Self-sabotage can be hard to identify when it is happening, and can leave us questioning ourselves and how we are engaging in the world. There is a misconception that trauma is something that happens only to people who have experienced something like going away to war, when in fact the creation of trauma is far more nuanced and specific to an individual. While someone exposed to a traumatic event may, for the most part, be able to return to their baseline with appropriate support following the incident, there are longer term consequences that can continue to manifest such as emotional dysregulation, feeling numb, physical symptoms, hyperarousal, chronic health issues, and even our beliefs about the world.
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If we are unaware of our trauma responses, we can misinterpret them as being a response to threats in the present moment rather than a reaction to a trigger. If you are having a response to a trigger, it’s important to identify what is triggering so you can prevent yourself from responding in a way that does not match the present situation.
It is not uncommon for trauma survivors to repeat traumatic events. This is called repetition compulsion, a concept introduced in 1914 by Sigmund Freud. Repetition compulsion is “a tendency to place oneself in dangerous or distressing situations that repeat similar experiences from the past.”1 Extremely stressful experiences lead to the creation and reinforcement of tracts of memory that later become stimulated following stressful experiences, which can cause someone to perceive stress in the present moment as if it were the trauma they had experienced in the past. When new experiences trigger anxiety, the state of arousal can cause people with a history of trauma to revisit familiar patterns, regardless of pain that may be cause by doing so.2
To an onlooker, this previously traumatized person’s behavior may not make sense, as someone’s behavior could appear illogical or even destructive. When viewed within the context of someone’s life experience and with a knowledge of how trauma impacts a person’s biology, behavior that seems strange can start to make a lot of sense.
Fortunately, someone who has experienced trauma and finds themselves in a pattern of destructive behavior is not condemned to self-sabotaging for life. Healing looks different for each person, and finding a therapist that you feel compatible with to help you on your journey is a great place to start.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
- Photo by Micha Brändli on Unsplash