One of the issues for many people who have been through traumatic experiences is relationships. How do we keep from getting hurt in the future the way we may have been in the past?
First, we need to recognize our own patterns.
1) Do we tend to choose people like those who have hurt us in the past? If so, we may want to look for someone different. See if maybe we can have a relationship—whether romantic or friendship—with someone we are not intensely drawn to. Because that sense of intense connection often means the person IS like someone we have known in the past and part of us wants to try again and this time get it right. The problem is, the same personality is likely to respond to us in the same way the other person did and we are likely to play out the same roles. It may be better to try someone new.
2) Do we tend to gravitate to people we think are not very successful or well liked? We may do so because we think we can help them and therefore have something to offer so they will like us. Problem with that is they are more likely to resent needing us than appreciate what we have to offer.
3) Or maybe we think that they don’t have many friends so surely they will appreciate us and if we learn how to do this friendship thing we can move on to other people, too. Problem with this is that people who are hurting often lash out at others. They often feel the need to put others down to make themselves feel better. We have better odds with someone healthy because they won’t need to hurt us. This, of course, means looking at how we relate to others ourselves. Do we put them down? Do we look for insults and expect slights?
We need to think about how to relate to people. And yes, this was a huge challenge for me for years—something that surprises people who know me now. They generally are astounded at the idea I might ever have been awkward in social situations. How did I change? Well, I asked myself the following questions.
1) I asked myself how my family related to others. I realized they were hyper critical and almost completely isolated. My parents never did things with friends, never had them over, and generally were isolated. I realized this meant they had never been able to teach me social skills and I was going to have to learn them on my own. I read books and I watched other people and how they related to each other and by trial and error I learned.
2) I looked at how I expected to be treated. This is huge. I realized that how I expected to be treated affected my body language, what I said, and how I said it! I read about a study that had self-avowed shy people go to a party and act AS IF they were confident and outgoing and EXPECTED TO BE LIKED. Ooooookay, I thought. But what did I have to lose? I was so very tired of being isolated. So I tried it. And discovered just how powerful a tool it was. And the great thing was, the more I did it, the easier it got because I had more and more experiences of people relating well to me.
3) I treated myself well. I made lists of things I liked about myself. And the more I liked myself, the less I needed to put down others. The more I liked myself, the easier it was to believe others would too.
4) I got help to deal with the past and my own misplaced sense of shame and guilt. After all, it’s hard to let anyone get close if you’re terrified of what they will find when they do.
5) I found a sense of purpose for my life. I asked myself what I loved and how I could you use that to make the lives of others better. The more I focused on a sense of purpose rather than myself, the better I felt. And that’s not counting the reactions of others to what I was doing. The key was NOT to become a martyr and spend my life endlessly serving others. That would have made me angry and bitter. Rather, it was to share something I genuinely loved doing and that made ME feel good, too. It was finding a way to be happy as well as make a difference for others.
Relationships matter. They remind us we are all interconnected, all human beings. If we choose the right people, we are likely to be reminded often that we matter to others and they like us. And we are likely to be happier if we are focused on a sense of purpose than on ourselves.
Wishing each of you wonderful and rewarding relationships in your lives and sending safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),