Healing Relationship Trauma and Moving On

Some people find love the first time around (if we are to be so lucky). But for most, the first relationship we jump into usually ends in disaster.

By: Jason Suerte Felipe

There is a traumatic loss of innocence as well as the shattered idea of love during our first heartbreak. The relationship ends, and then in the relationships that follow, we start to see romantic partners differently. Seeds of cynicism and bitterness are planted in our broken hearts that makes it harder for us to love another again. And in most cases, harder to love ourselves.

Untitled designTo help us understand and heal our relationship trauma, I will be referencing Alan Down’s, PhD research in his book The Velvet Rage. What follows are only some of the symptoms I have experience myself dealing with relationship trauma.

Studies show there are commonalities between relationship trauma and trauma experienced by life-threatening events. “What is curious about the connect between these two different types of trauma is the commonality in basic symptoms. The experience of psychological trauma, as is typically diagnosed (PTSD), has at least some of the following symptoms:

  • Reliving the trauma: this can happen through nightmares, flashbacks, or reexperiencing as a result go being in the presence of stimuli reminiscent go the traumatic event
  • Efforts to avoid thoughts or feelings that are associated with the trauma.
  • Efforts to avoid activities or situations that arouse memories of the trauma.
  • Marked reduced interest in important activities.
  • Feeling of a lack of interest or exclusion by others.
  • Limited affect such as inability to cherish loving feelings.
  • A feeling of not having any future.”

A significant or repeated amount of relationship trauma often makes it difficult and even impossible for us to experience a satisfying relationship. Because of the overwhelming amount of trauma, there is the idea of inevitable ruin that forms in each relationship soon after. For instance, an individual will end a relationship even if things are going okay because they assume the trauma they have experienced previously, will transfer over.

Untitled design copyDuring my relationship trauma, I found myself scanning my future relationships for betrayal or abuse. Scared to be hurt again, I put my romantic partners under this umbrella of trauma and abuse, in order for myself to be “prepared.” Of course, that isn’t fair to future partners nor is it fair to you.

Relationship trauma is important to  understand. We have to be able to first acknowledge the trauma in attempt to heal from them.

There are so many ways to be traumatized by a relationship, with each representing different experiences and symptoms. There are four common ways that stick out for most of us.

The Four Types of Relationship Trauma and How To Heal

1 . Betrayal

Untitled design copy 3Nothing hurts more than a stab in the back from the person we loved. The devastation and heartbreak it leaves behind can take months and even years to heal from.

What makes betrayal so painful is that it involves a planned deception between two people who trust each other. It can be a long series of white lies that can manifest into bigger occurrences, such as cheating. It takes a major tole on you having had a romantic partner repeatedly break your trust.

Healing betrayal revolves around one principle: acceptance. This can be difficult for most (myself included) because it is hard to accept a behavior that has affected us so dramatically. But, like we will see repeatedly, it will take time. The key to healing and accepting betrayal is about accepting the following:

  1. All [people] have shortcomings
  2. Betrayal is a product of the betrayers woundness and not the fault of the betrayed.

We often see this negative reflection of behavior with partners who have gone through trauma themselves, which we will see as we move forward. It is easy to hate the ones who have caused us pain. But we have to learn to trust ourselves again and by doing so we can choose a partner who respects us as much as we respect them.

2 . Abuse

Physical and verbal abuse is something we hear a lot about today and it can be difficult to overcome. In your wildest dreams, you would never think that the person you love the most would forcefully attack you. No one, absolutely no one, deserves that pain.

But why does it happen? Abuse can be a reflection of the past trauma your partner has experienced. For instance, the feeling of power and control may have been taken away from them so in order to gain it back, they seek that control in their partners. Not being able to control you is seen as a threat, as they try to form you into what they want you to be.

It is easy to succumb to the abuse and start doubting our self-worth and identity. But understand that the abuse put onto you is a byproduct and reflection of what has happened to them.

Untitled design copy 23 . Abandonment

Emotional abandonment is common in traumatic relationships. There is a perceived invalidation within the relationship. “Emotional abandonment is a two-edged sword. The abandoned feel lonely, isolated, and rejected. Ironically, the [person] who abandons usually feels the same.”

Often times, people tend to stay in relationships that they know won’t go anywhere because they believe that is as good as it gets. Due to this, leaving a relationship for the better can still be hard. But staying in that environment is staying in the trauma.

Talk to your inner thoughts and assure your own value and worth.

4 . Relationship Ambivalence

In some cases, we can have a partner that is angry about anything in life, and they express those expressions and anger onto you. They ask for help then when you show effort, they push away. And when you show them effort they deny it and deem it as not good enough or even at times ignore it altogether. Maybe due to feeling threatened or again this idea of control. This can create a “relationship helpfulness” where you believe no matter what you do or say in the relationship, it won’t make a difference.

Yet we still miss the relationship. Understand that this behavior isn’t healthy for you or your well-being. It just causes confusion and frustration. Think of how it will affect you down the line and you’ll soon notice you deserve better.

There are plenty of ways to help you move past baggage and trauma. It just takes patience and soon you’ll create a healthier relationship with future partners, and most importantly, yourself.

What do you do to help you heal and move on? Share with us in the comments!

*Downs, A. (2006). The Velvet rage: Overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world. New York: Da Capo Press.*

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