Have you ever experienced any form of re-enactment in your intimate and interpersonal relationships? Re-enactment is a way of reliving traumatic events from the past, (most often childhood), and the present. Psychologists have found that this can occur inadvertently from triggers because of a psychological vulnerability or as a defense mechanism. Psychologist, J.L. Herman has shown that although these behaviors appear conscious, they are frequently involuntary.
If you’ve experienced a re-enactment in your relationship, you are not alone. I’ve been experiencing heightened occurrences of re-enactment among my clients in intimate relationships, which results from a traumatic relationship with a parent or caregiver who has been verbally or emotionally abusive. Several researchers have observed that re-traumatization of people who have experienced trauma, especially trauma in childhood, are an all too common phenomena.
In several studies conducted by Adverse Childhood Experiences, they found that adult survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to develop chronic conditions and diseases such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and liver disease. They are also more likely to engage in risky health behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse.
Re-enactment can generate heightened levels of confusion and frustration. It’s difficult for people to understand why they feel an important person in their life is reacting negatively to something, yet that person is unaware they did anything harmful.
Re-enactment holds its grip on you in two notable ways:
Flashbacks and Critical Inner Monologue become forms of personal emotional extortion and can self-sabotage relationships. They can be divisive triggers from earlier negative baggage which gets displaced onto a current relationship and can fuel re-enactment in your current relationship.
Take these 3 steps to reduce Re-enactment from undermining your relationship:
- Look carefully for evidence the person you’re in a relationship with has verbally reported a negative statement to you. Determine whether it’s real or a statement you may have surmised. No leaps of judgment allowed. If you can’t find any, look deeper into your past to assess if displacement has occurred.
- Decide if a core belief from a pastime in your life is being duplicated and is causing problems with your partner. If so, try to pinpoint when it started. Ask yourself if you’re re-enacting that belief in your current relationship. If you are, discuss your issues with them. Try to come up with a language to identify when it’s happening so you can stop and return to the present.
- Pay close attention to a critical internal monologue you’ve been engaged in with your partner, so they’re aware. Use evidence of flashbacks to help you recall earlier times in your life. Who might have spoken to you like that? Document those experiences. Look for similarities between those situations and the ones you’re in now. How often are your present situations occurring? Versus ones you’re guessing or expecting might occur. Document your findings.
If you aspire to sustain a healthy relationship with your partner, it’s essential to stay in the present as often as possible. If you drift into your past and are re-enacting negative experiences, talk about it with your partner. If you’re stumbling and feel you need professional help, don’t be afraid to seek some guidance.