Trauma, Reenactment, and The Cycle of Opposites

When you suffer, you naturally want to get away from the suffering-- be done with it, get rid of it, or overcome it. It is a natural response because you feel constantly overwhelmed. The "getting rid of” response, though, is a dissociative response and serves to keep in place the very pain that you want to avoid.

When emotional residue stays unresolved in your body and mind, it is because there is the constant movement of one part of you towards its opposite part; that is, from the avoidance of pain towards wanting to compensate for that pain or escape from it through pleasure.

This movement, in time, will become self-perpetuating, and you will get focused on the fulfillment of the projected desire as a way of canceling out the initial pain. When the search for pleasure and the avoidance of pain start to circle back on themselves, going from pleasure to pain and back again, this cyclic movement will become more and more unconscious and never really give any meaningful satisfaction.

Trauma and How You Try to Compensate for Your Psychological Pain

You will find yourself going from one search for fulfillment to another. This can manifest through simple, instant gratification like ice cream, YouTube, Instagram, or shopping, or more complex gratifications such as the desire for the perfect partner or relationship, prestige, and status in business and life, or having your own house, retirement fund, or other possessions.

There is nothing wrong in and of itself with spending time online, enjoying food or shopping, connecting to people, having your own place, or even enjoying a certain position and possessions. It is when those things are desired out of an experienced lack of love, affection, feeling adequate, or having been abused, that they become something that only serves as a compensation; all of what you then achieve or accomplish, as long as that hurt stays in place, will never fully satisfy you.

Furthermore, you might get stuck in a constant search for improving yourself, either materially or spiritually, thinking that doing so brings you more happiness; in reality, pain remains the essence of that search.

The Movement of Opposites in Post-Traumatic Stress and Childhood Trauma

The difficulty here is that the terrain isn’t black and white. There can be a natural pleasure in improving one’s lifestyle and health as well as pursuing mastery in a trade or profession. It is the compensating factor that I want to highlight.

Let me give some examples that will make this more clear:

Terry’s father was very volatile when Terry was young. He would go from raging fits, where he would belittle and verbally abuse her and her brother, into a depressive and hopeless state. Terry, as a child, felt that the best way to survive and deal with her father was to not speak up for herself out of fear of disturbing her father, and to be overly caring towards him, out of wanting to be loved, appreciated, and seen by her father. As an adult, she keeps repeating those very patterns. She attracts men who are emotionally volatile and who are needy for emotional support; at the same time, they are abusive and take advantage of her. Her desire to feel loved, seen, and accepted repeats itself through being attracted to men on whom she can act out and practice what she knows best-- to adapt and submit-- in the hope that she can fulfill and compensate for that lack of love and not feeling accepted that she experienced as a child. Although from an adult’s rational perspective she is to some extent conscious of what she is doing and whom she attracts, she is unable to change course, which makes her angry with herself.

Arjan has always compared himself to his older brother who, by nature, is charismatic and gets things done seemingly without effort. Arjan tended to bully others of his age as a teenager because he felt jealous and inferior, and he has an insatiable ambition to prove himself. As an adult, he continues the exhibit the same behavior patterns. He is anxious to get the latest gadget, newest car; ambitious for position and prestige; is always on the search for more, and is quite uncaring towards others unless they help him fulfill his projected needs and desires. Apart from all the outward achievements Arjan feels alienated from himself, escapes through sex and drugs, and balances on the verge of depression and burnout.

Both examples show clearly how both Arjan and Terry move towards their respective opposites in an attempt to fill the void they feel as a result of their internal pain. That movement towards an opposite always comes out of a compensatory mechanism, and will never fully satisfy or undo the initial hurt. In other words, when you psychologically suffer, and you want to get away from that suffering, you never actually meet that internal emotional residue out of which those complex survival patterns originate. This pattern, as a cycle of opposites, will just go around and around on itself and often grow in complexity over time.

The additional frustration and difficulty are that you might be rationally aware of your patterns, but be unable to change them. Being cognitively aware in and of itself doesn’t change the pattern because the emotional patterns that have often been laid down in childhood sit in a deeper part of the mind, brain, and nervous system and thus have a lot more force to them.

How does this article resonate with you? Leave your comments below. 

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