According to clinical social worker Leah Aguirre, trauma impacts how we view ourselves and the world at large, which in turn influences how we relate and respond to other people. It should come as no surprise then that trauma can lead us to develop maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns that hinder us from having healthy and meaningful relationships with those around us, be it romantic or platonic.
And although the American Psychological Association’s clinical definition of trauma includes only life-threatening experiences (such as disasters, accidents, assault, and so on), Aguirre explains that trauma can be generalized to mean “any stressful event or experience that threatens one’s sense of physical or emotional safety and well-being.” So it’s important to keep in mind that trauma can be subjective, and it can impact us in different ways.
So if your trauma remains unhealed and becomes triggered, you may be engaging in behaviors and thought patterns that are damaging your relationships without even realizing it. Want to know more? Here are 5 ways that trauma can ruin your love life, according to experts:
1. Lack of Trust
The nature of the trauma experienced can sometimes lead a person to develop strong feelings of mistrust in themselves or towards others, such as if they were abused, mugged, or assaulted. This can make them view the world as a dangerous place, question the intentions of others, and constantly seek out warning signs, says Aguirre. But that sense of safety and security is important in building a strong foundation for our romantic relationships, because without it there can be no true closeness or emotional intimacy.
2. Low Self-esteem
Another way trauma can impact our love life is by diminishing our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Experiencing trauma, says clinical psychologist Dr. Randi Gunther, will naturally make us feel sad and down, which can worsen into feelings of shame and self-limiting beliefs. Some trauma survivors may feel that they are at fault for what happened to them, that they deserved it for some reason or that they should’ve done more to stop it or fight against it. And this harmful belief will often lead them to feel that they shouldn’t be in a happy relationship or that they’re not “good enough” for the person they love. They may also find comfort and validation in toxic relationships because of the sense of familiarity it gives them.
3. Controlling Behaviors
According to clinical psychologist and self-help author Dr. Jill P. Weber, trauma can lead to unhealthy relationship behaviors such as clinginess, dependency, and being overly controlling towards one’s significant other. This is especially common if the trauma is related to a betrayal, such as cheating in past romantic relationships. It’s not uncommon for both those who were cheated on and those who cheated to develop a strong need to always keep in touch with their partners and even try to control what they do, where they go, and who they spend time with.
4. Conflict Aversion
Similar to our previous point, Dr. Weber explains that people who suffered from emotional abuse in the past may become extremely conflict averse. This is harmful for relationships because couples need to learn how to resolve disagreements in a healthy way, not avoid it. Conflict is also necessary for them to learn how compatible they are in terms of their values and goals. But those still suffering from emotional trauma feel panicked by the thought of conflict and any disagreement in the slightest can trigger an overreaction in them. They may ignore their problems, people please, and repress their true feelings for as long as they can, but until they learn to work things out with their partners, their relationships are doomed to fail.
Finally, arguably one of the most damaging ways trauma impacts our relationships is through the persistent feelings of loneliness and disconnection it can evoke in us. According to mental health care professional Leah Aguirre, this is brought about by the underlying belief that no one else could ever truly understand what we’ve gone through, so it’s difficult to feel connected to other people. Other examples of trauma-induced loneliness include: struggling to stay present in the company of our significant others, not feeling seen by them or not feeling like you belong with them, being unable to enjoy physical intimacy, and struggling to emotionally invest in the relationship.
So, what are your thoughts on this video? Do any of the things we’ve talked about here resonate with you?
If you have unresolved trauma in your life that’s hurting your relationships, know that there is hope and that it’s possible to heal from your trauma. The good news, according to Dr. Gunther, is that as long as couples care for one another enough, they can weather any challenges that come their way.
So don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health care professional today to get the help you need to work through your psychological wounds and unlearn the trauma responses holding you back from more love and happiness in your life. And as always Psych2Goers, remember that you matter.
Aguirre, L. (2021, Jun 3). 5 Ways Trauma Could Impact Your Dating Life. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.co
Gunther, R. (2016, Mar 16). When Trauma Disrupts Love. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rediscovering-love/201603/when-trauma-disrupts-love
Weber, J. P. (2018, Feb 7). When Past Romantic Trauma Damages Your Current Relationship. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/having-sex-wanting-intimacy/201802/when-past-romantic-trauma-damages-your-current-relationship