Something that you should know about me, is that I LOVE talking about dating!! While that does not mean that I love being single, it was during that time that I learned so much about myself, who I was attracted to, and what seemed to be getting in the way of me finding my spouse. My hope is that this post will help you continue to explore 1. How your past experiences can impact our present moments and 2. How to experience healing that will bear hope for your future.
In considering dating, it’s important to name some of the difficulties that you may have faced that would contribute to developing a secure connection to someone else. I recognize that this list definitely will not cover everything and that these are just some of the themes.
Connection With Parents
Parents often do the best that they can to care for their children. Sometimes physical or mental illness, financial stressors, poverty, addiction, and trauma get in the way of parents’ ability to healthily connect to their children. When this happens for children, they may learn that the only way to feel a sense of connection is to meet the needs of their parent or the family by taking on their roles. Later on in life, they may develop unhealthy connections that are based on caring more for the needs of others. Or, you may find yourself unaware of your own personal needs or boundaries. For so long, you learned that your needs could not be met, and so you learned to ignore or push them away. Sadly, at times, the source of your emotional, physical, or spiritual pain are your parents. This can cause you to feel that others are “out to get you” or that no one has good intentions. If that was your experience, let me be someone who says out loud that life is not supposed to be that way.
Models of Partnership
For better or worse, we often shape our expectations for romantic relationships on what we’ve observed around us. Our parents’, extended family, friends, spiritual communities, and culture all influence the way that we are drawn to and connect to others. For example, if the community you are a part of values commitment over physical intimacy, you may not factor in your level of attraction to someone when deciding long term plans with them. Or, if your parents’ openly struggled in their marriage, it may impact your image and belief that long term relationships are possible.
Impact of Trauma
While this is not true in all cases, I have found that those who have suffered physical, emotional, sexual, and domestic abuse can struggle to feel connected in their current relationships. In Steven Tracy’s book, Mending the Soul, he reflects that those who have experienced trauma may struggle with shame, low self-esteem, low-grade depression, insecurity, or may sabotage intimacy. These struggles may impact how long you stay in toxic relationships and may impact your beliefs on your worthiness of being loved. I’ve also noted that those who have experienced trauma may struggle with detachment of their emotions. If you have suffered from abuse, you may have detached from your emotions in that moment as a way to protect yourself. While this is an act of self-compassion, it may cause you to struggle with being in touch and communicating your emotions to others.
This last difficulty focuses on the emotional struggles that can impact your ability to connect in relationship. For those who may struggle with anxiety, the process of dating can feel overwhelming. Anxiety causes you to worry before, during, and after a date. If you struggle with depressed feelings, you may lack the motivation or a sense of hope that you will meet someone to connect with. I have also worked with others who struggle with paranoid thoughts or hearing voices. They have shared that it is difficult to trust others intentions and may struggle to stay present in a conversation.
There Is Hope
While these difficulties do have the capacity to impact your connections with others, I do believe that noticing how it has shaped you is the first step towards developing healthy relationships. For those who would like help in taking these first steps, counseling is a good place for you. I believe that counseling offers a space where you can have a different experience of yourself and in your relationships with others.
Once you have noticed these difficulties, I do believe that the next step is to get to know other people. As a leader once said, “if it’s community that has hurt you, it’s community that will heal you.” Dr. Sue Johnson reflects this principle in her work with couples. As the developer of Emotion Focused therapy, Dr. Johnson reflects that our present relationships have the capacity to heal our past injuries. If this is something that you are looking for, I invite you to meet with me in counseling. We will travel down a new path together.
Written by therapist Pamela Larkin
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