Our relationship became our laboratory. As many of you know, we’ve been researching, identifying, treating and writing about developmental trauma for more than 30 years. Much of our work in this area, of course, comes from digging into and clearing our own individual and family patterns of relational trauma. It has been a very demanding but personally rewarding process.
In the first years of our marriage, we found ourselves experiencing many conflicts that involved being triggered into traumatic re-enactments. Our experiences were so intense and there was so much “material” in them that we decided to work together to make meaning from them. So we converted our relationship into a “laboratory,” by turning every conflict, every small disconnect, every experience of hurt into a small research project. We became very self-reflective, and asked ourselves probing questions.
- What’s the earliest memory I have of feeling this way? How old was I?
- What was happening at the time that I felt like this?
- Was someone else involved in this early experience? If so, who was involved?
- What did I need in that moment? Who could have filled this need?
- Do I still have this need? If so, how can I meet this need myself now? If not, who could help me meet it now?
- Do I have unexpressed resentments or beliefs I learned early in life that still interfere with me from receiving what I need?
- Do I perceive myself as a victim in this early memory? If so, am I still portraying myself as a victim in similar situations?
These and other self-reflective questions helped us focus the attention on our individual contributions to a conflict or disconnect, and take responsibility for self-correcting our behaviors. We became good at connecting the dots back to the original unhealed trauma that we were reenacting now. Then by using some of the answers to the above questions, we could work together to do what was needed to heal the trauma.
This relational crucible gradually formed the foundation for our professional work. First, we tried out a healing approach in our relationship and if it worked, we would teach it to our students. If they reported success in using it, then we would write about it. At some point, this work shifted from what we do, to being who we are. It is this integration between our personal and professional worlds that we bring to our work at the Colorado Professional Development Center.