Conditioned trauma responses can show up so quickly in our interactions with others that we don’t even realize we are dysregulated.
And sometimes these are such significant blind spots that we don't recognize our trauma response as such and feel justified in our reaction.
I know this was the case for me with my judgment and criticism of Angus's anger. I didn't see my lack of compassion for his emotional dysregulation as a trauma response. I saw it as justified and appropriate.
Now that Angus and I have greater acceptance of our humanity and space from our reactivity, I can see the unhealthy normal we used to live at.
As with many couples, the coping mechanisms we used to navigate the pain of our conditioned trauma dovetailed with each other. Our reactions fit perfectly together in just the right way to exacerbate our reactivity when we were dysregulated. This is what Angus would call the dance of death.
I learned to navigate my fear of unworthiness and unlovability by doing my best to excel. I worked hard at school to get straight As. In the second year of college when I became burnt out and that wasn’t possible, I had a psychological breakdown. But I bounced back and found my way back to straight As again by switching majors. I was a rule follower and did my best to keep it together at all times. In my twenties, my spiritual pursuits were coopted by my rigidity and I embarked on a yogic path with a rigorous meditation routine and strict diet. No drugs or alcohol for me. I wasn't taking any chances that I might ever feel out of control. I'm lucky I wasn't married off within that cult.
After meeting Angus and moving to London, when things didn’t pan out with the job I had moved to London for, I embarked on doing some modeling while I was figuring out what to do with my life. This was a time when I felt unmoored. I was not doing a job I could work hard at, and even though I did have some success, it was nowhere near close to being at the top of the field where I was used to gaining my external validation.
During this time, I moved in with Angus who had not learned to earn his worth through hard work, paying bills on time, and having an organized financial existence. His main priority was having fun and enjoying life. This was foreign to me and highly attractive, but I did feel untethered living with someone who chose not to pay a parking ticket on principle because they kept putting the fee up. My feeling untethered morphed into outrage when bailiffs came to the flat where we were living when Angus was away on a trip in New York. The bailiff threatened to take away our belongings. Fortunately, since Angus wasn't there he didn't enter the flat. When I told Angus about this he was unphased. Even though he took care of the bill when he got home, I was still horrified.
Angus maintained that he functioned quite well without me, but I had my doubts.
I was attracted to Angus's out-of-the-box, laissez-faire, free-spirited way of approaching life where he lived by his own rules. His ability to enjoy life and have fun was intoxicating and a breath of fresh air until I felt threatened.
Then I would become reactive, without even realizing it. My go-to when I felt anxious was to become critical and judgmental of Angus. I would try and control him and interfere in his business in an attempt to assuage my anxiety. When my conditioning was at play in this manner, Angus's conditioning would kick in and he would become reactive to my impatience and criticism. I would then feel justified in my judgment of this, oblivious to my role in instigating this behavior.
Because of the meaning, Angus made up about himself from his trauma, he wasn't able to see my behavior for what it was. He didn't understand it was a reflection of me being in an anxious state of mind so he wasn't able to feel compassion toward me. Instead, he would take my behavior personally, get irritated and become angry with me. This felt incredibly unfair to me because in the ignorance of my own internal response I believed I was just trying to be helpful. This was my blind spot.
We were slow learners, but I was eventually able to see how Angus’s unorthodox way of going about things was not a real threat to my safety and wellbeing. He wasn't incompetent and I wasn’t superior because I followed rules. We both had things we could learn from each other. I was also able to see how arrogant and judgmental I was and how Angus's anger didn't just appear out of the blue.
I am grateful that Angus has helped me to lighten up significantly and I think Angus is grateful for that too!
But what got us to the point where we could learn and grow from each other had nothing to do with the finances or anger. It had everything to do with there being a greater understanding within ourselves about how our experience is created. If my anxiety came from outside of me then it would make sense for me to try and change Angus and make him behave in ways that felt more comfortable to me, and the same would be true for him.
But understanding from the teachings of Sydney Banks that experience comes from within and so does my inner stability was revolutionary for me and a game changer for our relationship.
The understanding helped me to recognize my own anxiety and see that Angus was not the source of it. Nor did he need to change for it to dissipate. He also learned along the way that I am not an evil criticizer and controller. I'm just someone who can lose my bearings and become critical and controlling when I feel anxious. And sometimes not even realize I am doing it.
This has helped us become much better at not reacting to each other's behaviors that are a reflection of the coping mechanisms we came up with to navigate the trauma in our life.
It also allowed for profound healing within ourselves. This was reflected in the health of our relationship.
We still lose our bearings, but much less often and conflict is rare in our relationship. These days it looks like brief spurts of irritability that quickly pass.
With this greater inner stability within ourselves, compassion has blossomed in our relationship. I now appreciate what is so attractive about Angus being different from me while not being threatened by his differences.
I also have more self-compassion when anxiety arises. I am better able to take care of myself so am less likely to interfere with Angus or become judgmental and voice my criticism. And if I do lapse into that, there is a greater chance that Angus will see my behavior for what it is, a reflection of my anxiety, and naturally, feel compassion for my suffering rather than focus on the unpleasant way I am expressing my anxiety. And the same is true for me with his anger. When he gets irritable, I am much more capable of seeing he is suffering and open to being kind to him rather than judging him for his behavior.
Rohini Ross is co-founder of “The Rewilders.” Listen to her podcast, with her partner Angus Ross, Rewilding Love. They believe too many good relationships fall apart because couples give up thinking their relationship problems can’t be solved. In the first season of the Rewilding Love Podcast, Rohini and Angus help a couple on the brink of divorce due to conflict. Angus and Rohini also co-facilitate private couple's intensive retreat programs that rewild relationships back to their natural state of love. Rohini is also the author of the ebook Marriage, and she and Angus are co-founders of The 29-Day Rewilding Experience and The Rewilders Community. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To learn more about her work and subscribe to her blog visit: TheRewilders.org.