Leaving an abusive partner is a difficult journey and getting past the trauma from it is even harder.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 17, 2020. It has since been updated.
Unlearning trauma and pain after an abusive relationship - be it physical, emotional, psychological abuse - can be a long and hard process. It becomes hard to forgive ourselves and others during the process. We might think that we are at fault for the experiences we had when the fault was the other person's. When we fall in love, we assume that our partner has our best interest at heart instead of manipulating and controlling us.
Coming out of a toxic relationship is a difficult process and finding love again is even harder. It would mean trusting someone all over again and that's a journey in itself. We might have to learn to do that one day at a time. We might have to also learn to forgive and love ourselves each day. Falling in love again might even feel like a bittersweet experience because of this. However, if we keep an open mind, we might be able to accept a new person into our lives.
But, there will be a few challenges that someone who loves us will have to understand about us. People who are survivors of abuse, love differently. And, this is how they do it:
When someone faces abuse, they are likely to face harm to their self-worth, which affects self-confidence. An abusive partner may have shown you conditional love and made you believe that they had your best interest in their heart when they criticize you. They would have said things like "you're no good" if you didn't follow them all the way through. If you showed doubt in their actions and questioned them, they would have manipulated things so you ended up doubting your own memories. With experiences like that, it may have happened that you learned to not trust and believe in yourself. This affects future relationships too.
People who have come out of toxic relationships with abusive partners are resilient. They have courage and a lot more to offer to their future partners. They just ask for patience as they battle their insecurities. Being with an abusive person may have made you feel that you are not deserving of love because that is the message you would have received from your former partner. But, you also want respect, love, and intimacy; it might just be a slow process.
The fear of getting hurt again can stop you from being your most positive selves in a new relationship. That fear could make you push your new partners away. It could make you act in unexpected ways like show more anger or withdrawal. You could be making unconscious choices that harm the new relationship because when someone is getting really close, it can feel scary all over again. After all, you want to make sure that you are not being taken advantage of by someone new.
One of the drawbacks of having low self-confidence and not feeling worthy of love may be that you find it hard to accept kindness from others. That could mean a new friend or even a new romantic partner. They might be offering to help but you just want to minimize dependence on others as it may have been held over you in a bid to control you in a past relationship.
Those who survived an abusive relationship had their ability to control things, even their own actions, stripped off of them. So, in the new relationship if something doesn't go your way it can be easy to feel the way your past relationship made you feel. In such situations, it's better if the new partner follows your lead. Your partner might feel the need to be there for you completely but some things can't be washed away with love alone. Sometimes, a mental health professional might be the best person to help you cope with past abuse and trauma.
Survivors of abuse may face anxiety, depression, PTSD, and that can also mean that you have certain triggers. This means that your partner may have to learn what triggers you and how that is different from you being upset over something. People may have different responses to trauma and not everyone's triggers would be similar. You need to first understand your triggers and ideally work with a mental health professional. Sometimes, your partners may not be able to handle or understand all that you have or are going through, and they would have to accept that.
Disclaimer: If you're looking for help currently, computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear history. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.