Today I’m going to talk about one of the most important concepts on the road to healing for a trauma survivor: consistency.
Why is it so important? Many who have endured trauma experienced it during childhood, where they faced overwhelming neglect or danger they couldn’t escape. This could be due to family members who didn’t set clear, safe boundaries or parents or adults who interacted with a child inappropriately. It could be due to a parent’s use of alcohol or drugs, an abusive parent, or an anxious or depressed parent or family member who was unable to be present for their child. Perhaps a teacher or a clergy person abused their power, leaving a younger person to struggle with the aftermath.
Whatever the specific reasons, the child grew up forming an insecure, anxious or disorganized attachment style (rather than secure attachment). Because of their specific circumstances growing up, trauma survivors may find it difficult to trust the world around them, understandably so.
Consistency is an important quality in all approaches to treating trauma. Through consistency, trauma can be repaired and heal. A healthier approach for life can be created—in the trauma survivor’s relationships and with their children should they become parents.
Where Consistency Starts in Therapy
One of the most frequent comments I get from my clients is, “You are so consistent. I can hear you in my head, and you always say the same thing.”
This is wonderful news to me as a therapist, because it’s my job (and my passion) to bring this kind of stability and assurance to my clients. Through trauma informed therapy, secure attachment that wasn’t gained in childhood can be learned as an adult. It’s reparative. And when a client knows that what you say is what’s going to happen, they can learn to trust, and then learn to trust in real-world relationships.
Consistency in real life
This is where you come in! Secure attachment can be learned as an adult not only through therapy, but also through emotionally healthy relationships. Spouses, partners and friends who are consistent with their words and actions support trust and healing. So if you have a trauma survivor in your life—your consistent words and actions matter beyond measure!
If you are in relationship with a trauma survivor, you have the ability to reinforce their healing through consistency. Likewise, inconsistency can be damaging and hinder the achievement of secure attachment in relationships.
Ensuring Consistency on the Road to Healing
Of course consistency is important to all humans in a relationship. Most people in life simply want to know that their partner is going to be there for them, genuinely cares about them and will not hurt them—but it’s especially important for trauma survivors. As a spouse, partner or friend to a trauma survivor, it’s important that you stick to your word and communicate freely and often. Here are two important tips:
- If you say it, do it. Do what you say. If you’re unable to do it, have a conversation about why. So if you say, “I’ll be home at six,”—be home at six. If you’re going to be late, call and let them know.
- Don’t let things go unsaid. Express your feelings and create an open space where they can do the same. By “saying something,” we can all expand our window of tolerance of emotions or emotional regulation and come to a more balanced and healthy communication style with one another. By consistently choosing to communicate in a healthy way, you are starting to build secure attachment.
Even if these things don’t feel like a huge deal to you (“I was only 20 minutes late, no big deal!”)—they are huge to a trauma survivor who has come to expect inconsistency. Your consistent words and actions help the trauma survivor feel safe by having knowledge of what to expect, and knowing that communication is always available.
Another Way to Show your Love
When you are consistent, it reinforces your partner’s knowledge that:
I know my partner loves me and deep in their heart, they wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.
Think of consistent words and actions as one more way of showing your love. And on behalf of my clients and the community of trauma survivors, we thank you for your consistency, love, compassion and communication.
When a Trauma Survivor Becomes a Parent
Most children and teenagers resist boundaries. The most well-functioning, stabilized kids are the ones whose parents have clear rules and guidelines leading to consistent boundaries no matter what. So whether you are a trauma survivor or not, you want your child to grow up knowing the rules and that their parents are consistent, as that provides for safety and stability and is part of building secure attachment.
Trauma survivors with unresolved trauma can get triggered regularly, especially when their child reaches the age or developmental stage of their trauma. These emotional triggers may be even more intense with a child of the same sex, so it’s important for trauma survivors to do their own therapy work so they can be a consistent parent.
The healing that starts in therapy can create a healthier life for the trauma survivor, and it can also create a healthier cycle moving forward and create secure attachment for future generations, so that a child knows and understands this as fact:
I know my parent loves me and deep in their heart, they wouldn’t do anything to hurt me.
The road to consistency can start today by finding a good trauma-informed therapist.
· Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, by Sue Johnson
· Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by Sue Johnson