Photo by Chelsea Victoria via Stocksy.
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be the result of a toxic relationship, physical or sexual assault, a manipulative ex, substance abuse, a mugging, a death—whatever the reason, there is no trauma that is insignificant. And one thing they all have in common? Traumas leave us emotionally vulnerable. And, unfortunately, there are bad people who prey on and take advantage of the emotionally vulnerable.
So how do we protect our heart when we are ready to expose it once again?
Ask yourself not just, “Am I ready?” But is this what I really want?
After enduring trauma, it’s understandable to seek comfort in other people. And even without trauma, people tend to rebound after a breakup. But even if you do feel ready for a relationship, is that what you want right now? Really examine and unpack that, because it’s not just easy, but tempting, to jump into a relationship before you’re ready. Unfortunately, that often leads to heartbreak, and can actually compound your trauma. If you don’t already have one, consider seeing a therapist. They will be an impartial sounding board to help you figure out when you’re ready and what you want.
Don’t share your trauma with the other person too early, even if you trust them and like them.
I once dated a guy who spent the entire first date casually asking me about my previous relationships and why they didn’t work out. In the back of my mind, I thought, “This is weird. It’s not really appropriate to ask these kinds of questions on the first date.” And yet I was trusting and answered them anyway, thinking that he just genuinely wanted to get to know me. But first dates are for getting to know each other’s favorite music, movies, what we like and don’t like about our jobs, and funny anecdotes about siblings and family. They are not the place to unpack emotional baggage. Ever. Be wary of anyone trying to gather information and learn specifics about the kind of person you do and do not want to date; they might just use that information to pretend to be that person for awhile. It’s definitely a red flag that you might be talking to a manipulative person. That being said...
Be wary of the signs, and trust your gut.
The guy who asked me all of those questions about my past relationships on our first date? And the voice in the back of my head telling me that it wasn’t the right time to reveal these things? I was right. That relationship ended shortly thereafter, and it ended with me heartbroken. Your gut will never lead you astray. The heart can convince the brain of damn near anything, but your gut is there to remind you that things are fishy and to proceed with extreme caution. Or run.
First dates don’t get second chances.
Let me be clear: You owe no one a second chance. But especially someone you just met. Did they say something that made you uncomfortable, even just for a second? Did they do something you didn’t like, no matter how seemingly small? Don’t go out with them again. We have a tendency to want to see the best in people, and we wind up subconsciously making excuses to fit that narrative. We might think, “Well, this person might be damaged and has been through a lot.” But even if that were the case, that person isn’t ready for a relationship. It’s best to end it before things escalate.
You do not have to apologize or justify if you need to wait before getting physical.
If you aren’t ready to take things to the next level physically, you don’t have to explain why. A good person, one interested in a relationship with you, will understand and respect your boundaries. If they don’t, or if you feel like you need to put out to get that person to stay, that person isn’t relationship material and it’s time to bounce.
Don’t blame yourself.
If it doesn’t work out, don’t tell yourself that it’s because you’re too damaged or you’re not worth it. It’s hard to put yourself out there. You live and you learn. Keep a lookout for red flags. Respect yourself for the amazing person that you are, and don’t accept anything less than a partner who sees all of those amazing parts of you. You may have experienced trauma, but you are not a victim; you’re a survivor.