Finding or maintaining great relationships after trauma can be a difficult task for survivors of sexual abuse. While we all crave connection with others, survivors have often been hurt emotionally and physically by someone they trust. Because of that, survivors often withdraw from others and feel isolated. Those who are in relationships can also find it difficult to trust their partner. Partners of sexual abuse survivors often feel like their partner has “shut them out”.
Trust is often a huge issue for survivors in relationships. According to Survivor Manuel online, some other difficulties survivors experience include:
- Feeling so wounded and mistrustful of people in general it doesn’t feel worth the risk to attempt connections. This results in extreme isolation and loneliness.
- The belief or fear that there is something so “bad” about oneself that it will harm/destroy anyone you get close to.
- Premature attaching to others, disclosing sensitive/a great deal of information about oneself before assessing how safe a choice the other is.
- Inability to fully assess potential friends and romantic partners due to dissociation. Missing “red flags” due to dissociation, different parts holding information.
- Experiencing kind, safe, gentle people/relationships as boring, undesirable or frightening.
- Sabotaging relationships (for example picking a fight) when things are going smoothly or feeling “too” close. This may be a way to get distance, push away or about seeing what happens. For example, if a friend or partner (or therapist) gets angry at you, will they become violent or abusive like childhood figures did?
- Extreme care taking or people pleasing. Do you feel like you must suppress your needs/feelings in the service of taking care of others? Do you feel like you must shift who you are in order to be loved/approved of by others around you?
- Additional adult abusive relationships. You may find yourself in other abusive relationships: with friends, romantic partners or even helping professionals.
Survivor Manuel also suggests some great tips to create better relationships for survivors:
Avoid going to extremes. Neither isolation or premature, instant attachment are healthy for you. Learn to share of yourself with people in your life gradually, over time.
Learn to hear and pay attention to your “inner voice”. This could be your intuition, your gut sense of something feeling not quite right with another person. This could also be the voices of other parts of you. Do not discount what they have to say without exploring it. Yes, some parts may have the job of warning you away from anyone, but there may be valid reason for concerns about an individual in your life.
Get to know yourselves. Develop relationships with other parts of yourself. Learn to communicate with each other. Share information about people you are meeting, developing friendships or intimate relationships with.
Do you already have someone in your life you trust? A friend? A therapist? Use them as a sounding board or reality check. Share what concerns you. Listen to feedback, especially if you tend to “forget” things that concerned you regarding the new person’s behavior.
Remember that trust is something that is earned. Trust is built in relationships by experiencing each other over time. Pay attention to whether what others say and do matches up (or does not), look for consistency over time. Let yourself evaluate whether the relationship is mutual or one sided: do you each get a chance to talk, receive support and attention 0or does it seem to flow in one direction mostly?
- Learn how to sort out whether your reactions are present- or past-based. Are you angry because someone has violated your boundaries now or are you reminded of past experiences? Sometimes it is both!