Updated: Jun 15
So many of us struggle with relationships in general. Adding trauma and relationships together can complicate things in ways you might not think of. I am constantly seeing things on social media and television (when I do watch it) that could be the result of one or both partners having a traumatic history that they are not aware is affecting how they show up in their current relationship(s). So exactly how do trauma and relationships intermingle with each other? Let's talk about it shall we?
The nature of trauma is that it can and usually does impact every area of your being. This means we can experience emotional issues, mental issues, physical issues, and even spiritual issues. Trauma is disconnecting and while there are other forms of trauma such as environmental trauma and one time incident trauma such as a car accident, I will mostly focus on trauma that involves other people doing things that traumatize you for this post. I do this because when we seek to heal from what others have done to us, we at least partially have to have a healthier experience with the people in our lives currently. Yes, being in a car accident or tornado can cause difficulties in relationships if you develop PTSD or other debilitating conditions as a result so you will be able to benefit from reading further. The aim is to help anyone who is having difficult times in relationships due to trauma.
So how does trauma disconnect us from others? When dealing with interpersonal trauma we are involuntarily put in direct opposition to our abusers because they are interfering with our safety. This can be our physical safety, emotional safety, and mental safety. Most people think about physical safety first and while that is often the case with those who have survived abuse, emotional neglect is very damaging to children and is thus a severe violation of safety. As a child, we do not blame our caregivers for being unable to keep us safe, we blame ourselves and that can sound a lot like "I deserve to be treated poorly because I am bad." No child is "bad" all children learn behaviors that get their needs met whether we perceive that behavior as good or bad. The child also learns about relationships from this experience(s). This can look like what people call repetition compulsion where we end up in relationships that mirror our early childhood experiences.
To be clear, you do not choose to be in relationships where you are treated poorly.
Creeps try a multitude of people, you didn't attract them. Don't listen to the stuff that tells you that you attract all of the bad things that happen in your life. Yes we have energetic vibrations that attract and repel other energies but it is far more nuanced than "you attract who you are". I submit that poor boundaries are the culprit, not you wanting more piss poor users in your life. Poor boundaries can be the direct result of trauma. Boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves that we then communicate to others that we are in relationship with. An example would be do not call me out of my name or I will not speak to you anymore. There are two parts there, an action that you do not like and a consequence for doing said action. Another example would be please respect my home by not leaving dirty dishes everywhere and if you do, you will not be allowed over anymore. This governs your behavior which is the only thing within your control anyway. Remember boundaries contain two parts and are used to govern our behavior when we follow through. They are not threats as some people will try to convince you that they are. Threats have an intention to bring harm, inflict pain, or bring another hostile action against someone. Firm boundaries don't do that they simply state how you will be treated and the consequence of not doing so. They are not meant to control so saying If you don't buy me the thing I want, I am going to stop talking to you is manipulation and coercion, not a boundary. We typically learn poor boundaries from the adults in our lives who obliterated ours when we had no say in the matter. This follows us into our adult lives and we can end up with people who we do not assert our boundaries with (because we don't know what they are) and those who don't respect them when we do assert them.
So how can we jump off the roller coaster of having relationships that constantly drain and trigger us or simply just do not align with who we want to be? This is with all relationships, not just romantic. I gave a hint in the paragraph above and it is...BOUNDARIES. Now boundaries are a tricky deal for someone who has had their boundaries repeatedly violated no matter what their age but I will try to simplify it for you as best I can. Remember with anything you have to practice to get better and better at it.
Ask yourself what boundaries you currently have.
Ask yourself what boundaries you would like to put in place.
Write down the boundaries you have and want for yourself.
Communicate these boundaries with those around you. It's ok to let people know what you are trying to do for yourself. Those who matter will do their best to help support you.
Continue to refine your boundaries as you grow. You will find that strengthening your boundaries over time is natural as you figure out what you do and do not like in relationship.
There is a book called Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend that first set me on my journey of understanding boundaries and how to put them in place and then communicate them. This book has a christian influence and as my views have evolved I have moved on to other resources. I recommend reading Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. It can be found in my bookstore.
Navigating Trauma and Relationships can be hard but you can do it! This is a good starting place for you to begin to engage in the kinds of relationships that fill you up and vice versa. It's time to let go of the one sided relationships that have you so drained you can barely think straight. I hope it helps you on your journey.