Believe it or not, sometimes the person who is sabotaging your happiness in relationships is not your parents, your ex, or the people who put you down – it’s you.
When you grow up with neglect and abuse, it can influence your thinking and constrict what you believe is possible for your life. These are what I call trauma-driven beliefs. You might be holding onto them because you think they’ll protect you, but in reality, they keep you isolated by leading you away from the healthy people who are capable of love, that you need in your life if you’re ever going to overcome what happened to you in the past.
Now, the fact of the matter is that the part of our brain that is designed to detect good people, and to feel and receive love can get damaged by early trauma. And the more trauma that happens, the greater the risk of getting stuck in the pattern of falling only for unavailable people, or for people who hurt us, or getting so lost in fantasy we miss out on any real fulfillment. But the good news is, healing from past trauma has the potential to completely change the course of our lives – and it starts by questioning your trauma-driven beliefs.
From Hopeless to Hopeful
I know this, because I’ve been through it myself. There was a period of my life where I felt so frustrated by my crappy relationships. At the time, I had no idea why the same old hurtful, humiliating problems kept happening. In fact they were getting worse, and I couldn’t make it stop – even when other things in my life were going well. Admitting that my ideas and behaviors were not working (like, at all) was the very first thing I did that opened the door to transformation.
I had always thought that if I just met the right guy or looked prettier or changed one small thing about myself, love would just show up in my life and do the healing for me. But it had gotten clear that all my old ideas about how to do relationships had gotten me to this one night. I felt so alone and hopeless, and knew no one was coming to save me. If my life was ever going to get better, I was going to have to change.
If you’ve ever had to admit this kind of horrible failure, you know how the first several seconds or so are like dying! But very quickly a new feeling fills you up — a sense of surrender, of peace.. and then (thank God!) possibility and even hope. Everything at this point depends on your willingness to get real and take action and then keep taking action.
Releasing Negative Thought Patterns
Now, negative thought patterns (or trauma-driven beliefs) can be hard to get rid of. Even when they’re gone, they try like hell to pop back up.
Behaviors are (at least partly) driven by beliefs, and when we have Childhood PTSD, a lot of our beliefs came from trauma experiences. Trauma beliefs are cultural, they’re family-learned, and they’re reinforced by our friends (who likely also have unhealed Childhood PTSD). We usually know what we’re doing wrong, and we can try to make ourselves “act normal,” but this kind of symptom-fix is usually only temporary.
Real change demands that we identify those trauma-driven beliefs and begin to replace them. Normal people seem to just know this stuff, but those of us programmed by trauma usually need stronger, clearer guidelines that may feel (at first) counter-cultural, unnatural, even radical. But that is how to deprogram and then reprogram yourself. And it works.
To help you determine if you’re carrying some of those trauma-driven beliefs that might be blocking you from love, let’s talk about ten of them.
#1) “I attract unavailable people.”
It’s not a problem, actually, whom you attract. For example, I attract mosquitoes. But I don’t sleep with them. The problem is that you are attracted to unavailable people, whether it’s because they’re married, addicted, immature, not into commitment, or just plain not into YOU. If it happens once it’s a terrible disappointment. If it happens all the time, it’s blocking you from any real kind of love. We’re often attracted to people who are — whether we see it or not — about the same as ourselves. It’s we who may not be available for the intensity, and risk and responsibility of being in a real, mutual relationship — especially when our engine is racing with dysregulated emotions. Freeing ourselves from the notion that unavailable people just “happen” to us is the first step of deprogramming.
#2) “Sex is how you find out of you’re compatible.”
In the post-sexual revolution world, this is completely accepted, by so many people I know, as the way it is. But for people with Childhood PTSD, sex is more often how we bond with people before we really know if they are available or compatible with us. And then we’re bonded. And then we waste years trying to retroactively turn them into the person we hoped they were in the first place. Recovery sometimes demands that we live by a different, more careful set of rules that help us avoid the same old mistakes. And I call these guard rails. Personally, I used, and I teach a way of dating in a structured way so you can know and be in touch with your own values, and what’s in your best interest, even when the possibility of romance is triggering you and making it hard to think rationally about letting people into your life.
#3) “I am always exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
I do get the basic idea, that even hard times can help us grow. But it can also be a rationalization used by people in abusive, rejecting or intolerable relationships to explain why they can’t or won’t leave. It can help perpetuate a fantasy of being loved on an unseen level. In fact it’s often an abuser who has drilled that into their minds. Other variations include “but we had this incredible past life together” or “God told me to just love him through this” or “we’re here to learn a lesson from each other.” It’s very difficult for most people to face the truth of their lives, especially when they’re in a rut. It can be helpful to have a good friend or a trusted mentor in this area to remind you of old mental traps by saying, “Hello! I think you might be doing it again!” When you’ve made the decision that you’re ready to make changes in your life – ready to be lovingly called out on those trauma-driven beliefs – it’s important to surround yourself with people who can give you a reality check.
#4) “Maybe it’s OK, because they were hurt before”…or “They have CPTSD and that’s why they’re afraid of commitment.”
This belief tends to show up when a partner has been avoidant, unfaithful or has rejected you, and while it could be true… there’s more to consider. Whatever a person’s history, if they are unable or unwilling to love you and be with you fully, that’s all you need to know. They’re not partner material. Understanding (or guessing at) the source of their feelings still won’t get you loved. Moving on is sometimes the most direct route to finding love.
#5) “They had a lot of childhood trauma, and that’s why they self-medicate.”
This is another belief that shows up to rationalize staying with hurtful people. Here’s the truth: All alcoholism or addiction is self-medication. That’s what they’re for – to make people using them feel better, at least for a little while. Serious drinking and using make a person unreliable, limited in terms of intimacy, possibly dangerous and just flat out, not a good dating prospect. When it’s a close family member or spouse that’s got substance problems, there are more compelling reasons to stay in their lives, but either way, you may want to consider going to Al-Anon.
#6) “I realized my ex is an abusive narcissist, and I want to send him this book I found on Amazon about abusive narcissists.”
I know, I know, it’s so hard to stop “fixing” people as a means to gain control over an out-of-control situation. But if you are diagnosing an ex as a sick and terrible person and you think you should spend money on them or make contact in order to help, your trauma brain is doing the thinking. Being honest with a mentor has the power to break the spell and set you free to keep living your life without the jerk.
#7) “We’re just friends.”
There are in fact “ex” or future-romantic relationships where this is true. But there are many where a) one person is pining away for the other and is too scared to declare their feelings because it would be icky to the other person; or b) one or both of you are using the other to fill up time until real love shows up, pretending that the new significant other(s) will love these “friends” too. Which they almost certainly won’t. It’s all a crappy dynamic that delays your healing and puts up an “I’m not available” force field around you. People who would make good partners can intuitively sense the force field and they stay away. The only ones who get through are the unavailable ones. And the jerks.
#8) “I need closure.”
This makes sense to the trauma-driven mind, but in real life, it means “I want an excuse to reconnect.” You know what I will say.
#9) “That person is toxic.”
There is toxic stress and toxic emotion, but the concept of a toxic person –while I get it – is a lot of times just a way we avoid taking responsibility for our own part in a destructive relationship. It FEELS so much like certain people are a poisonous element, like radiation or a virus, that just “comes in contact with you” and you fall down poisoned. But it’s more like a dance with other people. If nothing else, your part in it is that you danced with them. And you basically got triggered by their behavior (and I’m not saying it wasn’t bad behavior) but it caused you to get emotionally dysregulated and lose your balance. It is more realistic to acknowledge that you have a toxic reaction around certain behaviors – and that it’s actually possible to become neutral to people who are selfish or manipulative, or to stay away from them altogether. The best strategy is to work on that: How will you hold boundaries around the people you choose to have in your company?
#10) “There are no good men (or good women or good marriages.)”
I used to think this, that all the good men were taken and I’d better just stay stuck in a crappy relationship. Now I’m sorry I wasted so many years on this kind of trauma-driven thinking, pushing good relationships away, filling up my life with bad relationships, wondering why on earth this kept happening.
Sometimes you have to shed the bad relationships before you can see the good things possible for you, because the bad relationships are the very thing reinforcing your trauma-driven beliefs.
Question your beliefs, and take heart! Healing is possible!
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