- Jason McCarty
This week I wanted to share a book that can be quite helpful to those struggling to overcome addictions or to manage their more drastic emotions. Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance by Tian Dayton, PhD, is a clearly written book about the impact of relationship trauma. Many people will have different experiences around this word “trauma.” It does not always have to be outright abuse as a child, but could be the impact of parents who were never emotionally available or extended family or peers that mistreated you. It might very well be physical or sexual abuse, as well as mental/emotional abuse/mistreatment. I think we stop short in examining the needs that were not met when we hear words like “abuse” and “trauma.” Some people say, “it’s not like I was beaten or anything.” But sometimes abuse or maltreatment can be in much more subtle and manipulative forms. It is important to examine and validate the origins of where you may have experienced relationship trauma as it could be continuing to have an impact on your brain and how your whole organism reacts to relationships and the world in general.
Dr. Dayton explains in plain terms how the brain works and copes with intense emotions after experiencing traumatic relationships. It becomes difficult for the brain’s limbic system to regain balance and therefore drugs, alcohol, eating, or other ways of coping become the best way one can do this. With therapy, conscious awareness, and new ways of practicing balance, one can begin to learn how to calm their brain in more healthy ways. Dayton also discusses attachment and what she calls the “biology of love,” amongst many other ideas and concepts that are quite helpful.
Dr. Dayton has given the reality of how we are hurt in relationships a very up-to-date treatment without over medicalizing what she discusses – after all, it is relationships we are talking about. One cannot just fix their life with better thoughts, as this is a poor understanding of the brain and how our whole organism responds to what it thinks is danger given past experiences. Working with the nervous system and the limbic system in the brain helps one to bring balance to the whole organism. Once one can bring balance to a system getting out of control, they can then begin to work through some of the difficult emotions that arise as adults. The difficult emotions still need to be dealt with but one must be able to “handle” that, in other words, not get so flooded that they shut down, dissociate, or run away.
I would highly recommend this book for those of you looking to kick any type of behavior that has become an addiction or self-soothing tool but is only bringing you more pain. Not everyone who is in addiction has suffered relationship trauma but many have, and so it is important to understand what exactly is happening when relationship issues, or even the world, triggers you so badly that you can no longer override your feelings to stop yourself from using. Learning more about the brain is helpful and so is learning more about how to be in and facilitate healthy relationships in your life.