As we near the end of May and Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to take time to acknowledge the profound impact that trauma can have on an individual’s ability to form and maintain relationships. I’ve experienced this pain and challenge firsthand and know how difficult it can be to see a path forward. But, I’m here to share that although traumatic experiences can leave deep emotional wounds that require time for healing and self-care, you can and will survive.
Understand that it’s OK to take time to breathe and heal. Working through past trauma and rebuilding your capacity to engage in healthy relationships is indeed possible, with the proper support, education, and tools, you will become stronger and stronger.
Caring for Yourself after a Traumatic Relationship
When you’ve experienced a past relationship trauma—whether physical, sexual, or emotional—it’s essential to prioritize your well-being and healing above all else.
Self-care practices can vary from person to person, but some effective strategies to seek out include therapy or counseling, practicing mindfulness and meditation, engaging in physical exercise, and connecting with supportive friends or family members.
Remember, healing is a process; slow down and take the time you need to feel well. Be patient and gentle with yourself during this challenging process.
Recovering from Your Trauma & Starting New Relationships
After experiencing trauma, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about entering new friendships and romantic relationships. Before you move forward, there are several steps you can take to assess yourself and properly gauge your level of comfort and readiness.
- Step 1: Find Professional Support. Therapy or counseling can provide a safe space to process your trauma, learn coping strategies, and develop healthier relationship patterns. A qualified and experienced therapist can guide you through the healing process and help you navigate new relationships.
Consider contacting organizations like RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) or your local mental health clinics for referrals to trauma-informed professionals.
- Step 2: Educate Yourself. Knowledge can be so empowering, uplifting, and reassuring. Educate yourself about the effects of trauma and its impact on your physical and mental health and future relationships.
Study and understand common reactions and triggers that may arise. The more you learn, the better equipped you’ll be to set boundaries, recognize red flags, and communicate your needs effectively. The Trauma Foundation is a good place to start your educational journey.
- Step 3: Set Boundaries. Prioritize your well-being by setting clear boundaries in your existing and new relationships. Identify what makes you feel safe and communicate those parameters and requirements openly and honestly with your family, friends, or a new partner.
It’s essential to be firm in upholding these boundaries and aware that they may evolve as you heal.
- Step 4: Listen to Your Instincts. Trust your gut when it comes to embarking on new relationships. If something feels off or triggers discomfort, pay attention to those feelings.
Honor your intuition and take any necessary steps to protect yourself. Discuss your concerns with a trusted friend, therapist, or support group for additional perspective and guidance.
- Step 5: Practice Self-Care. I can’t say it enough: Prioritize your self-care as you navigate new relationships. Engage in activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental happiness, health, and overall well-being. This can include exercise, meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, or pursuing hobbies that bring you joy.Self-care reinforces your sense of self-worth and resilience, rebuilds your confidence, and will help you in supporting and maintaining healthy boundaries and making empowered choices as you move forward.
- Step 6: Build a Support Network. Surround yourself with trusted friends, family, or support groups who understand and validate your experiences. This is an excellent time to accentuate the positive and eliminate negative forces in your life.
Sharing your experiences with others who have gone through similar situations can also provide a sense of community and validation. Organizations such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE ) or a local rape crisis center can connect you with support groups or individual counseling options.
- Step 7: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! When you feel ready, open and honest communication with your friends, family, or partner about your past trauma is essential.
Choose a safe and supportive environment to share your experiences, concerns, and needs. Effective communication can help your partner understand your boundaries, triggers, and how they can best support you. Consider providing them with resources or encouraging them to seek education on trauma and its impact. (If you’re comfortable, ask them to attend support groups with you, too.)
Healing is a unique and individual journey, and it’s crucial to respect your own pace and be patient with yourself as you navigate this difficult time. Your progress may be slow and far from linear—and that’s OK! Reach out for support when needed and celebrate each step forward, no matter how small.
Spotting Red Flags: Safely Maneuvering New Relationships
While entering a new relationship, it’s crucial to be mindful of potential red flags that might indicate an unhealthy dynamic.
What should you watch for? Displays of controlling behavior, lack of empathy or understanding, consistent dismissal of your feelings, failure to listen to or respect your boundaries, attempts to separate you from your friends and family, and gaslighting are all common red flags.
Trust your intuition and seek support from friends or professionals if you have relationship concerns. If you feel threatened or unsafe, seek immediate help (don’t hesitate to call 911).
Talking About Past Trauma: Communicating with New Partners
When you feel comfortable and ready, open communication with your new partner about your past trauma can be an essential step to take.
Feeling like you can trust your new partner to share intimate and important information is a big sign for you, but for them, too. Sharing details can contribute to building a healthy foundation of trust and understanding.
Let your partner know ahead of time that you want to find a quiet space and time in which to discuss your experience (this gives you both a chance to prepare). Select a safe and supportive environment to share your experiences, and be prepared for various reactions and questions.
Before you begin, communicate your needs, boundaries, and triggers—this will help your partner better prepare to support you on your healing journey.
Finding a Healthy Path Forward: Practicing Self-Care
Self-care remains crucial, even after you begin a new, healthy, and supportive relationship.
Prioritize your emotional well-being by continuing therapy or counseling sessions, maintaining healthy boundaries, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and help you relax and feel centered.
Remember that your healing is ongoing, and taking care of yourself is essential for the longevity and health of any relationship.
Supporting a Partner Through Trauma
If you are in a relationship with someone who has experienced trauma, it’s vital to provide support in a compassionate and understanding way.
Educate yourself about trauma and its physical and emotional effects. Learning as much as you can so that you can better empathize with your partner’s experiences. Practice active listening, validate their feelings, and avoid judgment or blame. Encourage your partner to seek professional help, if needed, and be patient as they navigate their healing journey.
Being Aware of Your Partner’s Triggers
Understanding your partner’s triggers is crucial to creating a safe environment for you both. Be mindful of situations, words, or actions that may remind them of their trauma. Speak with them to better understand if any of these issues may be avoidable and help support their journey to identify and manage their triggers.
Strive to be responsive to their emotional needs and help to create a space where they feel comfortable expressing their fears and concerns without fear of judgment. Respect your partner’s boundaries, be patient, and provide reassurance whenever necessary.
Your love and understanding can be some of the best medicine to help them heal and move forward.
Help Your Partner Practice Self Care
Supporting your partner’s self-care practices can significantly impact their healing process.
Encourage your partner to find engaging activities that promote relaxation and well-being. Good examples include exercise, mindful meditation, writing in a journal, or pursuing hobbies that they enjoy.
Offer to join your partner in self-care activities or provide assistance in finding resources or professionals who can support their healing journey.
Getting Help, When You or Your Partner Needs It
As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s remember the importance of nurturing our mental well-being in relationships and while single.
Healing takes time and is a deeply personal process. If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma, don’t hesitate to seek professional help and support. Together, we can create a society that values mental health, empathy, and compassion, allowing individuals to heal and thrive in their relationships. Let’s continue to raise awareness, promote understanding, and prioritize mental health not only during Mental Health Awareness Month—but every day of the year.
Join me on this journey of empowerment and transformation. Please consider contributing your story to my book project, Honor Betrayed. Together, we can create a world where assault survivors find solace, where their voices are amplified, and where hope flourishes. Please fill out the contact form on my Get in Touch page or contact me directly at Jakia@jmlindley.com to learn more.