Can Human Connection Heal PTSD?

An Example From The NICU

Premature babies are highly susceptible to germs. Their little bodies are not fully formed. Their lungs and hearts and immune systems struggle to do the basics because in an ideal world, they would still be inside the womb letting Mom do the heavy hitting. So, you would think the best idea would be to protect them and seal them off from all germs, all possible means of being contaminated.

But interestingly enough, even worse for little growing bodies than germs is lack of human connection. In fact, in a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), you will find babies behind glass enclosures and highly protected against germs, but the enclosures are designed to have openings to allow for human touch. The machines that help them breath and stay warm also have little arm holes where their parents can touch them. The nurses schedule in time to be held, rocked, and cradled just like they schedule in regular feedings. Because the research is clear. Without this touch, babies die. With touch, they overcome overwhelming odds.

Trauma Changes How You Interact

When a person has been hurt traumatically through a trauma like domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, one natural tendency is to want to withdraw from the world. You just want to be alone. It can feel protective to squirrel yourself away and build defenses against trusting anyone ever again. You’ve already been hurt by someone you loved or knew well. Why would you put your neck out there again only to risk being hurt again?

Or maybe you or your loved one has gone the opposite direction. Sometimes, we figure that we are already damaged goods, so why not let anyone and everyone in. You might find yourself (or your loved one) sleeping around or hopping from one destructive relationship to the next. Initially, it can feel like you are taking back your sexuality. Or that being with people, but never really letting them in, is a way to show how tough you are.

The reality is that once someone has broken your trust in a foundational way, it can be hard to let yourself be vulnerable.

 

Counseling Can Be A Bridge

Many people find that counseling can be a bridge to healthy relationships. How? One of the most important things in looking for a therapist is finding a good fit. It is kind of like dating. You can go on a date with someone who has it all on paper. They are attractive, successful…the whole package. But if you’re not feeling it…if you don’t click…then you won’t be a match.

When you go to therapy, you should feel like your therapist “gets you”. You should feel listened to and supported and a sense of safety from the counselor right from the start. When you’ve been through a traumatic event, it can feel hard to feel safe anywhere. Your body is pumped full of stress-hormones, and you can feel on edge everywhere you go. But when you have a good fit with a therapist, there should at least be a spark of hopefulness. You should begin to think if you can get your anxiety regulated in your body, this would be a safe place to feel safe.

Once you learn to feel safe within the session, the counselor then helps you toggle between learning skills to manage your emotions and processing through your story. This can feel very vulnerable and requires a lot of trust. That’s why a sense of safety has to be established first. In this way, you begin to learn how to be vulnerable with someone who has earned the right to your trust.

 

How Counseling Helps

While the relationship with a therapist mimics that of a real relationship, the added boundaries and focus all on you makes it a little simpler than friendships or romantic relationships. As it gets easier in counseling, you’ll begin to notice your relationships outside the therapy room begin to change. Because you are learning how to feel safe when you are safe, you’ll start naturally seeking out relationships that are more safe.

Because you are learning to lean into the hard memories, it will become easier to lean into the hard conversations that lead to secure, trusting relationships. And as you surround yourself with stronger relationships, you will become more resilient or able to bounce back when someone lets you down.

 

But Can Relationships Heal PTSD?

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a complicated disorder that can look very different from person to person. Healthy relationships can help you to begin to trust again after a betrayal. This is 100% part of the healing process. But real healing from PTSD usually requires some specialized care.

The relationship with your therapist–as well as the healing power of counseling techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or other trauma-specific treatment modalities–is a powerful way to heal after a traumatic event. This process will impact your relationships in a positive way, just like positive relationships will impact your capacity to heal in a positive way.

The take away is that relationships are healing, but usually not the only necessary component of healing from PTSD. If you are wondering if you or a loved one have PTSD symptoms or need help healing from a traumatic event, our therapists are here for you. Schedule a free 15-minute telephone consult today to get started.

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