Everyone wants to be loved, to be cherished, to matter to someone. I think that is the tender nature of each of our hearts, regardless of whether we are a woman or a man. God created us to desire love, friendship, and support, and as a result, our hearts and souls long for that intimate connection with our perfect partner. I am no exception. I longed to be loved, cherished, held, respected, and to have a deep, emotional and spiritual intimacy with the one God created for me. Then I met the man who would become my husband and thought that I was finally going to have all those things that I so desperately craved. But the reality is that each person in a relationship brings their past with them. They bring their pain, their trauma, their mistakes, and their global beliefs about themselves and others into the relationship which can alter the relationship from what it was meant to be to a struggle for survival. This is the piece that the entertainment industry forgets to tell us about. They paint a portrait of a fairytale romance that endures forever distorting our picture about what love and relationships are meant to be. We are so desperate to believe that fairytale love exists that we willingly cling to the distorted reality that we are presented with and then find ourselves in shock when true reality hits and it’s nothing like the fairytales we’ve been fed.
The sad thing is that this myth of relationships does not solely apply to romantic relationships. Many of us have been hurt and betrayed by friends and family as well. People who we thought would never hurt us end up causing the most pain. Many of us pursue friendships with the same vigor with which we pursue a romantic partner, expecting the same kind of fairytale relationship we see in movies and books. We believe that we will find girl or guy friends who will never disappoint us, who wouldn’t dare hurt us or try and steal our partners, and we definitely don’t think that those relationships will ever end…because the entertainment industry says they won’t. But the reality is that even in the best of relationships, you will be disappointed and hurt, for some they will be horribly betrayed by someone who vowed never to do so. No matter what kind of relationship you try to cultivate, friendship, family, or a romantic partner, the expectations we likely have or the hopes and dreams we have for those relationships, will never live up to reality. In order to have healthy relationships, we have to accept that our ideal relationships don’t exist because everyone brings their pain and past with them.
This can be even more true for those of us who have experienced significant traumas in our lives. Living life without experiencing trauma is more or less impossible in this world, but so often we forget that the trauma we experience effects every aspect of our lives. That pain bleeds into relationships that may develop long after the trauma has ended. Where we need to have awareness about ourselves when we are pursuing relationships after trauma, is to acknowledge that there is a part of us that now seeks safety and security over anything else. Many of us may have an exaggerated need for companionship where the fear of rejection and loss of a relationship can lead to very self-destructive behaviors. So often I see people who have been traumatized, compromising who they are, changing their values, or making excuses for people who hurt them because the fear of being alone and vulnerable to more trauma overwhelms their sense of identity and self-preservation.
One of the greatest risks in relationships is losing your sense of identity and your ability or willingness to ask for what you need. This can be even more exaggerated for someone who has experienced trauma. Trauma, by it’s nature, destroys our sense of self, our perception of reality, and our beliefs in the world as we knew it. When you are going into any relationship and you don’t know who you are or you are questioning everything you thought you believed, as is common following trauma, you are at a greater risk of melding into the identity of the other person or conforming to who the other person believes or demands you should be. Neither of those allows you the freedom and safety to rebuild the pieces of who you are and to redevelop your identity. An unfortunate example of this is with people who have a history of childhood trauma. These people often gravitate towards partners and relationships with people who mimic those who perpetrated the trauma, resulting in a situation where victims of past trauma again are subjected to abuse and trauma. Domestic violence victims rarely go into that relationship without a significant traumatic childhood. Because pain is all they know, there is a sense of safety and comfort in that familiarity of abuse. Even when they know they don’t want or deserve what they are experiencing, the fear of leaving and being vulnerable keeps them in a situation where their very lives may be at stake.
This is why it is so crucial to understand the discrepancy between what our hopes and dreams for relationships are and the reality of how our experiences with trauma and pain taint our view of ourselves and the world around us. If we neglect to understand how our pasts effect our decisions regarding relationships, we can put ourselves in situations where we will be traumatized and hurt again because we are seeking out anything to fill the void left behind by the trauma. Finding a loving and supportive romantic partner or friendship after experiencing trauma is possible. But it will take a tremendous amount of work to rebuild your identity and to understand and recognize those distorted beliefs and self-destructive behaviors that stem from your traumatic past and changing those patterns into something new and healthy.
Those fairytale romances and BFF relationships that our souls and hearts long for may not be the same reality as depicted in books and movies, but having healthy relationships where you are valued, appreciated and cherished are possible, even if you have a horrific history of abuse or trauma. The key is that you have to heal, you have to figure out who you are and change the distorted beliefs you have about yourself and others first. Take the first step in healing and realize that you may not know enough about who you are and what you need and want in a relationship to have realistic expectations in your relationships. If you are already in a relationship that is struggling or in which you feel invisible, don’t despair. Remember that even if you know that your expectations are unreal or feel an exaggerated need for safety, you are not crazy or needy or clingy. You are suffering with unmet expectations and distorted beliefs about what you need because of unresolved trauma and pain in your past. Your relationship may not be any better after you begin to heal, but you will be able to find the strength to ask for what you need and to make decisions about what you need in a way you never thought possible before.
IF YOU OR YOUR CHILDREN DO NOT FEEL SAFE IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY TO GET TO SAFETY. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO STAY IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP FOR ANY REASON. THERE ARE RESOURCES AND HELP.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Domestic Shelters and Resources: https://www.domesticshelters.org