April 9, 2014

Loving Someone with a Traumatic History. ~ Betsy Greer


Trauma can come in many packages.

From abuse in all its forms: physical, sexual, emotional, among others, to assault, war, abandonment, accidents, medical mishaps—the list goes on.

It can come from one event or myriad events. It doesn’t have to be prolonged to do damage, and what psychically scars one person may not phase another. However, many of us with trauma in our history have been characterized as “difficult,” “impossible,” or “broken,” when that’s not the case.

People who have gone through trauma simply need care that is a little different from what is often considered “normal,” but if we receive these things, we can feel comfortable giving our true selves—the true selves which we have been hiding ever since trauma came into our lives.

Those of us who live with the aftereffects of trauma continue to do so in the hopes that we will one day be free from its grip.

May these steps provide a road map to helping us get to a healthier relationship with the people in our lives, wherever they may reside in our lives.

1. Take time. Lots of time. More time than you think “lots of time” allows.

Remind them that you want to get to know them as a person, not just for a relationship. After being treated badly and haunted by it, we want to know that someone is there for us in whatever carnation we can give them, as a friend or more. While you may not be rewarded with the type of relationship you want, you will be rewarded with more openness than we usually allow. This is a gift.

2. Open your heart without pity.

Some of us have stories that are less than uplifting, that we are ashamed to tell anyone, the truth of which we rarely tell ourselves. When we don’t want to remember something that happened, seeing it clearly and objectively is hard. Do not pity us because we seem sad or lost, but welcome us, all of us, even parts that we deem wicked, broken or completely unlovable or relatable.

3. Let us cry, freak out, and howl.

Be there for us when we’re at our most broken without judgement. Hug us. Cry with us. Say, “that sucks.” Do not offer solutions unless we ask. Do not run from the parts of us that we have unveiled. We are showing them because we want to reveal the parts of us that have been rejected, beaten, mocked, unsheltered. The key here is being able to weather the storm without judging us and realizing that showing this side of ourselves is not just a cry for understanding, but an act of love.

4. Let us call the shots.

I know you may want to know if we are friends or something more, but sometimes we just don’t know what we want. We want someone who chooses to be with us whatever way we decide. We’ve seen too many people run away once we’ve bared our truths, and just want you to stay. We just want you (more than anything) to want to stay.

5. Realize that in not knowing what we want, we may be confusing.

We may want one thing one moment and another thing the next. Realize that we are not doing this to be unkind or confusing on purpose. Realize that we are doing this because we truly do not know how we feel. Many of us have rarely or never allowed our real selves to make decisions that were authentic, as we only did what others told us or might like.

6. We may act younger than our literal years sometimes.

That’s because parts of us never were allowed to fully form in varying situations depending on our individual traumas. As such, we may have problems regulating our emotions, keeping them in control, which gives us much shame. We hate ourselves when we do this, and hate what we do to you.

Trauma is no excuse for bad behavior, but if we sometimes snap back or cry too loud over something that seems trivial, realize that we are trying our best. The best thing you can do is not escalate the situation.

7. See that we wear masks because our true selves have been beaten into submission and shame, sometimes literally.

We just want someone to see us for our true selves and not the selves our traumas have constructed.  More than anything we want to show the true selves under our masks, to uncover what is buried and bruised and cowered. We do not take this lightly, taking off our masks.

We do so with the greatest hopes that you will stay.


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Apprentice Editor: Kristin Monk / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Bo-realist/Pixoto, Khurana/Pixoto

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Betsy Greer