(written on May 1, 2013, Zagreb, Croatia, finally published almost 8 months later!)
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Why don’t traumatized people take good care of themselves?
Although this may seem like a huge and complicated topic, the crux of the answer to this question is simple. I will break it down into a few parts.
But before jumping in, there are two preliminary things to know:
1) No one is created traumatized. We begin life perfectly unscathed. Immature, yes. Underdeveloped, yes. Innocent and naïve, yes. At risk, yes. Uncoordinated and at times confused, yes. I say this because all of these things can also lead someone, especially a child, to take imperfect care of himself or herself. But this has nothing to do with trauma, because:
2) Untraumatized people have a natural instinct to make healthy decisions in the best interest of their true selves. They are only limited by their immaturity and the brokenness of their external world.
So, with that said, why don’t traumatized people take good care of themselves?
The first part of this answer is that when people get traumatized, they get split off from their true selves at a level equal to the degree of their trauma. This disrupts their whole inner system. Their intuition gets damaged and their sense of themselves gets damaged. In a sense they get stunted in their developmental process, but to put it better, they get warped.
Then, because of that, when they make decisions to try to take perfect care of themselves, they are lost, because their inner compass is damaged. Their decisions, to the degree that they are traumatized, become faulty. And what’s worse, they may FEEL like they are taking care of themselves, and may defend their actions to the hilt, but their decisions are bad and end up only hurting themselves worse. This happens in a myriad of ways, including through sex, food, drugs, personal hygiene, relationships, romance, money, and even through seeking help in the helping profession. They trust people who are not to be trusted, because at a deep level they cannot trust themselves.
And the longer they go without healing their traumas, the more their problems in self-care compound. Their lives become more and more damaged and more and more off-course. Their bodies, their relationships, and their very connections with themselves get more and more broken. Their very decisions only end up traumatizing themselves worse. This is the tragedy that pays out a dividend of more tragedy.
And none of this is a great mystery. We all hear stories of people who have been severely wounded in childhood who end up living the most hurt, suffering-filled adult lives.
Meanwhile, the repetition compulsion fits right into this model. The repetition compulsion – the inner drive we have to reenact our traumas in an unconscious urge to somehow solve them – is part of this. The repetition compulsion is an urge that so often dooms us, because it, like all bad decisions, just sends up careening back into more pain, suffering, and trauma.
But, like all bad decisions we make, even our reenactments offer us a chance to learn. And here is the hope, the simple hope for all of us: self-reflection. We can learn from our bad decisions. We just have to study ourselves. We have to study our motivations. We have to study our histories. We have to study our feelings. We have to become honest with ourselves. This is at times invariably painful too, but if we can tolerate it long enough to be able to sit with it and trace it to its origin, then we can grieve it and we can ultimately reconnect with our true selves. This is how we heal trauma. And once we do that we find that our true selves have the greatest allies imaginable: our conscious minds, our natural intuition, and our passion.
And with those allies how can our future decisions, and therefore our self-care, be anything but excellent?