Recently, someone reached out to me on Facebook to ask me a question that I have heard from many survivors. In fact, I have heard questions like this so often that I have decided to include dating after domestic violence as a regular feature on my podcast.
This woman who had left an abusive relationship had done a lot of work to heal after abuse. In fact, she had done so well that she felt strong enough to pass her support to other victims who still needed help in their healing process.
After some time, she decided it was time to date again. And it appeared that all of the work she had done to heal after abuse had paid off because she found a relationship that felt safe enough for her to accept a proposal of marriage.
Then the trouble began.
It wasn’t the kind of trouble you would imagine.
Many victims enter new relationships feeling a tad suspicious and quick to find fault with a new partner based on the painful interactions of the past. This leads many to wonder if they are being too suspicious or if they will every be able to trust again. In my last post, I suggested that during the dating process, you should pay close attention to your “righting reflex” and not allow yourself to squelch that inner voice that tells you something is wrong.
This is different. This question was from someone who had listened to her righting reflex well enough to find herself safe and in love. However, as I explained in my post on PTSD, previous victims have “triggers” in their brains that tell them that situations that were dangerous before are likely to be dangerous again.
The bad news is that every negative thing that happens in relationship is likely to color our expectations for what could happen in the next relationship. This is actually good and bad. It can help you keep your eyes open so that you don’t miss “red flags,” but it isn’t so good when you are in a new relationship that seems to pass all of the “red flag” tests.
Everyone does it. Everyone.
That’s right. Each and every person who has ever been in relationship reacts the same way they always did to all of the good and all of the bad that ever happened to them in relationship before. Hate to say this, but it’s just exactly like Pavlov’s dog!
TRIGGER ALERT: At the end of this video a man shoots a gun into the air as part of the explanation of how a neutral stimulus can become a trigger.
So, what do you do when you think you are in a healthy, safe relationship and you suddenly begin to panic over things that are safe now but led to you getting hurt in the past?
In the healthiest, happiest relationships each partner is able to tell the difference between personal historical items that are creating “static” in the relationship in terms of personal fears and anxiety and those things that are legitimately issues which should be discussed and problem-solved together in order to find a mutually satisfying solution.
One of the biggest mistakes I see former victims making is being in a good relationship and feeling compelled to keep fears and anxieties to herself that are related to the past hurts. Even though your current partner does not harm you in the ways you’ve been harmed in your past as a victim of abuse, sharing that information without blaming can lead to deeper intimacy and help you, the former victim, heal.
To learn more about talking to your supportive partner about your conditioned responses that cause you fear, click here.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.