Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dating can be exhilarating and exciting, but not for everyone! Dating can be daunting for lots of different types of people for lots of different reasons. Those who have had bad dating experiences, endured some kind of betrayal of trust, are recently divorced, have survived childhood trauma or are just plain shy can all dread opening themselves up to a complete stranger when they are looking to date.
For some, the promise of a new type of life, from single-hood to marriage with the possibility of children, can pull even the most reluctant would-be daters into dating territory. For others, dating is a fun experience that they can throw themselves into, but what happens if they find themselves dating, and not sure how to work with, someone who has trauma or bad experiences in their past? How do you navigate the minefield?
With a little awareness and accommodation, even the most trying relationships can flourish and be wholesome and healthy. It only takes one healthy person in a relationship to make the relationship work! And ‘wounded’ people don’t have to be perfect for a relationship to be perfect for each partner.
Here are a few guidelines that apply to most relationships that might help.
1. Good boundaries prevent broken hearts.
No question. When we practice good boundaries, our own projections, needs, wants and back-story have no influence in an otherwise potentially happy union. Here are some examples of areas you might not think of as "boundaries", but with conscious attention, will totally change the way you relate to others.
Projects are where we have an ‘old story’ unfinished, brought back to life in a new relationship, with the new actors resuming old roles that we thought were long gone. Projections have an uncanny way of recreating ‘the same old drama’ in our lives. Once we are mindful of them and curtail them consciously, they don’t hold the same potency or influence.
Our "needs" are our unmet needs from long ago, when we were children dependent upon our caregivers for survival. We often project onto others the responsibility for meeting these needs, but in truth, we can meet these needs ourselves, which a critical step in creating healthy relationship boundaries. Unless we do that, we are expecting our partner to meet our unmet needs, and that can cause two problems: we can become reliant upon our new partner for those needs being met (the definition of co-dependency); we then can become resentful of them for ‘parenting’ us and disabling our own self-parenting ability.
Our ‘wants’ are the check-list (conscious or subconscious) that we make about any potential mate, which is fine if they help to exclude certain behaviors tolerated in the past that you no longer wish to entertain. But they can close down potential too, as perfectionism is one of the key inhibitors of true intimacy! Better not to limit yourself, and be open to new aspects in a new relationship that you might not have considered before.
Everyone has a ‘back-story’. Our back-story is usually the cause of the beliefs and limitations that we own as part of our identity. Letting go of our back-story as part of our identity is one of the most powerful, liberating acts of self-love that we can accomplish. Letting that go—or at least being aware of it and its influence—means not projecting that limitation into our new relationship.
Having good boundaries means owning our own stuff, not projecting it onto others, and keeping a watch on any ‘old patterns’ we had to stop them seeping their way into our mindset or behaviors.
Good boundaries also means being able to be vulnerable in a relationship, which means having intimacy. There is no intimacy without vulnerability. Being capable of being vulnerable doesn’t mean giving up one’s independence at the same time; a drawbridge down doesn’t mean no castle stands.
Good boundaries means each person in the union operates independently of the other, while embracing togetherness.
2. Identification with any kind of wounding is a personal choice, and recovery is a choice too.
Everyone has their stuff. We all have slights and woundings that have hurt us in ways that affect our behavior. The key is to clear these woundings so that we learn from them, rather than have them affect how we behave. When we identify with the woundings we’ve suffered, our way of interacting with the world changes; we draw more on the wound and less on who we are in our interactions. When we clear those woundings and slights, we are free to engage with the world (and potential partners) from a place of authenticity that’s in keeping with our true selves. There is no greater gift we can give ourselves than enabling ourselves to be authentic in the world.
Identification with wounding is a choice, as is personal recovery and refusing to allow wounding to be who we are. Remembering that can help us not to give in to wounding, or be overwhelmed by it, but instead help us to be galvanized in our determination to be free of it; the same is true of any potential mate. Everyone can own their stuff, process their wounding and be themselves, and that is a choice. Offering up the dedication and effort it takes to heal is a choice we make that counts towards our quality of life. Some people choose to own their wounding as a badge of identity and they have free will to do that if they wish. Knowing this as you meet new people helps you to spot who chooses to be free of their past and who has chosen to live in it. Those who are free of a wounded identity usually make for more balanced and less victim-orientated relationships.
3. ‘Wounded’ people often unconsciously play out their wounds — but we don’t have to engage in their dynamics!
Original wounds form patterning in a person’s energy field that tends to repeat over and over again when those original wounds are not processed. When those original wounds are repeated, as repetition wounds, the original dynamic of that pattern is projected out into the life and relationships of the person carrying the wound. In other words, the ‘wounded person’ tries to subconsciously recreate the original wound with new actors in their life. Repetition wounds are the repeated patterns that tend to enmesh a person into a perspective that can make independent, healthy thinking (and relating) impossible.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to encourage fair play, where original wounds are not projected onto new actors in a wounded person’s life. All it takes is for one person not to engage in that projected dynamic and to be mindful enough not to fall into that lull. ‘Wounded’ people tend to play out their wounds unconsciously and that can weave dynamics around that person that new people can either fall into or with which they can refuse to engage. When we see past a person’s wounds and still like what we see, it can be liberating for the wounded person to be seen like that and that can liberate them from their old ways. A new partner can do that, but only if the new person is mindful of what is going on and in turn if the wounded person can see their own wounds at play. Another key deciding factor will be if the wounded person wants their authentic selves in that relationship more than they want their old wounds to be played out. If the old wounds are more demanding, the wounded person will often move away from that relationship, thinking that their needs aren’t being met.
4. Not everybody is damaged.
There is an abundance of wonderful, happy, balanced, thoughtful, heart-centered, warm and loving, generous, giving people in the world. They don’t get much media attention or public airtime, but they are there. If a person is ‘wounded’ and tending to attract and socialize with others of a similar vein, that can lead that person to believe that the world is not a happy place, or that there are people out there who can be trusted.
The truth is, not everybody is damaged and wounded people don’t have to be free of all of their wounds to stop projecting them onto their partner. ‘Wounded’ people can think that the world is a damaged place, and society can reflect that if the wounded person’s personal lens is expecting that view. But being mindful that one’s lens is only a lens can help us to stay present in the moment and not project our own preconceived beliefs into new relationships.
5. Unconscious healing is not the only way.
Unconscious healing is where we repeat old original wound dynamics over and over, in an unconscious attempt at healing them. Being mindful of one’s wounds and processing them by ‘parenting’ them in wound work, is the best way to stop repeating and expecting the old ways of being from your past into your present life. Unconscious healing can take a lifetime of repeated trauma in relationship after relationship; the daughter who experienced her alcoholic father beat her mother growing up can try to normalize her relationship with her father as an adult by dating men who remind her of him. The daughter will tend to date men who are violent alcoholics, then leave them and date a man who is in therapy for anger management but still drinks to excess. She might leave him and date a man who has healed from whatever caused his rage and has managed to get sober. But in unconsciously healing her relationship with her father in this way, the daughter might spend all her adult life in relationships that cause pain, and it might take her a lifetime to be attracted to a man who doesn’t repeat the trauma and abuse she suffered as a child.
6. Seek out togetherness despite the imperfections.
We can think that if a new relationship isn’t instantly perfect, that this is a ‘sign’ to walk away. Everyone has imperfections of some sort but by accepting that no-one is perfect and allowing people their faults, we open ourselves up to potential love. Having good boundaries and standards around certain behaviors that you definitely don’t want in your life, and knowing what those are, can help us to be more compassionate and forgiving about the behaviors of others that are more tolerable. Trust, honesty and heart-centered thinking are generally good barometers of a healthy relationship.
7. I’m enough. I don’t need to do anything to be valuable, I just need to be.
Setting very high standards for our own behavior and thinking can make us feel less-than or unworthy when we fail to meet those standards. Forgiving ourselves for times when we weren’t as loving as we might have towards ourselves is a good start to clearing guilt trips we lay on ourselves and helps us towards self-love, which is an essential component of any good relationship with another person.
See the ‘Inspirational’ section in this month’s newsletter for an exercise to help with the process of developing self-love.