It’s unfortunate, but chances are good that someone you know has been a victim of abuse at some point during their life.
Abuse is far more common than people would like to believe, and it has a long-lasting impact on the mental health and well-being of those who have been affected.
Many people who are victims of abuse experience it during childhood. This can affect their adult lives in many ways, including their romantic relationships.
Here are some of the reasons it can be difficult for abuse victims to maintain healthy relationships:
How Trauma Impacts Mental Health and Wellness
Childhood trauma, especially trauma that is unaddressed, can impact many areas of a person’s life. They may develop PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), struggle with anxiety or fear for their safety, anger, phobias, and might find it difficult to trust others. These effects can all impact a person’s mental health and overall wellness.
There are many types of trauma, but abuse and family violence can have some of the deepest impacts on mental health.
It’s very difficult for victims to feel safe and able to trust those closest to them when they have been abused by a family member or intimate partner. Those feelings can affect a person’s ability to lead a normal life and thrive in relationships.
How Trauma and Abuse Affect Interpersonal Relationships
As if trauma isn’t bad enough when it occurs, many victims struggle with interpersonal relationships after they have experienced abuse, especially those who experienced abuse in childhood.
Children learn how to form strong attachments to their caregivers and how to trust others. When that trust is broken, they may struggle to react appropriately, be vulnerable with others, and regulate their emotions.
Many of these responses are adaptations. Children who experience abuse are forced to create their own coping mechanisms that help them to survive.
While these responses and coping strategies can be necessary for dealing with abuse, they can become harmful later in life. They may have trouble letting people get close to them in the future.
Relationships rely on trust and vulnerability. You have to be able to feel safe and trust your partner in order to create strong and healthy bonds.
People who have experienced unhealthy relationships and abuse sometimes even seek out those kinds of relationships and perpetuate the same cycles.
From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem strange for a person who has been abused to enter into another abusive relationship.
However, if a person hasn’t experienced healthy relationships, they may gravitate toward the only type of relationships they know.
How to Form Healthier Relationships
Everyone deserves to have healthy relationships with friends and intimate partners. Even if you’ve been a victim of abuse, you can learn how to form healthier relationships and build your ability to trust others.
The first step is to learn how to identify abusive behavior. If you have been abused in the past, you may find it difficult to spot the signs of abuse in future relationships. Understand that abusers not only exhibit abusive behavior but also often blame their victims for that behavior.
Understanding what is and isn’t abusive or unhealthy behavior is important for avoiding future problems and for choosing partners who will help you build healthier relationships.
You will need to become aware of your own emotions and reactions that could be creating barriers in your relationship, such as avoiding letting others get close to you.
Actively recognizing these tendencies will help you to work on changing how you react and manage your emotions.
Get Help if Needed
Therapy can be key for processing trauma and moving forward with your life. A therapist can help you learn new strategies for coping that are less harmful to your ability to build healthy relationships.
They can also help you understand yourself so you can improve your mental health and wellness.
If you are in an abusive relationship, it’s important to get help immediately. It’s never safe to stay with an abuser and there are people and resources available to help you get into a healthier situation as soon as possible.
Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline if you need to talk to someone—and remember, you deserve to feel safe, loved, and respected in your relationships!