29 Oct Trust Issues: Getting Close to an Addict Who Keeps You at Arm’s Length
It’s hard to get close to people who keep you at arm’s length. They may seem intimidating to approach at first because of their hard exterior, but you might find that if you try hard enough, you can break down those walls and discover a soft interior that will let you in if you win their trust. Then there are those life’s charmers who mesmerize you with their jokes and stories. At best, they’re the life of the party, but at worst, that’s as much as they will let you in. Don’t bother asking them how they really feel or think, because all they’ll do is keep their answers general without providing much insight into the inner workings of their mind. They effectively divert important, uncomfortable topics by answering a question with another question, and they hardly make time for one-on-one conversations, because their crowd of fans functions as a cushion to keep people away at a safe emotional distance.
“It takes years to build trust and seconds to destroy it.”
For adults, “trust” is a word that is not used lightly; it is built on a foundation of reliability, integrity, consistency and time. The lack of trust is a learned coping mechanism. Children trust easily until they’re given a reason to no longer trust; children of alcoholics and drug addicts learn how to survive by trusting themselves rather than their parents. They learned early on that the only thing they can predict is the unpredictable, but the development of their young brains is psychologically arrested.
What’s Behind These Walls of Self-Defense? Residual Effects of Childhood Trauma
The self-protective walls we set up in childhood seemed like a good survival mechanism which helped us filter out the bad, but in adulthood, these same self-preserving walls keep out the good as well as the bad. Trauma causes nerve damage, particularly in the affective regions of the brain that regulate emotions. This condition, known as affect dysregulation, is “the impaired ability to regulate and/or tolerate negative emotional states,” and it is strongly associated with interpersonal trauma and post-traumatic stress. Brain-imaging studies show altered frontolimbic circuits of the brain regions within individuals who have suffered childhood maltreatment. This results in either undermodulated emotion (such as anxiety/dysphoria) or overmodulated emotion (such as emotional numbing and dissociation).
How Does This Translate to Trust Issues?
If a child’s ability to appropriately perceive and appraise threats to one’s personal safety is compromised, he or she will overreact disproportionately to seemingly petty events or display apparent antisocial behavior that does not accurately reflect one’s own potential for warmth and affection. For example, a woman enters a relationship with a healthy man who has a good balance of friendships with both men and women. The woman perceives other female friends as a threat to her relationship with her boyfriend, even though these friends have known him for many years, long before the couple even met. She also feels threatened when an attractive waitress talks to him at a restaurant, and she is likely to suspect that he is having an affair with the gorgeous female colleague after work if he is working long hours. Her jealousy, rage and irrational anger repel the boyfriend even if he has given her no reason to doubt their relationship.
For those who have overmodulated emotion (i.e., emotional numbness), they may find it extremely hard to feel anything, negative or positive. They feel apathetic. They can’t love because they can’t give what they don’t have. Disconnected from their environment and out of tune with the emotions of those around them, individuals who are numb may appear to be cold, hard, and uncaring. They avoid going to parties because they don’t like being a wallflower, but if they must go, they are acutely aware of their own social awkwardness and they’d do anything to make the pain of social anxiety to go away. They are numb, but under certain circumstances, if they feel anything at all, their default emotions are pain, depression and anger. They are alive but dead inside. Due to their cold, hard exterior, they appear unapproachable and intimidating, and their long faces are relationship repellents to anyone who might consider them.
How Can You Trust after Trauma?
Vulnerability breeds vulnerability, and there is nothing more powerful than an emotional bond that opens up with raw and real transparency. It takes a very special person who can unlock the secured doors that protect your heart. Someone who gets you and will listen to you with absolutely no judgment is very rare to find, and when you finally meet someone like that, you let your guard down and feel free to be yourself. When you meet someone who has the courage to be transparent with you, you are likely to reciprocate in kind, but what if you can find more than just one person to be vulnerable with?
Trauma-Informed Care: With Love, Nurturing and the Right Help, There Is Hope
At New Method Wellness, you will encounter substance abuse counselors and others who have been where you’re at, whether you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. Trauma-informed care, coupled with substance abuse treatment, targets triggers in your life that cause relational problems resulting in substance use. Our multidisciplinary team of addiction psychiatrists and other clinicians will help you work through your existing relationships and learn how to develop new healthy ones in the future. After you complete a treatment program, you will also get to participate in our Extended Aftercare program, so you can always have access to the support you need.