Why we feel bad – the Trauma of not being loved
We believe that from conception onwards, we need to be loved, accepted and affirmed for who we are. This enables us to develop into a whole person.
Colin Ross’s Trauma Model states that self-worth; safety and meaning are basic human needs. In other words, humans need to feel loved from the beginning of their lives (even in the womb) for them to develop into healthy, fully feeling, and loving human beings. This need is deeply ingrained.
Deeper trauma occurs when there is an absence of normal love, affection, attention, care and protection. Lack of healthy, loving parenting early in our life and more specifically in the preverbal stage is devastating and traumatic to the developing system of a child. Intense pain is often the result. The attachment trauma is not being wanted or special to Mum or Dad.
When we are little we automatically shut this emotional pain off, any way we can in order to survive and attach to our caregivers. We establish defences (ways of being and acting in the world) in an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain that was too overwhelming for our little bodies and brain’s to handle at the time. We create “symbolic behaviors and false beliefs” that help to make us feel better and keep away the excessive emotional and at times physical pain.
We believe this response to unfulfilled need early in life is an automatic, unconscious, self-protective and intelligent survival strategy. It is essential for survival and is a normal human reaction to stressful and/or traumatic environments. This mechanism is active and automatic even in the womb as an evolutionary adaptation.
It is a way our developing system protects itself from the trauma of being uncared for, or unloved, or unwanted and from feeling these unconscious, uncomfortable, unacceptable and/or frightening feelings.
Thus unfulfilled needs before we were born, when we were babies and when we were growing up are at the core of most of our adult dysfunction and pain.
It is these “symbolic behaviors and false beliefs” that act as defenses against excessive pain.
This process is self-perpetuating, as the relief achieved from the symbolic compensation cannot fulfill real unmet needs. There is always deep inside us some feeling or sensation of emptiness, un-fulfillment or meaninglessness. For example, compulsive sex or eating cannot fill the empty void that exists from not being held or wanted as a child or baby.
What must be acknowledged is that most of the force of adult dysfunction is unconscious, below our level of awareness and it seems, outside our control.
However allowing ourself to feel our pain can begin to bring what is in the unconscious into our conscious awareness.
As adults this early pain is still within our systems and we work hard at least on some level to avoid feeling that pain. As mentioned we avoid our pain by symbolic behaviours that actively repress and suppress awareness of upsetting thoughts and memories or by numbing our feelings with drugs, alcohol and process addictions, or by separating ourselves from our emotional experience by dissociating.
For some people this works just fine and they are able to get through their life. Whist for others holding down painful feelings from the past is much more difficult and they may find it hard to cope and function.
The ability to cope with pain
Various authors suggest that the ability to suppress painful feelings varies from person to person – how well we can cope with painful feelings will depend on our temperament and our biologically-based vulnerability to stress, stress tolerance, how much exposure we have had to previous traumatic events and our ability to regulate our negative feelings. Therefore the ability or the readiness to consciously begin to feel emotional pain will vary from person to person.
Some of us however are awash in feeling. We constantly feel anxious, fearful and unsafe, stressed, sad, angry etc and we attempt to suppress or avoid these feelings without realising that this is our body’s way of attempting to heal itself.
Feeling as a way of healing
Both the trauma model and primal therapy hold that basic attachment trauma is at the core of adult dysfunction. This type of trauma is generally not recognized in mainstream therapy as a criterion for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) although many people by simply surviving their childhoods, are experiencing post traumatic symptoms and responses without realising it.
John Briere’s Self-Trauma model suggests that the post traumatic responses that we feel are not merely symptoms of dysfunction, but rather they are intrinsic mechanisms that serve an important psychological survival function.
Post traumatic responses naturally create repetitive reactivation and processing of traumatic memories and experiences to the point that they lose their distress-producing characteristics and can be integrated into our existing self. The problem is most of us do not understand what our body is doing or what is happening to us and we resist, and fight it.
At Primal Therapy Australia we believe that post traumatic responses represent an inborn self-healing activity that is an evolutionary adaptation. Our inherent tendency to process repressed emotional memory through “symptoms” such as flashbacks, intrusive negative thoughts, and nightmares may represent the mind’s natural and automatic attempt to desensitise emotionally-laden memories by repeatedly exposing itself to (relive) small “chunks” of such material in a safe environment.
In primal therapy we use the body’s own natural tendency to heal itself through repeated exposure by reliving small “chunks” of emotional content in an environment that is safe and without threat or danger. This must be done at an individual pace and this pace will vary from person to person.
This is vital in healing post traumatic emotional responses and beliefs associated with childhood attachment traumas, since many of the trauma or pain related responses are no longer accurate in the current, non-dangerous environment. Once post traumatic responses are relived (at times repeatedly) in a safe environment, the brain, the central nervous system and the body will sequentially heal itself. This makes it much easier for you to learn new skills for living as a healthy adult in the present.