Rachel Sutherland is a Trauma and Abuse Therapist and Coach who helps people move on from their past and reclaim their future so that they can become more of who they really are.
When it comes to self-love, we’re often told we should love ourselves, and we’re given the message that if we can’t love ourselves, we can’t love anyone else – that self-love is the key to health, wealth, happiness and success.
That may be all very true, but when we’ve been traumatised, we’re not even connected to ourselves, let alone anyone else. Often, we don’t even know how we think and feel, let alone be able to access self-love.
Trauma Adaptation Patterns That Work Against Us
As if this being numb to ourselves isn’t a big enough block in itself, if we’ve been traumatised, we’ll have created patterns of adaptation to the trauma. Patterns that we created to enable us to cope during the time of duress and stress, but that now confusingly seem to have the opposite effect in our lives today.
We might push our loved ones away. We could find we only let people get so close but no closer. We keep people at arm’s length and end up feeling like we’re the ones on the outside looking in.
Sometimes we isolate ourselves completely.
These patterns are locked in place and driven by the limiting belief (or beliefs) that were created during the time of the trauma to help keep us safe from the same trauma happening again.
These limiting beliefs modify our behaviour and keep us from being and doing and saying those things that we believe will put us in danger again, whether we see that danger as being emotional, psychological or physical.
A Vicious Cycle
Love, whether that be for ourselves or others is what connects us – to both ourselves and others.
But if that connection has been lost or damaged through trauma, it’s likely we are only going to give ourselves love when we feel we deserve it.
It’s a vicious cycle because when we behave in the ways that are the result of trauma, we are filled with the self-blame and self-recrimination that are so characteristic of anyone who has suffered it.
Reclaiming Our Capacity for Self-Love
Daring to reconnect, or even just being willing to, is the first step we can take to reclaim our capacity to self-love.
We can start by reconnecting to our feelings, which is no walk in the park by any stretch when we’ve done such a good job in disconnecting ourselves from them. But it’s doable and possible, and is the initial stage of creating a caring and nurturing relationship with ourselves.
We can also acknowledge that when we behave in ways that we believe disqualify us from being worthy of love – when we push others away or isolate ourselves – that this is the part of us that was created by the trauma, to keep us safe from getting hurt again. It is not us. It is not who we are.
And even though that part of us exists through no fault of our own, it remains our responsibility.
We are still worthy of love, both from ourselves and others and the part that ‘acts out’ as a result of our having been traumatised needs our acknowledgement and compassion to begin to heal.
This is the seed of self-love.