Loving after trauma is hard, whether it’s fresh trauma from a recently ended abusive relationship or that nice, artisanal, baked-in trauma from childhood.
I recently thought I was protecting myself from someone who was triggering me like my ex, but I later wondered if pushing him away was a sign of a deeper unmet need from childhood.
I have what you might call a happily ever after problem. I want people to fill the roles I think would be beautiful and wonderful, which sounds lovely but doesn’t actually leave much room for people to be themselves. I thought I’d already learned this lesson in 2011 (I, of course, catalog my life lessons and cross index them for better pattern recognition) but here it is again, blaring in neon across my brain: You can’t make people do what you want them to do. No matter how much you love each other.
And I do love this person, which makes it even more scathing that I panicked and ran away when things didn’t feel safe.
Of course I panicked and ran when things didn’t feel safe, but coupled with the fact that I believe making mistakes makes me unlovable, my brain has settled on thinking he’ll probably hate me forever now.
Perfectionism is Self-Punishment
You don’t have to feel guilty for not living life exactly as prescribed.
My feelings are my job
When I cut contact with this partner, it was precipitated by panic attack. I had told him that something hurt me, and he didn’t apologize. I’d spent weeks explaining that when I’m hurt, I need an apology and acknowledgement, and it was like pulling teeth to explain it over and over again.
I felt like my feelings weren’t important, like the behavior never changed no matter how many times I explained what I needed if I was triggered.
When it happened again, I snapped — this would never get better, would it? Danger. Get out. Run. Run run run. RUN!
I was talking to a trusted friend about this situation and expressing how the panic attack had started when I just felt so angry that he hadn’t been listening or learning how to respond to my pain.
And my friend said, “Okay but what does that have to do with you? You can decide how to feel about this.”
I didn’t want to decide how to feel. I wanted to be mad.
I wanted my pain, his failure to acknowledge it how I had asked him to, and my subsequent panic attack to all be on him. How dare he?
But the more distance I had, the more I saw the ways that my actions were about me, and not about him.
I hate it when she’s right.
The curiosity approach
I like to approach my trauma and discomfort with curiosity. I am investigative about it. To me, trauma feels like a big strand of Christmas lights all tangled up. I just have to start at one end and slide things around and underneath and sometimes it pulls too fast and I’m sure I’ve broken something. But they all still light up, even if they’re a mess. Sometimes I take a break and come back later and the knot isn’t anywhere near as complex as it seemed moments ago.
So after a couple days, I took a deep breath and wondered why he doesn’t apologize.
Maybe he was forced to apologize in childhood as a punishment. Maybe his parents never modeled apologies in a healthy way. Maybe my apology language was uncharted territory. Maybe to him, an apology is just meaningless words.
If any of these could be true, valid reasons for not being big on apologies, couldn’t any number of other reasons that I hadn’t thought of? Is it possible that it’s not about me?
I also wondered why I need apologies so much when I’m hurt.
Because my parents never apologized to me when they hurt me, and still won’t now that I’m an adult. Because my ex-husband skirted apologies by pointing out something unrelated I’d done that absolved him. Because to me, an apology is a small way to say “I love you, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I’m here to work it out.”
The tangled mess unravels as I face the truth:
I’m still waiting on apologies from the people who hurt me first.
And that’s not anyone else’s problem but mine.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word to let go of
If I’m ever going to have a truly healthy relationship and be the most healed version of myself, my work is letting go of the need for an apology that will never come.
Because if I’m holding all of my partners to a standard that’s going to fill the void of love I deserved as a kid, I’ll be using my righteous indignation as my plus one to wedding invites for the rest of my life.