The short answer? Because at some point in your life there’s a good chance you will feel like working through your past is the only way forward, as terrifying and unsettling as it is. Everything in you will tell you to run the other way, shut those thoughts off, block it out of your mind. But there will be a tiny voice telling you that you have to look at it if you want to move past it.
Many survivors only make their way to therapy once they start to realize that their trauma is getting in the way of having the relationship they want with someone they love. Others find that their traumatic past unknowingly pulls them into relationships that continue to traumatize them through violence, psychological abuse, and manipulation.
Survivors of sexual abuse and trauma often find that the area of life that is most affected by their history is that of their relationships. Due to the intense damage to a survivor’s sense of trust and safety, intimate relationships are often directly affected. How could they not be?
In this series, I will discuss a few common concerns that plague survivors of sexual abuse that can undermine your ability to have happy and healthy relationships. Read on to learn more about the role your past can play in sabotaging your relationships through trust, sex, secrecy, and shame and how therapy can help you start on your path to healing.
Part 1: Trusting Your Partner
If you have a sense of profound trust and security with your partner, odds are good that you will find your relationship to be extremely rewarding—a safe haven so to speak. These relationship foundations allow us to feel comfortable, to express ourselves and our needs, and give us confidence in our relationship’s ability to withstand life’s natural ups and downs.
Without the foundation of trust and safety in a relationship, you’ll likely feel guarded around your partner, hesitant to let them see the “real” you, or worried that they may not accept you if they see how “flawed” you really are (because this is how you see yourself.) You may be constantly waiting for the next fight or for the relationship to crumble altogether. In essence, you’re waiting for your partner to hurt you because a part of you knows it’s coming.
These are common struggles for survivors who have not yet worked through their own traumatic past.
As a survivor, trust and safety are foreign concepts. Even the thought of trusting someone that deeply makes you extremely anxious. These reactions naturally create distance in a relationship as well as unnecessary arguments and may leave your partner throwing up their hands, uncertain of how to get through to you.
Trust, however, is not something you can simply purchase at the store or a light switch you can flick on when you need it. First and foremost, you should know that it is NOT your fault that you struggle with trusting others. You probably feel as if you can’t truly trust anyone. Your partner may argue with you that he or she is completely trustworthy and how unfair it is that you either cannot or will not let your walls down.
It’s still not your fault.
You learned not to trust. You learned early on in life that trust was something dangerous. You learned that it is those you trust, who will turn on you, use you, or hurt you in someway. And once the abuse is over, you may tell yourself that it never would have happened if you hadn’t trusted them. Or perhaps you believe the abuse still would have happened, but it may not have taken such a mental and emotional toll on you if it had been a stranger or someone you hadn’t trusted.
As a result, you may come to the unfortunate conclusion that the abuse only happened because you trusted someone. You may continue to have trouble trusting your judgment in others for years to come and ultimately decide your judgment can’t be trusted at all. All of these emotional hurdles are common for survivors of abuse, but often lead to the same frightening conclusions…
“I cannot trust my own judgment”
If you have these beliefs, you take them with you everywhere you go and into every relationship. Without proper therapy, it can be extremely difficult to overcome these beliefs on your own because they become instinctual, much like not putting your hand on a hot stove.
“I cannot trust others’ intentions.”
Simply because you’ve developed these beliefs (through no fault of your own) doesn’t have to mean you’re doomed to be stuck that way forever. With proper help, it is possible to change these beliefs. By challenging and ultimately changing the way you view trust, you gain the ability to let your walls down with those who deserve it. Trust is one of the main topics covered in Cognitive Processing Therapy, a type of individual therapy that helps you figure out how your traumatic experience has shaped your view of yourself and the world. Through CPT, you can begin to work through your feelings about trust as you work through your trauma and begin to develop a sense of trust toward yourself, which often trickles down into trust for others. This can have a profound effect on your relationships in the long run.
If you believe that your relationship or that of someone close to you may be suffering because of a history of sexual abuse, it is important to address these issues with the help of a trained mental health professional. For more information on cognitive processing therapy in Orlando, or to make an appointment to begin working through your traumatic past, please give us a call at (407) 603-6132.