Many people have asked me: how do you learn to trust again, after coming out of an abusive relationship?  

One has even said to me: ‘It’s too late for me, I’ll never find love again.

Well, that’s bollocks if you ask me!  It’s never too late.

Yes, you might keep picking the wrong partners, repeating the same mistake over and over again.  But you can change that.  

It is difficult, though, because as co-dependents (those who are addicted to emotionally unavailable partners), we have the strong impulse to please others, especially those who reject us.  The more someone pulls away, the greater the need to gain their approval of us.

It’s also tough when we fear abandonment.   When I first my husband who I’ve now been with for around 30 years, my fear of this led to me to push him away.  To end it I guess, before my imagined fears came true and he abandoned me.   Through fear I might have destroyed something good, even when there was no reason for it.

I had to let go.  I’d had time alone, which is very important.   Never rush from an abusive relationship straight into another one. I’d had time to be still with myself.  I had built my self-esteem.  So, I decided to enjoy being in the moment and taking it day by day.

If it’s meant to be it will be.   But if it’s not, well I’ll be back on my own.   But is that so bad?   With a strong sense of self-worth by now, I knew I’d be okay.  I would be happy with or without a man.   It was no longer dependent on one.

Here’s 8 ways to change your approach to dating and trusting again:

Stop blaming yourself for falling for an abusive partner

Don’t give yourself a hard time about this.  Instead of beating yourself up for having stayed with your abusive partner, try to forgive yourself and look at the choices you made with honesty and compassion, letting go of any self-blame, guilt or shame.  The most important thing now is to learn from the experience, to grow into a better you.

I’m perversely grateful I had that destructive relationship when I was young.  I broke the negative patterns that lead me to make bad choices in my life. It’s lead me to a better life.

Make a list of what you won’t tolerate in your next relationship

Write down a list of what you want and what you absolutely will not accept in your next relationship.  List out the behaviours that are unacceptable to you. If and when a new relationship gets serious, pull out the list if you need to remind yourself and maintain those healthy boundaries if they start crossing over them.

Setting healthy boundaries

Get in touch with your own needs

You’ve spent years of your life with someone who made you feel unloveable, that your needs were unworthy of being met. Before even considering another relationship, get back in touch with your needs again and what you want out of life.

Others treat us the way we treat ourselves. When you judge yourself too harshly or feel you’re not good enough, you are rejecting yourself. Once you learn to love and put your needs first, you will find yourself attracting more loving and trustworthy people.

Believe that it’s possible to love again

Don’t let a pattern of bad relationships lead you to believe you’re not capable of a happy, healthy relationship.  You can break this cycle.  It’s never too late.   You will find love and someone new and better for you — you just need to learn to love yourself first and others, in a healthier way.

If you do find a partner who is emotionally available, it will take a while to get used to them. You’ll feel exposed.  You’ll fear he or she’ll be able to see how screwed up you are.  Unable to control a secure and emotionally available person, you may even be terrified of losing them.    You might try to push them away – to end it before they do.   But give it time.

I was terrified emotional or physical abuse would happen again.   That’s why I tried to push my husband away. You can trust yourself again in a new relationship.   But what’s important this time around is to recognise the red flags that are always there, but often ignored and trust your gut instincts.

As I’ve said before:  Be still.   Stop projecting onto them who you think, hope and want them to be.  See them for who they really are and make sure to:

Put your needs first

Healthy, confident people look to see if the person they date fits them and their needs first.  But those with insecurities need external validation to raise their low self-esteem.

Healthy people’s main concern is if their date is a suitable match for them followed by, are we good together?  If their date isn’t interested, they don’t internalise the rejection, they just move on to the next one knowing it’s not meant to be.  They’re strong sense of self-esteem tells them they’re good enough without a partner.

Insecure people are concerned with whether or not they are liked by the other person.   They allow their emotions to be controlled by others.  Always ask yourself:  Do I like you?  Are you good for me?  Are there things I should be worried about?  Any warning signs I should heed, not ignore?

Pay attention to red flags

People show you who they are early on.  Be still.  Watch not what they say but what they do.  And pay attention to those red flags.

It’s okay to have some insecurities, but your primary concern should always be: Is this person good for me?   If that isn’t your mindset and you’re too wrapped up in whether or not they will like you, stop dating and work on your self-esteem again.  When you approach dating from an unhealthy place and you’re low in self-esteem, you are setting yourself up for another unhealthy relationship.  You don’t want to repeat this pattern again.

Listen to your gut

How does your relationship feel?  Being in love should not equate to being in pain.

Those of us who have gone into emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships, most likely ignored our gut feelings.  One form of emotional abuse — gas-lighting — is designed to make you feel ‘crazy’ when you know in your gut something’s wrong.  If you have any doubts, don’t assume you’re being paranoid.  Act on them.

Tell your partner what you’re feeling.  A healthy partner, someone who is capable of empathy, can handle talking about your fears even if you’re wrong. If he or she can’t, your gut was right.

Call out any signs of abuse

This time around, stand up for yourself and call abuse out, if you’re not being treated with the respect you deserve.  If your partner is willing to be a part of your healing process, they’ll hear your concerns without defensiveness and amend their behavior if necessary.  If they’re not, then walk away.

Before I started dating again, I spent time alone.   I knew I had to heal the scared, vulnerable child inside me.  The one lacking self-esteem and who was frightened of abandonment.

I had to face down the shame I had inside, this feeling that I wasn’t good enough.  I had to learn to stop that voice inside my head chastising me for everything I did.  To learn I can do stupid things (and believe me I’m a master of that), but that doesn’t mean that I am stupid.

I had to understand that it was shame that was making me desperate for validation.  And seeking to appease and please, even someone who abused me.    The feelings of shame made me feel vulnerable and vulnerability scared me.

Even if I showed my Ex my vulnerable side, it was later used as a weapon against me.  So, there was no trust.   Without trust, you can’t be vulnerable and true to who you are.  Without vulnerability and trust you can’t forge a deeper connection with someone.   I was never going to be able to do that with him.

But allowing myself to be vulnerable took huge courage.   When I first met the man I’m married to now, I tried hard to push him away.  Here was someone who was kind to me and who’d never hurt me.   So, I knew it was safe to show him the real me, including that scared little girl inside.   But I wasn’t used to that.

For a long time, it filled me with fear.   What if my flaws repulsed him? What if he walked away?  So, I pushed him away.  Now I was the one creating drama.   To try to cause the break up I feared, before he abandoned me.  But one day, he said to me ‘you know, I’m not going anywhere’.

It took time, but little by little I got more comfortable with it.  I let go and let him see the real me.  And by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with each other, we built trust. Trust then led to the deep connection we still have today.  And is in part what liberated that vulnerable little girl inside.

I want to give you hope that there is life after abuse.  You can find happiness again. With or without a partner.

If you do want to start dating again.  Don’t rush into it.  Take time alone to heal.  Get whatever support to do so and only start dating again when you have a good sense of self-worth.  That way you’ll attract the right kind of partner and have a better chance at the long-term healthy love that I have found.

Are you scared of trusting again?  Fearful of dating a new partner?  Let me know in the comments below. 

Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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