Finding happiness as a relational trauma survivor
What role does happiness play in your life? Do you take it into consideration when making important decisions? How easily do you get distracted by what is going on outside of you and forget about your own happiness? Relational trauma survivors, as those who suffered emotional abuse in childhood are especially prone to neglecting their happiness to create a sense of harmony and safety with others. They often feel guilty for having wants, needs and emotions of their own and sacrifice them so not to risk upsetting others, being rejected and, consequently, alienated. Naturally, it proves a challenge to focus on what makes one happy when attention is constantly diverted to the irrational thoughts and fears of relational insecurity.
In Happiness by Design, professor of behavioural science Paul Dolan suggests that attention plays an important role on how happy we feel. When we consciously focus on what truly makes us happy – and not on what we think should make us happy – we live better, happier lives. That is because the information sensed and communicated by “the experiencing self” is much more accurate than that of “the remembering self” (Dolan, 2014). For all of those seeking happiness, connecting with experience as it happens and establishing right there and then whether its impact is positive or negative is the most reliable strategy. Relying on memory alone and our intellectualisation of how experience has affected us, however, tends to divert our attention from true, authentic happiness.
Therefore, relational trauma victims who value happiness can benefit from observing the following:
- Be selective with your time and attention. Dedicate them to activities and people that make you feel good (light, cheerful, curious, energetic and lively). Reduce the frequency or cut contact with those who produce the opposite effect.
- Stop relying on versions of events that minimize the negative effect that certain people and circumstances have on you.
- Honour your body by holding values that favour your wellbeing, from head to toe. Learn how to tolerate the discomfort that might arise from doing so, as an investment in long-term happiness.
While neglecting one’s happiness and focusing on others’ is often referred to as a noble and selfless act, it causes much unhappiness when practiced mindlessly by relational trauma victims. As challenging as it may seem, replacing such limiting mentality and living a full and happy life is an achievable goal for most of us. If you need help to heal your relational trauma wounds, I highly recommend Attachment-Focused EMDR therapy.
Dolan, P. (2014). Happiness by design: change what you do, not how you think. New York, New York: Hudson Street Press.