Survivors of trauma, just like anyone else, deserve to be able to have meaningful love relationships.
Yet, just like a traveler needs to plan ahead and pack their "kit for the road", trauma survivors may hit some tricky steps in building relationships and may gain from knowing possible worries, bumps or confusion that may come up along the way.
Let's look for a moment at how the impacts of trauma can show up in current or future relationships.
When you've been through a relational trauma where someone has let you down, hurt you or betrayed you, it may feel terrifying to learn to trust another person again. It can be even more overwhelming to think about forming an intimate relationship, as you want to be sure you're doing it "right". When you've been hurt physically, sexually or emotionally, you may come to believe that it was your fault, that you're deeply flawed, unworthy of love or undeserving of unconditional care.
You may associate intimate connections as a territory for potential harm, betrayal and danger. You may feel "skill-less" in how to assess if someone is trustworthy because your guard had to be up at all times if you've been betrayed, hurt or violated before.
In healthy relationships, there is space for healthy emotional expression as well as deep connection.
It's a matter of knowing how to navigate your feelings while building new connections with others. It's a common fantasy, amongst the human race, that wounds go away when we're in a love. While I can understand the yearning to want to be relieved of pain, no one can make your pain go away, it's your journey to heal your inner self. Yes, relationships are the places to give and receive support, yet each individual in the relationship needs to tend to their own unresolved wounds so they can show up in the relationship with realistic expectations.
You may notice, as well, that you have heightened reactions to seemingly "regular" experiences that come up in relationships.
You might get emotionally flooded or be easily triggered when you don't feel seen or understood. Often, individuals notice that they pull back and shut down without even realizing the messages they're sending when they do that. While you might have a fear that your partner is going to abandon you, you may have a hard time receiving the love and affection you're being given because you're waiting of the next shoe to drop.
Old wounds do not need to rule your life forever.
All of the above are all so normal when you're stuck in a "fight-or-flight" response. I want to encourage you to notice when you might get stuck in one of those fearful loops. Take a moment to ground yourself, remind yourself of who you are and the person you are with. You may need to journal to get your fears out on paper and do a reality check if those fears are based in the here-and-now or they're being kicked up from the past.
As relationships get stronger and stronger, fears from the past often subside and you get to settle in.
Sometimes there are memories or flashbacks from the past that you may need to work through in therapy if they're coming in the way of you enjoying the relationship you're in. Take some time to get educated on trauma, as psycho-education is an important in helping you understand how and why you have the symptoms and behaviors that you have, and how this may impact your relationships. This will also give you insight into yourself so you can better navigate complicated emotions and blockages that come up.
You may be used to engaging in high level intensity conversations and have a hard time been in the "here and now". Notice if that comes up, and simply jot down what feels important and set it aside for therapy time.
Notice if you have an urge to pull your partner out of their role, plopping them on the "therapist chair" .
One of the biggest goals is learning to engage in balanced relationships within the realm of healthy boundaries. When you allow your partner to be just that (a loving partner)you'll have the opportunity to nurture your emotional connection, your capacity for intimacy and strengthen your bond with each other.
You can have love, joy and meaningful connections!
I've seen couples in my office learn to untangle from the "trauma trap" and build meaningful relationships, with newfound abilities to care for themselves and each other.
By taking the steps you need to engage in healthier dynamics, learning new ways of relating and connecting, you'll be increasing your quality of life and your relationships!