“Small ‘T’ trauma” and Its Effect on Dating
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Our Need for Love
Human beings are not made to be solitary; we are all wired for connection. The desire to share your life with someone special is normal. While there’s a trend to tell people that they don’t need to be partnered to be happy, and it’s partially true, being in a healthy relationship benefits our emotional and physical health. Dr. John Gottman found in his research that people who are happily married live four to eight years longer than people who are not. A healthy marriage boosts your immune system, while divorces have a negative effect. His research also indicates that couples who are contemptuous towards one another are more likely to suffer from illnesses. As you can see, happy and healthy relationships are needed and very important.
I’ve met so many individuals who are looking for love and feel lonely. They seek love on dating apps, meeting others through mutual friends, and through different outings. The problem is not about the scarcity of single people out there. So, what else could it be?
Sometimes, it is difficult to date again after negative dating experiences and a broken heart. The unprocessed hurt becomes the lens through which you view yourself, your dating partners, and relationships. It may be hard to be vulnerable and trust someone again.
How Painful Relational Experiences Affect Us
Your dating and relationship difficulties are not caused by something about you that’s permanently flawed. Look at yourself through the lens of compassion and understanding. Only then growth is possible. When you find a loving and supportive partner, it’s important to share your past wounds with him/her/them in order to create deeper intimacy.
How we relate to others in our family will be duplicated in our romantic relationships. We maintain the roles we took on as children and play the same roles as adults. If you had to people-please as a child, you will do the same in your adult relationships. We also learn how to be in relationships from our parents. If your parent took on the victim role, for example, this is something you may also repeat. Sometimes even loving, good parents have their own unhealed wounds that prevent them from parenting well. They carry the emotional burdens and traumas without even realizing. You take them on, internalize them, and make them your own traumas. The pain of your caregivers becomes yours. The unfinished business of their relational patterns become yours.
Being vulnerable in a relationship reveals the old wounds that have never healed. Every person has a history and therefore has these. Each new connection you make can be challenging, because for you, it is an opportunity to finally be fulfilled or to suffer the potential heartache of a breakup.
In his book “The Betrayal Bond,” Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., says that at the core of trauma there’s a loss of connection to life and the world we live in. This connection is not only towards the people in our lives, but also our identity, our bodies, and our memories. It can erode our sense of self-worth. So, if we don’t have a connection to ourselves, how can we create authentic connections with others? Additionally, Dr. Carnes talks about how early attachment experiences with our caregivers begin to form the foundation for what role we take on in relationships, as well as the subtle art of recognizing our emotional. See how this disconnection can start in childhood?
Intimacy and Healing
The past does not have to affect your future. Take your time to explore the depths of your hurt with a supportive professional. Your own healing journey in therapy can help you realize how lovable you really are. The goal is not about becoming someone else but allowing your best self to emerge. Progress entails learning to tolerate difficult emotions (such as the anxiety of the unknown) and letting go of limiting beliefs and old narratives about who you are and how your love life will go.
The word “intimacy” is often described as “into me see,” which suggests that intimacy starts with knowing oneself fully. Only by truly knowing the past experiences that have shaped you, as well as your needs and wants, can you then “see” another, show up in relationships, and allow yourself to be seen. No healthy relationship exists without intimacy, and there’s no intimacy without emotional safety and vulnerability. Intimacy is created by first getting to know yourself. Then by sharing aspects of yourself with someone else while also being open to your partner’s reality, dreams, and struggles.
Dr. John Gottman notes in his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” that our deepest dreams and hopes for our romantic relationships are rooted in childhood. We may long to re-create some of the warmest memories, while also wanting to avoid the painful ones. These dreams can cause problems if our partners do not truly understand them.
Dr. Gottman suggests asking open-ended questions to better understand your partner when facing gridlocked issues, such as the ones that people keep arguing about time after time. These issues are usually due to differences in personalities, upbringing, etc. Questions cover exploring core beliefs, ethics, and values. You can see if there’s a story behind it or if it relates somehow to your childhood. When we ask questions, we can understand ourselves better and make better choices. We then can create more intimacy and connection with ourselves and others.
Love can only stay if it’s seen the real you. Accepting your past, healing through it, and sharing important aspects of it with your partner can create more closeness. Relationships thrive in transparency about each other’s pasts. You deserve to find a loving, healthy relationship.