Dr. Kate Truitt & Associates

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For Moving Forward

Stopping the Relationship Patterns that Cause You Pain

In this video you will explore something called a Cyclical Maladaptive Pattern. These are those patterns that show up in a relationships and become unintentionally reinforcing in regard to painful beliefs about yourself such as being “unlovable,” “not good enough,” “a failure” and more. 

Remember that 90% of each moment is informed by the experiences of our past. Your brain creates patterned ways of interacting with the world in order to decrease information processing overload and enhance the likelihood for survival. Because humans are biologically designed to be in relationship with one another for survival—in the early years of your development your sense of self was largely defined by how your caregivers, friends, peers, teachers, etc. interacted with you. If there were painful moments of rejection, bullying, teasing, fear, (or more) in your childhood then your amygdala may participating in your present day relationships and accidentally recycling the patterns of the past into the present moment.

Join Dr. Kate to learn more about the HOW and the WHY we do this and start creating actionable change today!

Do You Trauma Bond or Do You Have Healthy Relationships? Let's Dig Deep and Create Empowered Change

In this video Dr. Kate unpacks why we get into traumatic or toxic relations and invites you to take a look at all of the relationships in your life through a critical examination of how they affect you. Do you surround yourself with people who fill you up? Or are you constantly interacting with people who let you down, even hurting you? In this video we’ll go over a simple exercise that will help you accurately answer that question.

Our present-day relationships are frequently reflections of the experiences of our past. This is particularly true for those of us who have experienced trauma. In fact, we will frequently unconsciously recreate the traumatic relationships of our past. This is a fundamental part of something called trauma bonding—surrounding ourselves with people who play into the patterns of our pain. 

It’s important to note that these relationships are not just intimate ones. In fact, toxic friendships are extremely common and yet rarely spoken about!

Boundaries: What are They? Why do they Matter? And How Healthy are Yours?

We can all agree that setting boundaries can be tough, but they’re also crucial to building healthy relationships. Setting good boundaries will promote positive, comfortable interactions with others which will benefit you AND the people in your life. While it may seem tough to set them at first, boundaries are really a win-win!

In this informational video, Dr. Kate walks you through a quick do-it-yourself exercise to check on your boundaries and make sure they’re serving you properly. If you like this video, be sure to subscribe–we’ll be posting more information about boundaries soon!

A Guided Meditation for Setting Boundaries in Relationships

If you’re curious to dive a little deeper on boundary setting, we invite you to join Dr. Kate today for this special guided meditation.

Boundaries can be difficult to put in place because Amy, our amygdala, may warn us of rejection or violation, telling us stories with scary outcomes. This is all part of the brain’s way to keep us safe.

In this video, Dr. Kate will walk you through a guided meditation and therapeutic exercise to examine where you might need to set boundaries and how you can identify in the moment when a boundary is being crossed. Acknowledging your warning system is the first step to success in setting boundaries.

We hope this helps; we are honored to be a part of your healing journey!

Breaking the Pattern of People Pleasing to Live Our Best Lives

By Dr. Kate Truitt

We’ve all experienced a moment of emotional reactivity. Maybe you’ve even been triggered into Fight, Flight or Freeze (the three commonly discussed “F”’s of trauma).  But did you know there is a fourth “F” of trauma survival?

The Things We do to Stay Safe

Before I go further, I would like you to keep in mind that survival is not always about immediate life or death situations. It is also about sustaining our lives, and a big part of that is sustaining our relationships with other people. We humans have three core principles around survival, which can be explained with three questions:

“Am I safe?”

“Am Iovable?”

“Am I successful?”

The amygdala of our brains, which I call “Amy,” is constantly focusing on these three principles, which I also call Amy’s core values. She is constantly scanning for threats to those three core survival issues.

In this article we will explore the fourth survival response, Fawn, which can be most easily described as people pleasing. The survival solution of putting the wants and needs of an individual or a group of people above our own—sacrificing our own well-being. Just as with the other three responses, your amygdala is trying to keep you safe. But as is the case with the other three “F” options, fawning is not a sustainable strategy if you want to thrive. So, let’s see how this pattern for survival comes about in our lives.

People-pleasing can be tied to past trauma in our lives, and it can become a go-to survival response. In those cases, our brain can get quite confused between what we need to do to survive and what we want to do to have a healthy, thriving life. We can easily fall into the trap of prioritizing things other people want us to do. We can begin to perceive that their wants as what feels like a very real “need-to-do” for us in order to feel safe. Similarly, not fulfilling the demands of other people can actually feel unsafe or even dangerous.

Real “need-tos” include things like needing to eat food, needing to breathe air, needing to get a certain amount of sleep every day and so on. “Want-tos” are those things we want to do because we feel better when we do them or that help us reach a longer-term personal goal (or avoid pain in the future). My “want-to” might be to call up a friend and check in on how they are doing. I may want to take my dog for a walk because my dog has a need to go to the bathroom, and I don’t want her to do that in my house.

When it comes to trauma responses many things that should be want-tos of others start being put into the category of need-tos for you. This is when those less-than preferable people-pleasing and self-sacrificing behaviors take over. When someone in one of our relationships seems that they are upset or angry or even makes a request of us, our brain can onboard onto an old survival mode of “I will not be safe; I will be in danger if I do not take care of that person before I take care of me.”

I want to note here before I go on that people-pleasing, fawning and other less-than-preferable attachment-related behaviors are not limited to our intimate relationships. In fact, toxic friendships that include these elements are extremely common and yet receive much less attention.

Breaking the People-Pleasing Pattern

We humans are learning creatures who are pattern-focused. Because of this we teach one another how we want to be treated. If you teach the people around you that your time and energy are valuable and that when you say something you mean it, they will learn that, and most will respect it. But taking that stand and setting those boundaries takes hard, intentional work.

So how do we reverse the pattern of fawning and people-pleasing? First and foremost, it is about slowing down in a moment where we feel pulled to people-please and engage in an old pattern. Slow down and identify the pull: Is this authentically a need-to, or is it a want-to?

Once we have identified the pull we have the ability to make a choice: Do we want to do this or not? This the alternative to the amygdala-driven, rapid-fire survival fear-based action of people pleasing.

That is often easier said than done, so we need to start practicing that retroactively. We exhibit this people people-pleasing behavior and then immediately say, “Oh, I can’t believe I did that,” so we catch it on the back end, and then walk it back.

The little neurons in our brain that help us know what people are thinking and feeling usually do a good job. They don’t do so well when they are being informed by traumatic experiences from our past. When that happens they begin to light up old patterns that get in our way, such as fawning and people pleasing.

When we are in a relationship with someone our brain is always making thousands of micro-adjustments. We are gauging what they are thinking or feeling, or what their tone or body posture is saying. This is in addition to their actual verbal messages. The bulk of our communication in our world is actually non-verbal and those little neurons play a very big role in helping us understand that.

We learn from our past that certain nonverbal cues mean that in order to stay safe we need to engage in certain types of behaviors. If we were exposed to traumatic experiences early in our lives and learned to adapt by being a people pleaser we are much more vulnerable to this. So even in our present world if someone raises an eyebrow or elevate their tone just a bit, our brain might start to spin us into an old survival pattern. In one of those moments were you noticing in that person’s voice and behavior and tonality that pulled on you and made it a need-to moment?

This happens because our friend Amy, the amygdala, is processing information four times faster than our thinking brain. If she gets even the tiniest hint of a threat, she will take us into old survival behaviors. If people pleasing and fawning has worked well in our relationships in the past, then that is an experience that Amy has a hypersensitivity to. She will be looking to it as a solution to keep us safe.

Step back. Identify that pull. Think about how you need to respond. When you do this you are practicing building a new pattern. One that  prioritizes your wants and needs over past experiences your brain has tapped into to say that this is how I stay safe.

Giving Ourselves a Different Job

We are very good at giving ourselves jobs that we don’t need to be doing, and people-pleasing is a perfect representation of that. Through this behavior we’re giving ourselves the job of keeping other people happy rather than prioritizing the job of taking care of ourselves.

We need other people, and they are a core way that we survive as humans. We are rewarded with dopamine every time we engage in people-pleasing. This reinforces the amygdala, making it more likely for us to continue engaging in that behavior. It creates this perpetual cycle, and, in fact, if we attempt to stop the cycle we can start to feel high levels of shame or guilt or anxiety and even literal fear. This makes it so difficult to set boundaries with people when we really need to so we can create actionable change in our lives.

The opportunity is to shift our relationship with ourselves and the people in our world so we can create proactive opportunities in our lives to create change. For more insights into how to create these opportunities in our relationships, explore some of the videos in the sidebar to this article, or take a deep dive into the 23-video YouTube playlist titled, Building Healthy Relationships.