Do You Have Post Traumatic Dating Stress?

Not to make light of real PTSD here...but many of us feel like we've been through some traumatic dating experiences that can leave us a little shell shocked. Personally speaking, no matter how much healing, forgiving, and heart opening exercises I do, I still get a little weary of who to trust these days...and I know that many of you do too.

I hear it all the time. You've been lied to, cheated on, used, abused, hurt, ghosted, ignored...the list goes on. The older we get, the more experiences we have that scare our once brave hearts back into their shells. 

You remember those experiences, even if they're just present in the back of your mind. And then it've got a new partner, or even just one date, and BAM!  You find yourself pulling away, feeling anxious or fearful, or even reacting in anger.

It may have nothing to do with your partner. Instead, it is the trauma and the hurt from before that have your mind and heart reeling. You and your new partner may be confused about this reaction, and without awareness and communication, it can ruin a relationship. 

If you're a Love Connector with and anxious attachment, or a Love Paralyzer with a disorganized attachment, you are more prone to feeling anxious and distrustful of others. Both styles can become anxious when they have even the slightest hint of a partner pulling away. When you add the layers of rejection and heartbreak from the past to these two attachment styles, moving through the vulnerability of dating can feel quite challenging. 

The problem is, if you want to fall in love and find a healthy relationship, it’s going to take some trust. Actually, a lot of trust. And it is also going to take awareness and healing of your past hurts so that they are not running the show and sabotaging your new relationship.

You may be feeling a bit skeptical about who to trust when you're dating. So how do you put your faith in someone when you believe you can’t trust anyone? 

You must know the depth of your wounds.

As a therapist, I’ve worked with trust issues in one form or another for years. The first key to overcoming this problem is to first identify the origin of the wound that caused the trust issues. I’ve heard about every kind of accident, trauma, and jerk behavior you can imagine.

Despite the endless array of details around how someone develops a fear of trusting others, I’ve found that essentially, there are two different types of trust issues. Knowing which one you're dealing with is the key to healing and learning how to trust again. Here are the two types:

Little "t" trauma.

You know the kind… you’ve been lied to by a friend, or cheated on by a lover, or you’ve been witness to other human beings in their not-so-finest-moments. This type of trust issue can definitely create fear and a lack of trust in others, but it’s generally workable. 

Big "T" trauma.

Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or any kind of traumatic experience can lead to a significant lack of trust in people, or in life in general. These kinds of experiences can indeed rock your world, and make it difficult to find the faith in anyone.

The brain can become wired to react in fear and distrust with any reminder of the pain or trauma.  Even if you want to trust someone, you may find that you keep people at a distance as a protective measure, or you may even seem to have the opposite reaction and trust everyone, even when it may not be wise to do so. While this type of trust issue is workable, it usually requires professional intervention with mental health therapy. 

So if you don’t think your trust issues come from trauma, there are a few things to consider to help you open your heart and move forward in your life. 

Rewrite your story.

Every moment of pain or joy in our lives is defined by the story we create about an experience. You have the power to reframe your story about anything that has hurt you, and any of the circumstances surrounding it. If you’re feeling angry, hurt, or betrayed, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and feel like a victim. It’s easy to build a wall of distrust and believe that everyone else will hurt you too. This only serves to intensify your pain, and keep you in a disempowered state.

Instead of feeling angry or victimized by someone’s actions, try to find the silver lining in the experience.  There is a gift in every situation, even the worst ones, if you look for it. The heart is a muscle. It only becomes stronger with use, so open up, take a risk, and get comfortable with vulnerability. 

Embrace vulnerability. 

Compare trust, or the resistance to trusting, with holding your breath. It takes a lot of energy to hold it in and remain closed. But when you finally let go, and take that breath, you find yourself gasping, and then relieved to do what you’re meant to do… breathe. Trust is no different.  

Remember, we were born to love, not to fear.

It is our innate human capacity to love and to trust others, even as a matter of basic survival. We are not born fearing and distrusting others. It is only the experiences that we have throughout our lives that teach us to fear. Sometimes, those experiences are vital to our survival.

We learn about what causes physical pain, or what’s dangerous. We learn the basics, like don’t get burned by fire. Don’t walk in front of a car. Don’t walk down a dark alley alone. There’s fear for our basic survival, and then there is fear that’s created from the stories in our minds. Know the difference, and then choose to distrust the stories that keep you fearful and limited. Your mind and your heart will be richer with the exhilaration of taking a risk and finding that it was worth it.  

Heal the wounded heart. 

If you’ve experienced the second type of trust issue because of trauma or abuse, please know that it is important to seek help. Despite your experience, there are people in the world who will not hurt you. Your brain and your heart may need some extra care in releasing the pain and healing the wounds. The best way to do this is to find a therapist that can help you heal. Sometimes taking the step to talk to a therapist requires an enormous amount of trust in and of itself. However, I hope you can find comfort in the fact that have seen many people learn to trust again, despite unthinkable pain and despair in their lives. It is possible. You just have to take that first step. 

Know that it is possible to trust again. Remember, as a human being, you were born to trust, not to fear. It is your birthright. We just get lost along the way. The key is to find your way back. Identify the wound, apply the right medicine, and your heart will learn to open again and again. Trust me.