Relationships are hard for everyone, but especially for survivors of child abuse. Before I started my recovery work, I spent years in relationships that were obviously abusive and damaging to my emotional wellness, but I was too blinded by my own trauma to see it.
My family had always taught me that survival depended on having a man in my life. In my family, women kept abusive men around because of this belief.
It was critically important for this to be ingrained in each family member as early as possible. There could be no understanding of their individual power. They must believe they could not survive without a partner or the abuse might not be tolerated.
So, I spent many years in codependent relationships that perpetuated my belief systems born from an abusive childhood. I am not worthy of love. I am not meant to be happy. I must do whatever my partner wants so that he will remain happy and not leave me. I cannot say no. I cannot react to his emotionally and verbally abusive comments because that might be dangerous.
It was not until my children were born that I realized something needed to change. As I have written before, it was their birth that gave me the motivation to examine my past.
As I began to shift, the old started to fall away from my life. My marriage imploded. My family started to become angry with me as I set boundaries, eventually culminating in a complete separation. Some of my friends moved on, but some stayed, which was honestly a bit confusing for me. I had never experienced that before.
Over time, I began to add new and beautiful things to my life. I added a new school community that has been incredibly affirming and supportive of my little family. I added new friends who are willing to be vulnerable with me. I started a new career doing what I love.
But there has been one elusive relationship that has not manifested. I call it the Mount Everest of my recovered life. To nobody’s surprise, it is the healthy intimate relationship that seems unconquerable. Maybe that’s part of my problem. My willful side loves to see this as another goal to meet.
It is obvious I approach my life using my will. I even named my website Beating Trauma. But I use my will for good too. I use it to ask the right questions of my inner thoughts. I use it to keep myself from hiding from the pain. It is both a help and a hindrance. And my understanding of that makes it possible to find some balance.
So as I venture into this world of intimate relationships, I find that I have the same problem I used to have. I no longer attract men who are obviously verbally and emotionally abusive. I now attract much more healthy people. But sometimes, they might not treat me like I am worthy of them. And sometimes, I don’t notice it at first.
Sometimes, I will hang up the phone with an eerie feeling that I was just snowed. I will have this sneaking suspicion that I don’t feel very good about myself. And then I will realize that there were several suggestions about my lack of worthiness during the discussion.
It is never anything obvious. It isn’t a slap in the face. It is subtle to me. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a good match for me, but it does mean that I need to set some boundaries to knock out some bad habits in our interactions.
So, while the relationships are improving, I have a similar requirement. It is my responsibility to continue my intense work of awareness. I must stay aware of these subtleties as they are released into my space. I have to ask why I still attract these subtle expressions of my unworthiness. I have to ask what the mirror is showing me, the mirror sent to help me grow.
How do I still feel unworthy of love from others? Do I only feel unworthy of love from some people? Who? Where is it coming from in my psyche? What experiences still need to be processed? I have to ask the hard questions. I have to process the tough emotions. I have to work to unbreak my heart a little more with each answer I receive.
And this is hard work. To me, it is worth it, but only because I have seen the results of my earlier questions. I know who I have become through this work, so I know the possibilities are endless.
Eight years ago, I didn’t think I stood a chance. I didn’t think I could be a good parent. I didn’t think I could make it on my own without a partner. I didn’t think I would find my passion in career. I didn’t think I would ever see myself as worthy of anything. And that has changed. So this can change too. I have no doubt. I have learned that anything is possible through self awareness, through asking the hard questions.
So I will keep asking. The answers are hard, but I would rather know. Because it is that knowledge that grows me. It is that knowledge that manifests the new.