We’ve made it to part six of the “Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid” series and the Clo Bare’s history of all relationships extravaganza! In this post we’ll talk about how to start dating again after trauma, learning how to trust yourself, and dating while healing. If you’re just coming to this series now, I encourage you to check out “Part One: Dating Anxiety“, “Part Two: Savior Complex“, “Part Three: Dating the Wrong Men“, “Part Four: Relationship Red Flags“, and “Part Five: Fear of Abandonment.” Part Five brought us up to post-China and left us off after my relationship with Kyle, and in this post, we cover the healing process and dating after trauma.
The Therapy Years: How (not) to Start Dating Again
I started seeing my therapist in September 2017. For a while, I avoided talking about the China trauma and focused on my relationship issues with Kyle. I’d brush lightly over what happened in China, but because I never thought I needed to talk about it.
I was fine after all! I had a job, apartment, friends, a boyfriend who I couldn’t stand most of the time, and a gaping wound of worry and constant anxiety in my chest– but I was FINE.
By January 2018, Kyle and I broke up. You can read about our break up in “We Broke Up, and It’s Okay.” But essentially it was fine, needed and pretty mutual.
Addressing the Elephant in the Therapy Room
It was then, an entire five months after I started seeing my therapist, that I finally started to tell her about Savan and China.
“I cannot believe it’s taken this long for you to tell me about China,” I remember my therapist saying, eyes wide and shaking her head when I finally told her the whole story. “This is a lot, Chloe. What a big thing for you to carry all this time.”
I shrugged at this. I’d been “carrying it” for three years now. Shoving my unresolved feelings about it down into a bottle of wine had become the norm.
She told me I likely had PTSD from it, but I told her I never felt traumatized. PTSD was for veterans. I was just unlucky in love.
But despite me being convinced I didn’t have PTSD, we pursued PTSD treatment with EMDR therapy. You can read about my first session with EMDR therapy, here– the same session in which I realized she was right. I had some mother fucking PTSD and some seriously unprocessed trauma.
So we dove in! We started rehashing the bad stuff and going through the things I’d shoved down for so long.
During this time, I didn’t attempt to date for a few months as my therapist and I dove deep into EMDR therapy. I talk more about how that journey started and how it went in a post about PTSD and EMDR, the stages of EMDR therapy and how my first therapy session went, as well as dealing with a PTSD flashback in the midst of it all. I won’t dive too deep into it here, but let’s just say it wasn’t easy even though it was well worth it.
Dabbling in the Dating World
Since I was fresh out of a relationship and transitioning to a new apartment and a new job/career, dating was one of the last things on my mind… at first. But as the dust from my break up settled and the transition into a new job, new apartment and new life smoothed its edges, I decided– fuck it.
Let’s go on some dates. Who cares that I’m in the middle of revisiting my trauma— I need fun! And sex! And lovely summer dates on patios! Drinks and DJ’s and swiping and excitement!
Let’s do this, I thought, rolling up my sleeves to dive into the flaming garbage can that is online dating. But I, I was going to find the least broken thing.
Any guesses on how that worked out?
As you can imagine, flying into a dumpster fire covered in the gasoline of my past traumas is not particularly productive or recommended.
Dating while Recovering from Trauma
For those of you who aren’t up to speed on my experiences with trauma therapy, trauma therapy involved digging through the trenches of my trauma to look in the face of the memories and address things head on. Meaning I literally relived some of the toughest memories and moments of my life. So much so that not only did I feel the memories in my waking hours, but I dreamt of the trauma over and over and over again with alternate endings and moments where I try to run but can’t.
All this was going on, and for some reason I thought trying to date again was a good idea.
Issues I Faced in Dating While Healing
I faced a LOT of issues while I tried dating. A few of note:
1. Attracting the Wrong People
You know the law of attraction? Where you attract what you put out in the world? I think there’s a little bit of truth to it. When I am down and all out of sorts with myself, the type of people I seek out are not the type of people who are all happy and in love with themselves. Instead I seek out people who will understand me.
During this time in my life, I sought out people who understood the broken parts of me. The parts I put out on display. I was entrenched in my trauma so I wanted people who would either understand the darkness I held on my shoulders, or would help distract me from feeling it.
You know what I attracted because of it?
- People who avoid their feelings and numb with alcohol, drugs, or adrenaline inducing activities.
- People who blame the world for their issues.
- The types of men who are only interested in finding a project, fixing it and savior complexing their way into my life.
None of those types of people were what I needed.
What I needed was to be alone and figure my things out for myself. Not numb the big scary feelings with men who’d make me feel less alone. Part of the healing involves feeling the feels so we can accept and then let go of them.
2. Thinking with My Trauma Brain
During this time, my mind felt like a constant tangle of self-doubt and second guessing. Because I was reliving my trauma, my trauma brain was put on full-time duty trying to protect myself from reliving or replaying the traumatic experience over with someone else.
Because of it, I couldn’t recognize what was my gut talking versus what was my trauma brain telling me to GET OUT BECAUSE ALL THINGS ARE NOW A THREAT.
In my post about how to overcome dating anxiety, I dive into the topic of how I learned to tell the difference between my trauma brain and gut, but it took a while for me to figure out. And to be honest, it’s something I’m still kind of figuring out.
When I first started dating again, I drove myself insane trying to figure out the difference between trauma brain and the gut. I’d try to force myself to like people I didn’t like– telling myself that I should like nicer guys or I should give someone who I didn’t want to be with a chance. On the other hand, I’d convince myself that the bad guys weren’t actually bad because it was just my trauma brain telling me to run.
My brain went like this:
He lied to me. But it’s not a big deal right? I should just let it go. No, I should talk to him and put down a boundary. Chloe– you’re just trying to find the bad in a good place because you’re scared it’ll happen again. You’re running away from something good. Am I though? Am I? Aren’t I just looking for myself? Isn’t this my gut? How the FUCK do I know which is which?? You just know– trust yourself! How the FUCK am I supposed to trust myself when you look at my track record of dating TERRIBLE human beings? It’s fine, you’re fine, everything is FINE.
So I gave extra chances to the people I shouldn’t have.
I was easily gaslighted with words like “you’re just scared,” “so you’re going to run away the second things get hard?”.
I dated men I would never date now.
And I doubted myself the entire way.
I had to relearn how to trust myself, and only recently, more than a year later, do I feel confident in my ability to trust myself and give myself what I need to feel safe.
When Things Started Looking Up
I had no emotional availability until I finished EMDR in September 2018. Even then it took me a few months of healing before I could really start dating again.
It felt like starting at ground zero– redefining what I wanted, learning what I needed, and deciding to be hyper aware of red flags the second I saw them. I figured out why I don’t date nice guys, how to tell the real nice guys from the self-proclaimed nice guys, and learned what dealbreakers I had.
This blog and writing helped me identify the things I needed, and going to therapy sped up the process to getting those things in my life.
Dating Post Trauma: Still Learning
It’s November 2019 as I’m writing this, and I’m still in this place of learning. But I’ve made some serious progress.
I’m starting to stand up for how I feel when something feels wrong or off or hurtful.
I’ve recognized my tendency to act on my fear of abandonment, and I’m learning how to manage it. I’m setting boundaries around respecting my time, and handling my dating anxiety as it comes. Now I call out shit when it’s unfair and I voice my frustrations when I need to.
The Patterns I Keep an Eye On
Some of the patterns are still there.
I’m still working on the feeling of “OMG WHAT IF YOU END UP WITH HIM FOREVER AND YOU’RE UNHAPPY BECAUSE MARRIAGE IS DEATH”.
The thought “this would be easier if I was a different person” still shows up, the difference now is I know that’s either my cue to leave or a sign that somethings off.
The need to do, be a pleaser, put other people’s needs ahead of my own is still something I have to manage.
Sometimes I still feel the need to change who I am, perform desirability and make myself more lovable but I notice it now and I adjust accordingly.
I’m figuring out how to love myself beyond my achievements, and that includes being lovable when I’m not doing. This is a lifelong battle and knowing that I am enough without doing is absolutely something I’m still working on. Almost daily, I remind myself I deserve to be loved for who I am, not what I do, achieve or make other people feel.
I’ve defeated some of those patterns too!
Even though I feel the urge to take care of people, I no longer act on my savior complex.
I no longer have any desire to date someone I’m incompatible with. And the need for security is something I now work to find within myself.
My Last Relationship
As of writing this, I recently ended a relationship with someone due to ultimately incompatiblity. He, we’ll call him George, and I dated for about six months, went to Mexico together, had a fun summer together and really enjoyed each other’s company.
But something wasn’t right. And instead of trying to force myself into a mold I couldn’t fit into anymore, we parted ways.
That last relationship has made me realize I’m getting closer. Because the good things were very apparent and the bad things weren’t horrendous. I still struggled with “doing” too much and putting his needs before my own.
But I got better.
That relationship felt completely uncomfortable sometimes and absolutely amazing other times. I caught myself vacillating between feelings of extreme gratitude and that paranoid feeling that something horrible was going to happen.
Sometimes the paranoia slipped in and made me think that George was not who he said and showed me to be. I still felt that tiny wondering that maybe he was just fucking with me, but I did my best to sit with the discomfort, until I realized the discomfort was telling me something– something wasn’t right.
And now I trust that.
The anxiety I felt was my gut this time telling me that he wasn’t the right one for me.
When I was thinking with my trauma brain, I wouldn’t have been able to trust that and I would have kept the push and pull of the relationship going until something terrible actually did happen.
But I’ll talk more about this past relationship in my relationship autopsy, which will be coming up next week.
How to Start Dating Again: What I Learned
I’ve learned a hell of a lot in the last couple years, about myself and about dating in general. I’ve been pretty safely dating for the last year, and only recently can I say I’m doing pretty darn good at not only recognizing what I do and don’t need, but also standing my ground on my boundaries.
Here are a few of my suggestions on how to start dating again, especially after trauma:
Clo Bare’s No BS Tips on How to Start Dating Again
- Decide if you’re ready to begin and know that it’s okay if you’re not. I clearly thought I knew what I was doing when I dove into dating while undergoing EMDR therapy, but it became very evident that it wasn’t the right time for me. Are you going through something right now that needs your full focus, like therapy, a massive project that requires a lot of emotional energy or maybe just rebuilding yourself? It’s okay to take time. The world of dating will still be there when you’re done.
- If you start, remember, NO ONE has better insight to how you feel than you. You are the world’s leading expert on how you feel, what you want, and what you need. Do not let ANYONE– not your mom, not your new boyfriend, not your girlfriends– try to sway you from what you know to be true for yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. You’ve learned how to protect yourself better. You’ve done the work and you know vulnerability allows people to connect. After trauma, being vulnerable is SCARY as fuck, but remember, you’ve done the hard things. You’ve been through the trauma, you’ve done the therapies, and now you know when to be vulnerable and when to not. Trust that gut feeling that tells you you want to share to connect, and know that anyone it doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable with is likely not someone you want to pursue.
- Know what you want and what you don’t. Have you created boundaries that you know you will not and cannot cross? Do you know what works for you and what doesn’t? Do you have an idea of what are nonnegotiables for you as you trek off into this garbage fire (jk, but seriously)? If the answer is no, I encourage you to spend sometime thinking about what actually matters to you in a partner, beyond the “tall, dark, and handsome” bullshit.
- Don’t go out on all the dates (unless you really want to). It’s an easy way to burn out– saying yes to all the people who ask you out. Instead, go out with the ones that actually excite you. Take some time chatting back and forth and building at least a little rapport so you know you’ll at least have something to talk to for an hour over drinks. But don’t feel like you have to say “yes” just because someone asks you out. Say “yes” to the ones that get you pumped for going out after pm on a weeknight (that shit is hard to do in Chicago winters).
- Don’t go into the date thinking “THIS PERSON COULD BE MY PERSON PLEASE LET THEM BE MY PERSON”. Instead, take the pressure away. Realize, you’re going on a date to hang out with someone who may or may not be cool. That’s it! There’s no expectation for it to turn into the love of your life. There’s no expectation for you to immediately hop on the treadmill-like timeline that is our odd societal standard for relationships past a certain age. Instead– try to have fun. That’s right– enjoy yourself. Enjoy getting to know another human being who wants to spend time with you. Take pleasure in the fact that you’re meeting and connecting with a total stranger who if it weren’t for the apps you would’ve NEVER encountered. Take all that icky fucking pressure and shove it into the gutter. Fuck the pressure. Fuck the expectations. Enjoy the human you’re hanging out with for who they are and what it is– two strangers seeing if they enjoy each others company.
- Know you’re perfectly fucking fine, perfect, and whole on your own. Remember that. Tattoo it on your arm. You do not need this person to be better. You do not need a person to be more complete. You’re a fucking sparkling unicorn, and your life is bomb as fuck without a sub-par relationship. What you’re looking for? Another sparking fucking unicorn that backs your bomb life and existence, even bomber. To settle for less and risk making your bomb AF life a little less bomb? Fuck that noise and keep swiping.
Looking for a resource on the different types of apps and which might be the best online platform for you? Read the Consumer Advocate Guide to Online Dating
This Concludes the Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid Series!
It’s hard to look at your past. To unwind the sticky weeds of lives you lived only to find dandelions where you thought flowers once bloomed. There’s bravery in the moments where we look inward and realize the person we’ve been pointing the blame at stares back at us in the mirror. I never thought writing out my past relationships would impact me, but as I wrote and read through the peaks and valleys of my romantic life, patterns emerged, patterns I wasn’t previously aware of.
But I’m glad I did it. I feel oddly lighter.
All the Relationship Patterns I’ve Learned From
Now in the spirit of the final post in the Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid Series– Let’s list out all the lovely patterns we’ve recognized:
- Dating Anxiety
- Fear of Commitment
- Black and White Thinking
- Fear of Confrontation
- Getting into relationships simply because someone likes me and I think I should like them too
- Pattern of avoiding of disappointing someone else at the cost of my own well being
- General avoidant behavior as a means to protect myself
- Feeling as if I owe someone something simply because they like me
- Savior Complex
- Dating the wrong men and pushing away the right ones
- Compromising too much for relationships
- Putting aside my own needs
- Changing for a relationship
- Not feeling lovable as I am
- Trying to gain love by being useful/good/the best/extra extra instead of just being
- Ignoring relationship red flags
- Putting someone else first
- Looking for validation outside of myself
- Looking for security outside of myself
- Fear of abandonment
- Not trusting myself
What Patterns Have You Discovered?
We did it! And I learned a LOT. I hope you did too!
Now my list of patterns is not comprehensive. It’s just my patterns. Your’s might be different. Have one you want to share or think people should know about? Share in the comments below!