For all my trauma’s little acts of violence, my true essence is peace. Love. Kindness. Gentleness. Heart. Connection. Here’s what I have been pondering: If we truly want to be the change we want to see in the world, as the famous Gandhi quote goes, we need to become aware of the little things. When we dig at others, we have to hold ourselves accountable. As we become more aware of those little ways we treat each other poorly, we can begin to ask ourselves what the feeling is behind that verbal jab. We can mentally make a note of the feeling, say it aloud to ourselves or to the other person, or even write it down. And hopefully heal our trauma. Because our trauma is not truly us.
Emotional intelligence is not a subject in elementary school, yet we learn about emotions by observing others. They do as we do, not as we say. I learned from my parents, they from theirs. If you are a parent or spend lots of time with kids, displaying better emotional intelligence will be a great lesson to them. It can be difficult to start to observe your own emotions and even more difficult to parse out what the underlying feelings are. Sometimes we feel fear and sadness, or excitement and doubt, at the same time, making it a challenge to identify what’s really going on, especially in the midst of dealing with past trauma.
What is the first step, you might ask? How do I “be the change I wish to see in the world?” I will start for you. I have shared my story with you, and I feel vulnerable. Now, how do you feel?
I am ready to listen.