I am a survivor. The difference between a survivor and a victim is that survivors are healed from their traumatic experiences and display no signs of victimization. We got the support we needed and made the necessary changes to move on and live our life to the maximum. We got help and counseling and overcame PTSD. So we are fine now, right? Not necessarily.
The leftovers of pain still remain, but it is not pain anymore, it becomes a defense mechanism. Especially when it comes to start dating again. Dating? Ugh. That’s what I thought to myself, but it turns out I was not the only one who feels that way. Often women and men who have endured domestic violence in a relationship dread dating again. There are victims who continue to be in abusive relationships after abusive relationships; they often do not focus on healing themselves first, thus they are not fully recovered from it. That’s why they are still called victims.
But still for the survivors, dating is not a breeze. We wonder to ourselves, How will I ever be able to trust that the next person I fall for and want to be with is not another abuser? The reality is, and I’d like to believe so, that most of us have already accepted that the abusive tendencies of our exes has nothing to do with our taste in partners. The three possible reasons why we view dating like a toddler with a plate full of veggies are:
~The person you loved betrayed you and deeply hurt you. You fear for another betrayal.
~You became vulnerable to a person who may used that vulnerability to control you, and you don’t want to become vulnerable again.
~Your trust is lost, or seriously damaged, and to rebuild that ability to trust takes time.
But I think the main reason is, why would you want to risk opening your heart and getting hurt again?
That goes for me too, but I’m about to be able to count the years I have been single on both of my hands. I wondered why it took me so long, and I realized my reason is:
~I forgot what a healthy relationship feels like.
It is common for anyone who has underwent such a severe isolation for a long time. That means all contact with my family and friends were monitored and inquired, and eventually severed altogether, because it was easier just not to keep in touch with them at all. I had no one to turn to and that was when he had complete control over me.
In the aftermath, I didn’t trust myself to rebuild a normal relationship with anyone, especially with men who were talking to me. I couldn’t look them in the eyes because I could still see his face and feel him judging me in my head.
It took me a long time- a couple of years and plenty of pinot grigio to bond with my girlfriends again, a lot of dirty diaper changing to join back in with my family, and endless soul searching to finally remove him from my mind and reconnect with public life.
After some time, I convinced myself I am ready for the real thing: DATING. Yes, I’ve told people I’m ready to date again, but it wasn’t easy. I had to start all over again and relearn how to date. I made many assumptions and misunderstandings and tons of communication mistakes along the way. Trust issues have a lot to do with it too.
I KNEW for a fact that in order for me to have a healthy relationship with a partner, COMMUNICATION is the KEY. But if someone said, “We need to talk.” I immediately feel a pang in my stomach, Did I do something wrong? I overanalyze things because sometimes petty comments could trigger strange reactions from me that I couldn’t explain because it is too “complicated”. But the truth is, I couldn’t find the words to describe my feelings because they used to be dismissed as worthless. I couldn’t even bring myself to say I’m sad or scared because I was brainwashed to think it’s my fault. So, I appeared to be “too strong” or became emotionally closed off from other people.
I envy those people in healthy relationships with open communication and trust; they always seem to have so much fun together. However, a healthy relationship does not just happen. It requires a set of skills to maintain in a safe and healthy way that was lacking in my last relationship. I need to understand those skills. I need to learn to stop punishing myself (by avoiding and shutting people out) and reprogram my mind to remember that I will not get punished for wanting to communicate my feelings. I must forgive and trust myself so I can break free from my shell and let other people enter my life. I guess I still have a long way to go in the dating department, but if you ask me for thousandth time, I will tell you for thousandth time I prefer to be SINGLE and HAPPY than to be in a TOXIC relationship.
As for you who are returning to the dating scene after an abusive relationship, I strongly encourage you (and myself too) to keep on alert for any possible red flags. Here are a couple of informative links with the lists of red flag behaviors that you should pay attention when dating other people: