Impossible: not able to occur, exist, or be done.
by Teresia Smith
That’s a pretty clear cut definition and sadly, that’s how many survivors of abuse feel about future relationships. The majority of people really don’t realize the enormity of the problem of intimate partner violence in the world today. Most victims feel embarrassed or shamed and keep their abuse private so nobody really knows what they’ve been through. Once they escape the abusive relationship, many say they will never date again; however, we were not meant to be alone and they probably will find themselves in a new relationship at some point. Often, even they don’t realize the full impact of the abuse until dating again.
Frequently we see movies portraying fairy tale accounts of someone escaping an abusive relationship and then they find their Prince Charming and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work out quite that easily. More realistically, a survivor spends some time working through emotions and trying to heal wounds. After some time, they may meet a really great person and decide it is time to try to date again. This new person may be a dream partner and an amazing person and everything the abusive partner wasn’t. As the new relationship starts to get serious, the survivor may feel panic as old pain and trauma resurface, and they just expect that this new person will turn out like the former. The new partner may be great and truly care for them, but there is always an inner fear that there will be a repeat of abuse. So in a weird self-protective way, the survivor treats the new partner like he is already guilty of abusing them, which in turn will probably destroy a good relationship. We must learn to not punish your new partner for the mistakes of the ex-abuser. If you start to feel manipulated, step back and ask yourself if they are really doing it or are you overthinking things out of fear. And your new partner will need to understand where you are coming from and why you react the way you do, so it’s imperative that you communicate what you’ve been through in the past. If necessary, couples therapy may help you understand each other.
So, what can we do to stop letting past abuse destroy good relationships? A priority needs to be in utilizing a good support system and working to heal the wounds from prior abuse. Thinking you can just forget about the pain and not work through the emotions after abuse can leave you surprised later on when those emotions rear their ugly head. Utilizing a domestic violence advocate and learning signs of both healthy and unhealthy relationships can help. Acknowledging the abuse, not blaming yourself, and realizing you need to heal your self-esteem so that you feel worthy of being loved can help to lead you to the relationship you always wanted.
In the beginning, it may be difficult to form a meaningful relationship again because it’s so hard to trust someone. But don’t give up. Recognize your needs and if the new relationship isn’t meeting your needs, don’t settle. However, don’t let your fears and insecurity from the past ruin a good thing. Don’t think a new partner will just “fix” everything. Utilizing a crisis counselor or therapist can help you learn to heal your emotions, communicate your needs and set healthy boundaries, which will all help facilitate a healthy relationship.
Starting a new relationship after an abusive one is undoubtedly challenging. If you’ve been hurt, it’s normal for you to be scared to open up again. But you need to believe that you deserve a happy and healthy relationship. Closing your heart off might keep it safe, but it won’t get you anywhere. The journey may not be easy, but it will be worth the effort. Remind yourself it takes time to heal, forgive, and learn to trust yourself again.
There are many resources available to help you deal with life after an abusive relationship. Read books and articles, reach out to local resources such as Crisis Services of North Alabama, and utilize your support network. All of these things can help you work through the healing process and develop healthy strategies. Most abusive relationships keep the victim isolated so now it’s time to reconnect. Having a strong support system will help you tremendously.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. You may reach our office for an appointment at 256.574.5826. We also offer a 24/7HELPline where you can reach a trained crisis counselor at 256.716.1000.