It is sadly very common that people who grew up neglected and abused by their parents end up either alone or cycling through one life-damaging relationship after another. The terrible irony is that when you need love the most, Complex PTSD can keep you locked out of it.
You can try hard, you can read books, go to therapy, make promises to yourself and hold high standards for yourself. But you’ll keep finding that you’ve yet again gotten yourself attached to someone who can’t be a good partner to you. Either they don’t love you, they’re with someone else, they have an addiction, or in some way, they can’t make a commitment to you or show up for you in a consistent, loving way.
The worst part is that it’s really hard for people with abandonment wounds to leave relationships – even when you want to – because saying goodbye and ending things brings up more fear of abandonment. As a result, you end up stuck in relationships that drain you of all your joy and potential, or they make you so scared to connect with anyone that you spend years of your life in isolation… hiding from your own life. It’s very common for people who were traumatized as kids to choose one of two maladaptations around love: Avoidance. (We’ll be talking about that shortly!), or rushing into a romance headfirst with people we don’t really know yet. (The topic we’re exploring today.)
If this resonated with you – there’s some good news. Using the proper tools and strategies (which I can teach you!), you can be both a person who has an abandonment wound (that may always be there), but also a person with an open heart. You can be a person who has survived trauma, felt deep heartache, and still allow yourself to be open, vulnerable, and to tell the truth.
But to have that freedom in your relationship requires some prep work… some guidelines for how you get into that relationship. That’s the secret! That’s how people with PTSD can have good relationships.
With the right prep work, you can fall in love despite having an attachment wound or a trauma wound. You can have a successful relationship. And you can do all of this without falling down the trauma-shaped hole that’s pulled down every relationship you’ve ever had in the past.
Let’s start by analyzing what happens when you go pushing and rushing into a relationship.
Rushing in is common among people with CPTSD. One reason we do this is that it can be deeply uncomfortable to be in the early stage of a relationship. Somebody is watching you closely and you’re feeling a little self-conscious. You have a lot of fear about where it’s going. So maybe you try to lock it down real fast, turn it into a great love affair so you can bypass that anxious period that normally happens during the beginning phases of dating.
But the courtship process is an important phase where you get to know somebody slowly. You gradually open up to them and open your heart to them and let them into your life. If you completely jump over that, you’re going to have this very creepy feeling that there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t know and that it could all blow up in your face (and it could, it very well will!), And yet… we do it anyways. We jump right in to cover those uncomfortable feelings and say, “It’s love at first sight. We’re meant to be together. Let’s move in. Let’s run off to Vegas. At the very least, let’s sleep together right now because it’s just so right….”!” And with CPTSD, many of us have very strong imaginations, which only helps with this line of magical thinking that helps us subscribe to this narrative.
We grew up having to work with a really difficult set of circumstances in our lives and with our great imaginations, we were able to see ourselves as something better than that. To see our circumstances as something that had a way out — and that’s good! Your imagination is good! But when you haven’t healed from your PTSD, your imagination can work against you and cause you to draw on magical thinking to try to crapfit.
If you don’t know that term, crapfit, it’s when we fit ourselves to an unacceptable person or situation. So let’s say you meet somebody one day, you rush into it, decide you’re in love. You sleep with them that night. And the next morning you’re looking around and you see their place and you start to see stuff about them that you actually don’t like. So what happens? Magical thinking kicks in. You think, “I’m going to change them.” “They are coming from some low station in life and I will raise them to a higher stage of life”, or “I can heal them”. Sometimes magical thinking can even be spiritualized and sound like, “This is what God wants me to do”, or, “We had a past life together – this is our destiny.” You have to be very, very careful about magical thinking! It’s good to be a spiritual person, but you don’t want to use magical thinking as a weapon against your own common sense.
It’s important when you have CPTSD to have discernment. You need time and space to figure out who a person really is and what their intentions are. That’s information you want to let come to you. The maladaptation wants you to rush into things. It tells you, “I don’t need that information,” and instead of allowing a person to show you who they are, your magical thinking steps in to make it all up. It starts to paint a beautiful picture and possibly cover up some red flags. Ultimately, you start crap fitting. As a kid, this was a very good skill to have. You had to have it in order to make it through traumatic situations. But now you’re an adult, and not only do you not have to do it, you don’t want to do it! You want to use your best judgment and fit yourself only to situations that are good for you.
When you’re crapfitting, you might find yourself hiding what’s really happening in your relationship.
You might think often about leaving, but enter into circular reasoning: “I should leave. But then I’ll be alone.” “I can’t leave.” You can avoid some of this pain by taking time to discern whether the person you’re dating is really what you hope. When you’re first dating, your job is just to be aware, and take in information that is shared with you. You want them to be themselves and show you who they really are before you become attached to them. When you can slow down your attachment, undesirable qualities in a person aren’t something to fight about. They’re just something to notice and go, “Ah, you know… I think this is not the relationship for me.”
When you realize someone isn’t right for you, it’s so much easier to make your exit when you haven’t become attached — psychologically, emotionally, or sexually. — THIS is the purpose of dating. And then we can pull back from the relationship which is easier when you haven’t bonded yet.
If, however, you have the tendency to jump right in, then you’re likely familiar with the feeling of thinking someone is absolutely perfect, only to discover negative qualities several weeks down the line. You may try to push this new partner into being the person you thought they were when you met – but they aren’t that person. Now you’re just being controlling or nagging. If you really love someone, you want to love them for who they are (and that takes time!).
One really difficult aspect of having Complex PTSD is that endings can be really fraught and difficult.
And this can be true even when you don’t like somebody and are desperate to get out of the relationship. For people with abandonment wounds, endings are extremely triggering. Staying is awful, but imagining leaving feels worse. And when you keep getting into relationships and you keep having bad endings — when the cycle repeats itself too many times, you have to harden your heart to be able to cope. But being tough like that can undermine your openness to real love. If you’ve got scar tissue, that’s okay. It protected you in the past, and now you can start where you are. It helps if you don’t keep adding to that scar tissue. It’s better to be single for a spell than to keep getting into hurtful, doomed relationships because they’re going to take a little chunk out of you every time. It will keep building a wall around you. Healing your capacity for loving relationships isn’t always easy, but you can make great progress with a simple and practical approach. I teach techniques to help with this in my courses (links below). But if you’re just looking for a quick tip, I’m going to say this…
You need to find a way to calm down the part of your brain that operates in fear.
The trauma-shaped hole that leaves you clinging to or fleeing from romance will always kill relationships unless you start to heal it. And, I’m here to tell you that healing is possible. You can transform the trauma-shaped hole into a memory that’s part of your story,o a place where you remember that bad things have happened to you, but you don’t go charging in trying to hide the pain at all costs. I’m telling you, going slowly in relationships is the most powerful change I ever made in my life. It was so helpful to me to find out that I actually did have all the ingredients of a good person who can love and be loved. It was all in there. It’s just that the good part of me was getting swept aside by the tidal wave of intense emotions – fears and resentment that would come up because I was bonded with someone I didn’t yet know or trust.
So maybe now is the time for you to start to change this.
And you can start taking the first steps. I recommend beginning with the inside job of learning to notice when you’re dysregulated and learning to re-regulated in your brain emotions and nervous system. This will make it possible for you to do relationships very differently. I teach courses to help you learn re-regulation, and chart a course for healthy dating. You’ll find links below.
LIVE Webinar Feb 13: HEALING EMOTIONAL DYSREGULATION - Manage Intense Emotions So They Don't Control YOU
Ready to heal your childhood trauma? This online course is a good place to start: HEALING CHILDHOOD PTSD
You can access ALL my courses and more in my MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM
Do You Have CPTSD? Take the Quiz
FREE COURSE: The Daily Practice