Sounds strange, I know, but this is the case, and here is why.
Our Trauma of Love, if we have one, and most of us do, influences our ability to make good relationships, whether work relationships, friends, social, and particularly our love partnerships. This early trauma, what Franz used to call ‘symbiotic trauma’, is the trauma we experience if our connection with our mother is disturbing or non-existent. This commonly is because our mother, herself, is traumatised, and so tends to dissociate in emotional and intimate situations… such as bonding with her child.
At this beginning phase of our life our connection with our mother, emotionally and physically, is all we know. In the womb we are at our most physically and emotionally merged with another human being…. we do not have an existence separate from her. She is our world, our anchor, our life, and our sense of safety and security comes from her, if she is herself able to be emotionally and physically warm, available and welcoming to us. A baby does not know he is safe… he only knows if he feels safe, and he feels safest when in connection with his mother.
So a Trauma of Love happens at this very early time of our life, often pre-birth, and is a situation where the baby is not able to feel safe with his mother. In more extreme cases the mother is a clear perpetrator. An example would be where a mother leaves a child in his pram for long periods of time, perhaps gives him a bottle but doesn’t feed him herself. She really leaves him to fend for himself at a time when he is completely incapable of doing so. A baby cannot even take off his sweater if he is too hot, or cover himself up if he is cold.
A subtler situation is the emotional dissociation of the mother, because connection with her child is emotionally stimulating for her, as it should be. The bonding process between mother and child is a highly emotional process, both mother and child being flooded with hormones that are designed to promote love and bonding. But if the mother is traumatised any intimate and emotional situation opens the gates to other, more frightening emotions to do with her split off trauma, and in time her child may even come to seem a source of anxiety and fear for her. She must control her contact with her child as she does with her partner and others, as a way of controlling the emotions such connection brings up in her. The child becomes a source of anxiety for the mother and the mother becomes a source of fear and uncertainty for the child.
This Trauma of Love unconsciously preoccupies us for the whole of our life if we do not address it. All our relationships are influenced by this early, first relationship, and since we are social, relational beings, this trauma affects every moment of our lives: our ability to work with others, to relate to others in all situations, but of course primarily in our partnerships and our relationships with our own children.
There are other traumas of course. Franz posits two other major categories of trauma: Existential Trauma and Loss Trauma. Existential trauma covers any situation that is a major threat to our existence, whether from accident or intent: physical attack, mugging, rape, torture, terrorism, traffic accident, fire and so on. Loss trauma covers major losses such as death of a parent for a child, or death of a child for the parents, loss of a partner, particularly deaths that are before the normal anticipated time. Although a loss trauma is usually due to a death it may be due to an abandonment for the child, such as adoption. Even in the very early time of our life we may have been subjected to existential trauma. The birth process itself may have been a dangerous situation for the child. Before birth if the mother is in an accident and suffers an existential trauma, the child may be traumatised as well. Attempted abortions are existential traumas for the child if the child survives the attempt; some surgical procedures before, during or immediately after birth may be traumatic for the mother and/or for the child. Procedures such as circumcision are likely to be traumatic for the child.
Other traumas for the young child may include sexual exploitation, rape, torture and terrorisation, and into adulthood we may suffer other existential traumas that do have a profound effect and cannot be diminished in our thinking. But it seems from our work that this Trauma of Love preoccupies us on a deeply unconscious level more than anything else.
One of Franz Ruppert’s most interesting and valuable contributions to understanding trauma in my view is his grounding of our psychological understanding in evolutionary thinking. In his book Symbiosis and Autonomy he explores humans within the context of biological systems thinking, understanding that, like all other species, everything we do at its most basic level is to do with our evolution. Everything we do is preoccupied with two evolutionary issues: survival and procreation… the ongoing furtherance of the species as a whole. Survival covers finding food, warmth, safety and boundaries to our territory. Procreation covers ensuring that the species continues and evolves to survive in a constantly changing and evolving environment.
In his latest book, Trauma, Fear and Love, Ruppert takes this to its logical next step, an exploration of the structure and function of the human psyche, which tells us simply this: the purpose of our psyche is to enable us to perceive reality as it really is, so that we can ensure our safety, finding food, our survival, and procreation. The structure of the psyche is not just the brain matter, but the whole of our nervous system down to the cells in our body… everything in our body that can experience, perceive and remember. We perceive reality through our senses, touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. We process the information that comes through our senses with our psyche in order to make meaning that helps us survive and continue as a species. That is the purpose of the psyche: to process the information we receive so that we can perceive reality as it is.
The ability of our psyche to do this is influenced by our experiences, and of course trauma is a major life experience; and it is trauma most importantly that affects our ability to perceive reality as it really is. It is trauma that distorts our perception. It is our survival strategies that protect us from experiencing the split-off trauma and distorts our vision of the world, thereby influencing our decisions, our choices and our relationships. One of the major survival strategies involves the stories we are told by our parents and others about ourselves, and the stories that we then tell ourselves about ourselves and about life in general, our belief systems, structures of thinking, political, social and familial ideas, and these become part of the psyche’s distortions of reality.
As part of Ruppert’s practical exploration of his ideas, through his work with the Constellation of the Intention with his clients, he has realised that the Trauma of Love unconsciously is our major life preoccupation. Since it is to do with our ability to relate, and since it happens so early in our life, our ability to relate, however that is, seems to be who we actually are. But while it is a major preoccupation for us unconsciously, our survival self of course functions solely to protect us from addressing it. We are trapped between the deep need and desire for good relationship, the need to heal this early relationship dysfunction, and our unconscious need to avoid the issue, to avoid the actual trauma. The Trauma of Love happens before we have the intellectual and emotional ability to understand what it actually is. It may even happen before birth. This makes it something essentially unknown and potentially inaccessible even if we, as adults, can have the concept.
But of course the later trauma is known. Even childhood sexual exploitation that, in the growing to adulthood may be forced out of conscious, is usually remembered later. So a situation arises where, for example, the childhood sexual abuse, or the adult existential trauma of, say, being severely burned in a fire, are seen as the major trauma of the person’s life and become the focus of therapy. And many months or years, even decades may be spent attempting to resolve this trauma, with varying degrees of effectiveness. In our view two major things affect how useful this work can be.
One is that most trauma therapy actually re-enforces survival strategies, teaching people how to manage the emotional and physical symptoms of the trauma rather than deal with the integration of the splits caused by trauma.
But the second is that a situation arises where the later trauma becomes a distraction from dealing with the Trauma of Love, a means to avoid this first trauma, a survival strategy. The later trauma often seems, and is of course, massive and dramatic and life-changing, but it is no more so, in fact really less so, than the Trauma of Love, because the Trauma of Love is formative… so the later trauma can actually become a survival strategy to avoid the experience of the trauma of our distorted and disturbing relationship with our mother.
Added to this, apart from the unconscious and unknown nature of the Trauma of Love, there is a social taboo to seeing the mother as anything other than perfect and sacred. This perception of motherhood is so deeply embedded in our cultural thinking that many of us find it very hard to think that we may have suffered a trauma at the hands of our mother, or that she was a perpetrator and objectified us to her own unconscious uses. The later trauma is often more ‘acceptable’ in a sense.
So Ruppert has seen that, in effect, we cannot properly and fully address any other trauma until we have resolved this Trauma of Love. Whatever else happens in our life, this Trauma of Love underlies and influences it.
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