Living With A Trauma Survivor

I write a lot about what it’s like to live with a trauma history. I’ve only occasionally thought what it must be like to live with me or to be my friend or partner.

You see, when you have experienced a trauma, the person you were and the person you could have been, no longer exist. There is a grief attached to that, the loss of you and of your past potential, that takes a long time to heal for most.

And the rules that apply to people without trauma, don’t really fit those living with trauma and it’s impact. Trauma breaks people; most temporarily, but for some, permanently.

It changes the way you see the world, and people, and relationships.

When you are abused as a child, you lose trust and a sense of positive self-worth.

As a result, as an adult, you need validation continually that what you are saying, what you are doing, and what you are feeling is okay. You second guess yourself all of the time. Trauma survivors don’t know what the boundaries are and can drive the people closest to them nuts by seeking validation and/or approval constantly. It is hard to live with, but harder to live through.

Remind your survivor that they are safe with you, and that they are enough, especially on the really hard days.

Once a survivor opens up and trusts you, you’re pretty much in for a hard ride. You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.

Because a trauma survivor’s sense of trust has been demolished, when we trust, we trust wholly and expect you to live up to our expectations. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.

We don’t trust easily. We are used to people letting us down, but we expect you to be better than everyone else which sometimes means we don’t allow you to be human, and you feel like you can never win. You can’t. Sad, but true.

Your survivor still loves you, they just need more. Like, if we are feeling something or processing something or working through something, we need to work it through fully. You need to listen. You need to engage. Until it all makes sense in our heads from our perspective, just nod, hold a hand, remind us, “I love you. I’m listening. Keep talking.”

If we express that your behaviour doesn’t help our situation, listen closely, say what you are hearing back, and maybe negotiate a compromise on your behaviour. If that could work.

It’s hard, living or being close to a survivor of trauma. Most of us experience, especially in the early days of healing, irrational rages. If not rages, serious bouts of depression-like behaviours – not wanting to leave the house or interact with others or get dressed or do anything.

We hurt those closest and we try to push them out of our lives before they can hurt us. Even if you stay, we will keep pushing and trying to see how far we can push you, what it takes to break you, because we don’t believe we are worthy of you or your love or your friendship. If there is a chance you can hurt us, your life won’t be easy.

We are damaged.

The world doesn’t look to us like it looks to you.

Where you see sunsets, we see night coming, and that means fear of someone hurting you.

Where you smell eucalyptus, we smell the abuser who wore Vick’s as they hurt us.

We are triggered by the weirdest things at random times, and often can’t access why until we have completely lost our shit. After the release of breakdown, the shedding of another layer of healing, we return to the vulnerable human you know and love.

It’s a hard life for everyone involved. You, the partner or the friend or the parent, well, you need to self-care, you too, need a support network, you need to do what you can for yourself to ensure you cope okay.

You’re right, it isn’t fair.

But it also isn’t fair for the survivor. Healing is a process. There isn’t a one size fits all. And often, healing can take a lifetime as the survivor learns how to live in a world that allowed the damage to happen in the first place. Surely, that, is the ultimate betrayal in trust.

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