Waving Red Flags

Published on 21 March 2024 at 13:59

I think it's pretty evident that trauma changes our brain, changes our personality, changes our everything. And in that, when we move on from traumatic relationships and try to start new ones, whether romantic, friendly, work-related, whatever, we can go far in the wrong directions when it comes to recognizing danger (or as others call it, red flags). That's not to say we are wrong in our reactions, because how we heal is a personal journey and there's no shame in that, but there is something to say about recognizing that it isn't always the most healthy reaction in the long term. What kind of red flag awareness do you have when it comes to relationships? Is everything danger or is your head in the sand? 

No worries, you don't have to be an all or nothing choice. I'm both! Yeah that's right, I make all the bad coping choices. After my 12 year abusive marriage, I was SO sure I NEVER wanted to be treated like he had treated me. I was SO scared of the things he had done and threatened that my senses were in overdrive ALL the time. Someone so much as stopped in front of my house too long and I had a panic attack. When I met my next partner, I was very wary. I was very open about my past, my fears, my boundaries when it came to calm communication, respect, kindness. Man I was SO proud of myself for standing up for myself and making sure I was only walking into a relationship with someone that cared for me, treated me with respect, communicated with kindness, and if anything made me uncomfortable I was able to share that and we fixed it. It was SO great that I didn't even notice when I started ignoring when those things started slipping away. I fell back into my habit of survival mode. I honestly couldn't tell you the first few things I swept under the rug. Was it getting yelled at? Was it getting treated like I had done something wrong when I hadn't, but taking the blame anyways to keep the peace? Was it being lied to? So many broken promises that I kept setting aside, brushing off, hoping would get better. In case you're wondering, they don't. 

 

Sure, you can have conversations about respecting boundaries. You can talk about apologies and doing better to make things work. But unless the person crossing all those boundaries actually takes accountability, and I mean REAL accountability for all the damage they are causing and makes REAL change, this doesn't get better, it just gets worse. Because you keep giving away more and more of yourself when you shove all their behavior under the rug. What will be left of you, the real you, in this relationship? Eventually they will complain that you aren't trying, and there will be a part of that that is true. Because while you are desperately trying to keep the peace, you have gone into survival mode which has turned off pieces of you that created the basis of your relationship and they can see that too. But you won't feel safe to bring those pieces back until they make it a safe place for you to be comfortable again. Until you feel loved, respected, honored again. It's a never ending cycle.  

 

Once this relationship for me finally ended, I was devastated. Don't get me wrong, I am fully aware of how wrong I was treated, but I also very much loved him and missed all the good there was too. But now I have several trauma mechanisms working against me. I went into withdrawal for the love and affection from the very person that had hurt me so deeply. We'd been in such a yo-yo state of good and bad that when shit hit the fan I still have that toxic "for better" hopeful feeling that "maybe" we can fix it even when I should know we can't. I am also in a shame spiral, blaming myself for allowing his behaviors for so long, analyzing when the small stuff became the big stuff that I didn't realize or call out soon enough, trying to figure out when I "should" have left before I got myself into this mess. Shaming myself for even the opposite, if I had been stronger in my boundaries earlier in the relationship would he have been better or more willing to change? Then shaming myself for blaming his behaviors on me. An entire toxic cycle. And also, questioning whether or not I'm remembering some of what happened to be as bad as I made it out to be, after all, I can't trust myself right? 

 

This big bag of trauma reactions has been kicking my butt. And to tell the truth, sent me right back into the arms of my abuser. No, not back into a relationship. But we decided we could be "friends" and sometimes have sex... yeah super healthy right? Nothing bad can happen with that right? I will be honest, the arrangement has eased the withdrawal feeling a bit and allowed me to feel a little more human again. I can make it through the day without bawling constantly, I can eat a little, sleep more than 2-3 hours a night. But what it has not done is made my brain slow down from the confusion of feelings. This weird in between is still pretty painful and does not stop the shame or memory "loss" that I've been fighting. And it certainly still has me on edge for when/if he will snap at me again and I will be brutally reminded of why we stopped seeing each other in the first place. I guess some give and take right now is all I can handle. Baby steps. 

 

See, we're all human. I'm not encouraging anyone to go back to their abuser. I'm not encouraging you to do what doesn't feel good. I'm just saying trauma is messy. And we have to do what we can to survive until we are ready to heal. Healing is a long term process. So if you're still in survival mode, give yourself some grace. 

 

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