Trauma and Relationships Part 2: What is a Healthy Relationship?
We may encounter a variety of relationships throughout our lives and interact with different individuals at different levels of intimacy- some as acquaintances and others as intimate friends and partners. Relationships can prove to be complex and multifaceted. Many of our early experiences and interactions can shape our way of connecting to others, relating to others, and protecting ourselves from others. We will explore the question what is a healthy relationship when trauma has affected one or both people in the relationship.
When we have a history of trauma, this can impact our ability to easily connect in a healthy way to others as well as maintain appropriate boundaries that protect our well-being and emotional needs.
When we explore our relationship patterns in therapy, often we strive towards understanding what makes up a healthy, fulfilling relationship. For those of us who have experienced trauma, it can be difficult to discuss our interpersonal struggles, as this can bring up strong feelings of guilt and shame for how we have interacted with or disengaged from others. Trauma can impact our ability to trust others and our ability to feel safe in relationships.
When we have experienced a form of trauma in our lives, it can also influence our own set of beliefs about the world and how other people act, think and feel. Exposure to traumatic events can restructure our beliefs about fundamental components of relationships, including safety, trust, power, esteem, and intimacy.
If we have experienced being a victim of trauma or abuse, it is common to have thoughts, such as “there must be something wrong with me”, “the world is unsafe”, “my future is hopeless” and/or “I will never be able to trust someone again”. Our thoughts may veer towards a negative viewpoint and may often represent a worst case scenario. If we maintain these negative beliefs about others, then often this may lead to interpersonal conflict or miscommunication in our relationships.
It is possible to have a healthy relationship after trauma. Experiencing a reparative, healthy relationship can help us live a life of emotional, physical and psychological wellness.
What is a healthy relationship?
A healthy relationship can be defined as a mutually respectful and fulfilling connection between two or more people.
Healthy Relationship Beliefs Include:
- I feel safe with my partner
- I feel safe in my relationship
- I feel safe around others
- I seek understanding and effective solutions
- I believe most things can be discussed in a healthy relationship
- I can take accountability for a problem that I am having in a relationship without placing blame.
- I can recover from the loss of a relationship, despite it being sad or emotionally painful.
- I believe that all individuals in a relationship deserve to be respected.
Key components that contribute to the health of a relationship include:
- Safety- It is important to feel safe in any relationship, but it is particularly important for those of us who have experienced trauma. When we feel safe, we are able to feel a state of calm and stability and may be comfortable enough to open up to new experiences and relationships
- Esteem- Esteem is the feeling that we have about ourselves. It is important to feel good about ourselves and to recognize our core value and infinite worth as unique individuals.
- Intimacy- Intimacy is the degree to which a person feels a deep connection with another person, and is usually measured by the amount of comfort we feel when we are in close proximity with someone. Consider that feeling close to someone and letting your guard down can feel dangerous after experiencing relational trauma.
- Trust- Trust is the degree to which we believe and rely on another person. It is important to feel able to trust people in a relationship, and especially in our intimate relationships.
- Power- Power is the ability to control something and when we consider its role in relationships, it is important that a healthy relationship be founded on a balance of power.
Consider your own beliefs about what comprises a healthy relationship. Where did these beliefs stem from? What core values influence your beliefs about healthy relationships? Who are you modeling your beliefs about healthy relationships from- parents, friends, mentors?
What do you believe to be the most important aspect of a healthy relationship? Remember that relationships are fluid, dynamic and ever-changing just as you are growing and changing in your own individual goals and self-knowledge.
Consider journaling to this concept and sharing with your therapist, partner or close friend about your ideas and how you may want to improve your relationships moving forward.
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