I believe that relational trauma survivors who embark on romantic relationships are as
In this spirit, I offer the following Trauma Survivors in Love (TSIL) preparation guidelines:
1. Understand what you are embarking on;
2. Practice resilience & strength-building routines;
3. Build trust. Be each other’s allies;
4. Gather safety equipment, safety protocols & First Aid Kit;
5. Gather support teams.
This final part of the series covers the fifth guideline.
5) GATHER YOUR SUPPORT TEAMS (DON’T TRY TO BE EACH OTHER’S ONLY SUPPORT!)
Your support team is everything. They are your base camp. They help you prepare for a tough climb. They take care of you when you fall.
It is important for every TSIL to gather a support team that suits them.
This can look a lot of different ways.
Over the years I have gathered solid and trustworthy healing/teaching/support teams that at times have included clinical herbalists, somatic therapists, chiropractors, physical therapists, yoga teachers, psychotherapists, spiritual teachers, body workers, intuitives, Chinese medicine practitioners, plant and animal allies, business coaches, and various learning, healing, social justice and practice communities.
Your healing team may include doctors, naturopaths, psychiatrists, chiropractors, pastors, priestesses, rabbis, lamas, physical therapists, herbalists, personal trainers, energy workers, spiritual guides, massage therapists, doulas, psychics, etc. Whoever meets your particular needs.
I find it enormously helpful to work with practitioners from different disciplines and perspectives. I embody the same trauma dynamics and healing potentials wherever I go, so these practitioners may be seeing and telling me similar things.
But the combination of overlap, repetition and unique languaging helps me absorb the healing that I need. The varied interventions support holographic learning within my body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
You get to interview, hire and fire your practitioners as you see fit and as your needs change. This article offers a thoughtful, detailed breakdown of how to choose a therapist; you can apply the same approach when choosing other kinds of practitioners.
Sometimes it is crucial to work with practitioners who share your life experience, ethnicity, class background, or values.
If you need a practitioner who “gets” specific aspects of your or your community’s oppression, then look for them, and persist. If your body cannot relax in the presence of folks who have more privilege than you, then respect that.
At the same time, listen to your intuition and allow yourself to be surprised. The universe is mysterious, and sometimes we “click” and find deep healing with someone who we initially wouldn’t think we could trust.
As much as possible,* avoid overlapping with your partners’ practitioners and healing/learning communities. One reason is to make that space I talked about in part 3; giving each other space reduces reactivity.
Another reason is that you want your team to be your safe haven over the long haul. Break-ups happen. Can you handle running into your ex at every healing community gathering, or at your therapist’s office?
Let the prospective practitioner know what your life challenges and goals are, and ask them how they can support you to be your best self in your romantic relationship(s).
Make sure they are either trauma savvy, or that they see and deeply respect you, and are competent in their field.
Don’t try to see too many practitioners at once, or study with too many learning communities. I cannot give you a number.
How much is enough versus too much is up to you. Avoid running from appointment to appointment, or receiving too much input to put into practice.
Less is more.
Consider diving deeply into a handful of approaches and practices for a few years, so that your body feels at home and you can learn through repetition. Repetition is the key to embodied, sustained change.
Repetition + the right team = results.
You know you are working with the right team when get results. What do results look like?
Specific, goal-oriented results can take months or years to clearly manifest, but you might be able to notice the small steps you are taking towards your goals.
One result that should become obvious early on is a steady, gradual increase in your compassion and love for yourself.
Sustainable healing is an ever changing balance of challenge and nurture. A trustworthy healing practitioner will consistently treat you with compassion, while encouraging your body-mind to move beyond comfort zones and stagnant modes.
Not everyone on your team needs to fully embody both gentleness and challenge. Some practitioners will love you roughly; some will exude lovingkindness. You need to receive both, in the proportions that work for you.
These proportions may look different across the physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
To give a personal example, I am someone who thrives on emotional and spiritual challenges, such as intuitive reader trainings and rigorous meditation retreats.
The opposite is true for my mind and body: Engaging in very “heady” activities creates too much mental struggle. My body shuts down with harsh treatments such as allopathic drugs, painful bodywork or aerobics.
So my mind and body need more gentleness than my spirit or emotions do, although at all levels I respond best to compassionate presence.
Since I learned these things about myself, I have been able to choose my practitioners accordingly.
I allow myself to engage in fairly demanding spiritual and emotional disciplines, choose mental practices that soothe my chattering mind, and physical practices that are subtle and spacious, such as craniosacral bodywork, flower essences or acupuncture.
I encourage you to find out which combinations of effort and ease are most nourishing for your particular body/mind/emotions/spirit.
Overall, your team should challenge and nurture you, and give you plenty of examples of what challenging and nurturing yourself looks like.
Working with your team over time (and providing them with feedback and course corrections) will teach you when and how to shift between self-nurturing and self-challenging modes.
I introduced the Sandbox Approach to relationships in Part 2; establishing self-care routines and self-stewarding your trauma healing are essential preparation for applying this approach to relationships.
To recap, the Sandbox Approach is about taking full responsibility for yourself in your romantic relationships.
This means 100% of the time, no matter what is happening between you and your lover(s), you commit to play the role of parent or steward for those tender and resilient aspects of yourself that we sometimes call our “inner kid,” our animal body, or our psycho-biology.
Your healing team can help you master the Sandbox Approach. A competent therapist or somatic coach will model how to treat your inner kid by how they treat you.
The best practitioners will offer you opportunities to practice taking loving responsibility for your inner kid/animal body/psycho-biology.
Many of us trauma survivors long for the loving, attentive parenting that we never received as kids.
As grown-ups, when we “fall in love” and experience fierce intimacy with our lover, we may secretly expect them to step into that parent role and magically “redo” our childhood for us.
We may long to hand our wounded young self over to our lover and say, “You take care of them!”
There is nothing wrong with such longings. All of us deserved safe, loving stable parenting. It is natural and self-loving to still want that.
But! The re-parenting we need cannot come from our adult partners.
We are not children anymore; no one is going to parent us now. Let yourself grieve that fact as long as you need to.
Meanwhile, begin to re-parent yourself. This time, you are the responsible grown up. Re-parenting yourself is your job.
(Do you want to tantrum after reading the above? Go ahead. Stop reading and have a loud, arm-flailing, hoof-stomping, full-body tantrum. You have every right! It’s not fair. When you are done, come back and read some more.)
Instead, you commit to doing it differently. Which, by the way, will take alot of practice!
At first, you will abandon, forget and reject your miserable-scared-lonely-enraged kid over and over again. Just like your caregivers did.
But each time you doggedly return and show up for your inner kid, you get better at it. You learn to hold them steady. It gets easier as you discover how loveable they are.
Your team can help you with this self re-parenting journey. Competent practitioners will give you brief, contained tastes of being parented well.
Most facilitated healing happens simply because your healing practitioner is a steady, non-judgmental presence in your life.
A person with skills, certainly. But above all, a person who sees you and takes you seriously. A person who encourages you.
Or follow remote practitioners that speak to you. Read their teachings or listen to their podcasts. Try out their suggestions, by yourself or with friends.
You can also pray or holler to the universe, “Hey, I need help! Send me affordable help or send money!” Setting a clear intention opens up possibilities.
Once you have set that intention, take some time to rest and wait, breathe and trust.
I thank you all for reading and listening. I hope this series is useful to you. Feel free to send me your questions and comments.
*In small communities, including immigrant, trans, queer, sexual or ethnic minority ordisability communities, small towns, etc. this may be impossible. When I worked at the only LGBTQ domestic violence agency in town, we had strategies to safely support clients while maintaining confidentiality and trust. Ask your practitioners how they can help you navigate these situations.
TRAUMA SURVIVORS IN LOVE *online* WORKSHOP
Nourishing Practices for Skittish Partners
*ONLINE* WORKSHOP Wednesday, May 18
11 am-1 pm Pacific Standard Time
Intimate relationships are our birthright. But the neurobiology of relational trauma (neglect, attachment trauma, abuse & oppression) can hijack our hearts & derail mutual trust.
Learn about trauma neurobiology & practice somatic & intuitive tools to soothe hypervigilance. Practice supporting one another to stay open & connected over the long haul.
Singles, couples, triads, all welcome to attend.