Trauma and Relationships Part III: Ineffective Communication
Many individuals who have experienced trauma within their interpersonal relationships may find it difficult to maintain and communicate appropriate boundaries with others. Interpersonal trauma can be understood as harmful events that may occur between people, such as verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse at any age, intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and even a sudden loss of a relationship can be experienced as interpersonally traumatic.
Feelings that stem from these experiences can range from shame, guilt, hurt, alone, confused, helpless, abandonment, sadness, rage, betrayal, insecurity, contempt, resentment, grief, overwhelm, numbness, and fear.
Often, individuals who have experienced a harmful life event hold onto these feelings and have a difficult time expressing them, feeling heard, feeling understood or even being believed for what they experienced or witnessed. Re-telling a traumatic experience can be difficult initially and can bring up intense feelings of shame.
It is not uncommon for some individuals to identify as being guarded or closed off to others after such an experience occurs, sensing that forming new bonds or relationships could be a risky venture. As explored in a previous blog post in this series, loss of trust is a factor in how much or how little an individual opens up to another person.
Other individuals may describe themselves as being an ‘open book’ and may struggle with sharing a wealth of information with others without limit. This may get in the way if people they are speaking with become overwhelmed themselves or struggle to understand what to do with the information. It may be important to consider what aspects of these types of boundaries hinder or promote healthy attachments and relationships.
We might also understand challenges with boundaries in our communication as experiencing difficulties saying “yes” to new, healthy, but perhaps unfamiliar opportunities, and/or saying “no” to requests that do not align with our needs or values at the time.
It also is not uncommon for individuals who have experienced interpersonal trauma to struggle with reaching out for support, as it can feel vulnerable to open up and express these needs. So what is the problem? While not everyone identifies these areas of communication as challenges for them, some may recognize that one or more of their needs may not be met by engaging in these ways of communicating.
Understanding Your Needs
Everyone is different, has a different way of coping, communicating, expressing themselves, and understanding and making meaning out of the world around them and their own experiences. We all have emotional and physical needs and how we would want or like those needs to be met can vary from person to person.
Our goal then is to understand what gets in the way, in terms of our communication styles, from us being able to get our needs met within the space of a healthy relationship. What we do want to consider are questions that can help us navigate areas that we might believe to be hindering our progress forward and ability to effectively communicate our needs.
- What is my style of communication?
- What does my body language communicate to others? (Think eye contact, arm positioning, body posture/seated position, physical closeness or distance in a conversation, attentiveness)
- What tone of voice do I use? Do I notice if my tone of voice changes in a conversation?
- Would I describe myself as more passive, aggressive, assertive or something else?
- How do I close myself off to others during a conversation? Is it verbally or nonverbally?
- How do others know that what I am saying is important or serious?
- What am I afraid to share with others?
- What do I value about my relationships?
- Is my lack of communication getting in the way of getting my needs met?
- What are my thoughts on forgiveness and is there a recent incident that warrants or is worthy of forgiveness (in myself or others)?
- What do you envision to happen if you were to express how you felt in a recent interaction that you had with a loved one?
- What are you hoping to improve about your level of communication?
Each of these questions is meant to help you gain insight into your own communication patterns and begin to establish a direction that you can take towards more effective communication.
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