The Forensics of Relationships: Emotional Crime Scenes #3
“In the city, crime is taken as emblematic of class and race. In the suburbs though it’s intimate and psychological; resistant to generalization; a mystery of the individual’s soul.” ~ Barbara Ehrenreich.
We have been exploring relationships.
Emotional crime scenes are life events that were either traumatic, life-changing, or highly emotional. A crime scene is a place where a crime took place. Simple, but also quite complex.
Do you find yourself repeating patterns in relationship? Do you find yourself attracted to a certain type of person? When red flags pop up in a relationship, what do you do? Do you fight, freeze, or flee? Do you stay, though you know better? Do you think you can change the person if you had just a little more time?
I like to think of the Limbic System of our brain as our 24-hour surveillance system. This part of the brain is often considered the instinctive, reptilian, or primitive part of our neurology. The Limbic system records all of the senses including smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight. It records emotional states, highly charged situations, trauma, and events that captured your attention. It records all of this through remembering what something felt like in the body. We call this body memory.
Body memory includes all of our senses. The Limbic system is interested in making a record of what an event felt like in terms of the sensory experience of the event. The reason for this is your protection.
This part of your brain is there to remind you if anything of like kind takes place in the future. If something happens that is similar to a traumatic event that took place in the past, the stored event in the brain will send a message to your body.
The message is intended to put you into the alert mode. This is why you may feel upset, tense, angry, fearful, or reactive and be unable to understand why. This is also why you may be reactive to something seemingly small and insignificant. It may be insignificant in the here and now, but something about the event happening now may be linked to an older memory of something more sinister.
Here is an example. Let’s assume that a tiger is chasing you through the jungle. You run as fast as you can. Your dart through thickets and undergrowth. The damp leaves moisten your skin as you pass by. The smell of wood resin, plant aromas, and damp soil penetrate your nostrils. The sun is high above the jungle canopy and streams of light form iridescent laser tails through the thick growth thirty feet above. Birds call out. Monkey’s howl.
Sweat is pouring from your hair and you smell your own body scent. You cut your arm on a razor sharp leaf and note the mimosa flowers throwing up their tiny arms as you pass. Shadows are everywhere and you think you see eyes in the shadows watching you as you run. You manage to make it to safety. The trauma is over. But is it really?
What happens the next time you cut your finger on a knife? Or see a mimosa flower in your girlfriend’s backyard? Or smell the damp soil in the neighborhood plant nursery? I think you see the potential here for what we call triggers.
Trauma comes in several forms:
1. Trauma by nature includes things such as a hurricane, tornado, avalanche, or being struck by lightning. Nature can also include being stung by bees, bit by a black widow, or being stung by a scorpion. Of course, there are snakes, bears, mountain lions, and other ways to incur trauma by nature. Trauma by nature is generally outside of our control and due to forces in the natural world.
2. Trauma by people includes things such as child abuse, incest, beatings, being hit, bullying, murder, rape, assault, or being involved in an automobile accident. A drunken parent raging at a child can produce trauma and a sibling catching you in the basement and pummeling you with his fists can also produce trauma.
3. All disasters are life events. Life events include all of our combined experiences that lead us from birth through death. Life events carry a responsibility known as loss. Every event, every situation has a marker of either a significant or less significant loss attached to it.
4. Not all trauma leads to post-traumatic stress disorder. Not all crime scenes mean you have post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just like certain crimes are misdemeanors and others are felonies, historical emotional crime scenes are all different as well.
Not everyone responds the same to trauma. One child will let mother’s yelling roll off his back whereas another child will experience great anxiety upon hearing mother upset.
Still another child will act out with anger and another will try to be the peacemaker.
No one knows the way life events will affect someone. This is part of the mystery involved in life. We need to come into an understanding about who we are and then do an inventory as to where we have been in our life with regards to both crime scenes and joyous occasions. We also need to keep in mind that many people who have experienced trauma do not always think it was traumatic.
Trauma is experienced both physically and emotionally. One way to detect a crime scene from the past and to intervene and change what you do in the present is to understand the physical and emotional dance that occurs regarding trauma.
More on this in the next blog.
Take care and be well,
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2012). The Forensics of Relationships: Emotional Crime Scenes #3. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 3, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/angst-anxiety/2012/04/the-forensics-of-relationships-emotional-crime-scenes-3/