Trauma, whether psychological or physical in nature, can have lasting effects on the human psyche. A person who has suffered mistreatment will often struggle emotionally and socially throughout their life as a result of being abused. Trauma victims are also at an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, and a myriad of other emotional disorders. However, one of the most difficult challenges they can expect to face will be cultivating healthy relationships. This is due to the impact that pain and trauma can have on one’s capacity to love. It is often devastating.
It begs the question of whether it is possible to be so damaged emotionally that you actually cannot love again. As time goes on, those who are less able to realize their own self-worth may also begin to internalize specific behaviors due to their inability to properly comprehend their circumstances. These tendencies will oftentimes become consolidated, transforming them into a definitive part of the person’s personality, rendering them incapable of achieving any sort of relationship satisfaction. Additionally, it is very common for someone that has been exposed to high levels of fear and stress to gradually lose their ability to be self-aware enough to stay in touch with their own feelings, which in turn affects their ability to relate to the feelings and experiences of others (such as an intimate partner).
In the absence of these skills, a person is left with a diminished ability to both give and receive love. Incapable of identifying and understanding the real reasons behind their struggles, some may begin to question why they are the way they are. For example, after a number of failed partnerships, one may adopt the mindset that it is safer to be self-sufficient than to risk letting themselves get close to someone else. All too often, as soon as they love someone, they are quickly let down. It is believed that if they rely on someone, then they are giving that other person the ability to hurt them. Under normal conditions, as we grow older, we embrace the realization that life is very complex. We learn through our experiences that we can trust certain people in some ways, but not in others, which usually keeps us from making unfair generalizations. However, this is seldom the way of it when you start to factor psychological reactions to stress into the equation. In much the same way as a child deals in absolutes, so, too, do the victims of abuse. They learn to keep an emotional distance between themselves and every other person. For them, trusting in the present or the future is almost impossible when they’ve been hurt in the past.
So, knowing all of this, how are we supposed to allow ourselves to trust someone when we live in a world where it seems as though all you hear about is how people hurt one another? How are we ever supposed to allow anyone else into our lives after having someone that was once close turn against us in an instant? Can we really let down the very defenses that have kept us safe and, in some cases, even alive? Even within my own life I have struggled with allowing people to get too close. I hid behind the assumption that everyone was the same, and because of this, that I would only open myself up to more pain should I let them in. I taught myself how to seem friendly while essentially keeping everyone around me at a distance. Anyone that did manage to get too close was immediately pushed away, which was typically the precursor to me launching them out of my life altogether. But after five years of slowly trying to put the pieces back together following the grisly eight years of mental abuse, physical torture, and shattered hopes that would ultimately shape me into who I am today, I was somehow starting to see things in a more rational way. I realized that the very thing I had been using to protect myself over the years might, in fact, be that which had also driven me further into isolation. In realizing that I was stifling my own capacity to live a fulfilling life, I eventually began to let myself open up again.
I had come to a crossroads in my life where I had to decide to let go of my survival mechanism so that I could begin to heal and make room for something worth living for. There came a point where, little by little, people began to come into my life and teach me what it meant to be able to trust. The more I saw them, the more I trusted them. They listened, they followed through on things, but most importantly, they never hurt me. The closer we became, the more thankful I was that I had been willing to trust and love again, even if I did so imperfectly. I learned that when it comes to trusting each other, we as people need to accept that our past is not our present. Being able to understand that what hurt me before was not a part of my life anymore was monumental. It opened the door for me to build incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with people for the first time since I was a child. Rather than pretending to be friendly, I was able to truly draw out the very best within me and create a new reality for myself. These days I live my life by a different credo:
“It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.” – Graham Greene