6 steps that can lead to more successful and fulfilling dating experiences as a recovering childhood trauma survivor.
As childhood trauma survivors, dating can feel hard, vulnerable, and even downright exhausting. It can touch on our most tender parts, triggering unhealed wounds. Dating can cause us anxiety and fear. Because we experienced pain, abandonment, and disappointment from the closest people in our lives, learning to open up and trust not only ourselves but others can be difficult.
As children, we gained many necessary coping skills that helped us navigate and survive the instability that our parents and caretakers subjected us to. We also carried many stories and beliefs from our childhood experiences into our adult life. This created the perfect storm to continue the pattern of unhealthy, abusive, and potentially toxic relationships as we got older – confirming our opinion bias that people are untrustworthy, disappointing, and hurtful.
Gaining an understanding of how trauma works will help you better understand every relationship you have.
It’s common after a childhood filled with emotional neglect and abuse to act from a place of avoidant, anxious, or disorganized attachment in our dating lives. More than anything, I want to normalize this. These are nothing more than normal responses to abnormal experiences. However, while our survival coping skills helped us as children, they are no longer serving us as adults. In fact, they are likely interfering with your ability to build and sustain healthy relationships.
The good news is, we CAN change these patterns of anxious attachment. We CAN take steps that help us heal and create secure attachment. The following 6 steps are exactly what I have implemented to create a supportive and healthy foundation in my own dating life and as a result, I’m actually having fun dating, feeling more confident, and willing to listen the red flags, aka my intuition, when they show up – saving me time and unnecessary heartache.
Bringing awareness to your childhood experiences, along with a desire to understand how they affected you and continue to do so, is the key to unlocking the door to love and deep connection. Without this first step, the following ones could feel difficult. Getting to know your trauma and understanding how it shows up in all areas of your life, including intimate relationships, will help to create an intentional dating life that leads to healthy, grounded, supportive, and sustainable relationships.
Identifying your core values before you go out on that next date will help set you up for success. When we haven’t identified the core values that are most important to us, the ones that we are unwilling to waiver on, it leaves us flying by the seat of our pants. It leaves room to favor things like attraction and spark while overlooking more important values such as relationship, lifestyle, and children preferences. Knowing what it most important and holding those values close to your heart will reduce the likelihood of abandoning YOURSELF for the idea of the person sitting across from you.
Here are some of my values to help get you started. Snag any that feel aligned with you, or use them as inspiration to create your own.
My non-negotiable values:
No cigarette smokers
A healthy relationship with alcohol and recreational drugs
Passionate & self-motivated
Freedom based lifestyle
Trauma aware and open to/in therapy
Financially healthy and responsible
If the person across from me is attractive and the sparks are flying, I can easily get distracted. As I’m sure you can as well. My values list reminds me to pump the breaks when I find out that marriage and kids are an important part of theirs.
I can’t stress communication enough! Honest communication will build a sound foundation for the rest of a relationship to grow upon. Yes, expressing to someone you barely know what you want can feel vulnerable. However, once we’ve put this step into practice, it can feel like a superpower. If you’re still finding it difficult to express your values, wants, and needs after the first couple of dates, it might be worth considering a brief break and re-visiting step one. Here are a few exploratory questions to help you move through:
“Why does it feel challenging for me to express what I need and what I’m looking for in a relationship?”
“Was there a safe space for me to express my needs and wants as a child?”
“How do I respond to my own needs and wants?”
It’s easy to get swept up into the feelings of chemistry on a first date. Chemistry can only take us so far, though. As trauma survivors, we need much more than chemistry to create safe, loving, and supportive relationships that have the potential for long-term success. If you can stay grounded in your body, pay attention, and remain curious; your intuition will tell you if it’s more than just chemistry or not. If you feel you’re getting sucked into “chemistry territory” and losing your footing, take a moment to check in with yourself and ask…
“Am I showing up right now from a place of inspiration or a place of deprivation?”
Your intuition is ALWAYS right! It knows, which means YOU know. However, as trauma survivors, we rarely had much opportunity to build a strong relationship with our intuition. That combined with common feelings of unworthiness and a struggle to trust ourselves, we turn our red flags green, hoping to find love at any cost. The more we notice the red flags and move away from them, the stronger our relationship with our intuition becomes and the better we get at letting go of what’s not right. When we do that, we naturally begin making room for what is.
Intentional dating means not choosing someone from a place of deprivation but slowing down, trusting the process, and taking the time to get to know someone. From there, you can make an informed and healthy decision when choosing a partner. This is a much different approach to dating and because of that, I can almost guarantee you’ll experience different results.
~ Albert Einstein
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got.”
While I’m not a dating coach, I have been navigating relationships and dating as a trauma survivor for over two decades. I spent much of that time abandoning myself, feeling abandoned by others, chasing people who didn’t respect me, and looking for love in all the wrong places. Essentially, I’ve spent much of my adult life learning the lessons of how not to date…the hard way. The thing is, I did not know why love felt so gut wrenchingly hard for me. I felt broken and unwanted. I kept doing the same things over and over, expecting a different outcome and beating up on myself when it didn’t happen. It seemed like something was wrong with me.
The reality was, I was unknowingly searching for people that would help me relive the experiences of my childhood so that I could try to get the love and support that I so badly wanted as a kid. This cycle was a recipe for co-dependent, toxic, and unhealthy relationships, heartbreak, and re-traumatization. Trauma recovery gave me insights and awareness to see how I was showing up in my dating life and the tools to take responsibility for my healing. Today I do my best to date from a trauma informed perspective, which means not taking things too personally, staying curious about a potential partner’s behavior, setting clear and intentional boundaries for myself while also respecting those of the other person.
If you are ready to heal your childhood wounds so that you can begin dating from a more grounded, whole, and healthy place, I would love to support you on your journey. My 1:1 coaching container creates a compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe space that meets you right where you are today. From there we move at a pace that supports your life, goals, and visions for your unique and beautiful future, a future that can look anyway you CHOOSE.
You never know how one conversation could shift the direction of your life.
Lots of love ~ Morgan