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Pandemic: The Intimate Rupture

As a trauma therapist and somatic practitioner, the impact of the pandemic on intimacy with self and others is something I have been curiously observing since we entered this new, amorphic and unpredictable world. I have been both heartbroken and pleasantly surprised by my clients overwhelming grief and remarkable creativity as they navigate their attachments within the parameters of social distancing.

Research has shown that various aspects of intimacy are impacted in reaction to traumatic events. The psychological and somatic impact of traumatic experiences such as combat trauma, traumatic loss, relational trauma, racial trauma, developmental trauma, and sexual trauma can greatly influence a person’s experience of connection. One’s capacity to cope with trauma is also dependent on their internal and external resources. If we do not feel safe in our environment, our capacity to shift to an internal experience of intimacy is difficult. Only in moments of self-directed intimacy can we truly touch into our capacity, regulation, arousal, and resilience.

The entire country is suffering and exposed to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. The experience of sustained experience of threat, along with the social restrictions that have understandably been put in place, create constriction, bracing, and anxious activation in the body. The capacity for desire, creativity, and the ability to socially engage when one is in fear becomes compromised. In a regulated state we can experience intimacy in several ways: emotionally, spiritually, physically, and sexually. When the very attachments that nurture resilience and strength become limited, intimacy is thwarted.

Many people have early attachment platforms based in trauma. When someone has experienced developmental trauma, they enter the world with an embodied sense of fear and vulnerability. The rapid shift into distance from, or dependence upon, their families and community can be overwhelming. This shift can be embodied as a state of fight, flight, or freeze, creating additional ruptures in their experience of others. The repair to this rupture is finding opportunity to access voice, mobilization, and sense of purpose. In addition, when we are more stressed, we are less likely to be able to read cues that we are getting tired or taking on too much. We might override or deny a need for more boundaries and additional support instead. Appeasing or fawning as a coping method in the face of fear is common but can add to one’s vulnerability.

People often ask why I work with trauma survivors. I feel it is a privilege and I am continually amazed at the strength and courage my clients demonstrate and embody. It has been encouraging to see how my clients, family, friends, and others in the world are navigating this intimate rupture. The clients I work with who have existing trauma are pulling from their coping skills and tapping into their resilience. Others are exploring new ways to nurture supported regulation. Some are finding more opportunities to experience a sense of stability and safety.

What I find most beautiful is the way that people are taking opportunity to slow down and reassess their intentions, relationships, and priorities. People are finding breath beneath the masks and reaching out to connect in new ways.

Becky Carter, LCPC – Trauma and Somatic Therapist

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