Here are some of the things I’ve been told about men:
Men don’t like needy women.
Men don’t like women who talk about their problems.
Men don’t like women who are an open book.
Men don’t like women who tell them how they feel.
Now, I don’t know about you…
But as a relationship expert, when I hear statements like that, I hear alarm bells start going off!
I started my career studying marriages on the verge of breakdown. I know what causes relationships to fall apart.
Deliberately withholding communication—not talking about your problems, not saying how you feel, not admitting you need each other—is a BIGGIE.
So I started thinking…
Why do we hear this advice?
It’s BAD advice. It sets you up for relationship disaster.
What kind of person would even say this???
What I realized was this:
We’ve got a lot of traumatized people giving dating advice.
And that dating advice is re-enacting our original trauma…
The trauma of not being seen and heard and loved for EXACTLY who are.
What is Trauma?
Talking about trauma can really put a damper on things…
I guarantee you that most of the singles on your favorite dating app do not know or care about trauma!
What in the world does trauma have to do with love, anyway?
Isn’t it about accidents and crimes and disasters and serious stuff like that?
It’s not about what happened to you. It’s how you experienced what happened to you.
When you are overwhelmed beyond your capacity to cope and you’re unable to heal, that’s trauma.
So it’s obvious why children are more susceptible to trauma. Small children haven’t developed the ability to emotionally self-regulate yet. They get overwhelmed easily. They need a loving adult to help them calm down and feel safe again.
But not all kids have that.
A child left to cry it out night after night, because her parents were told that this was the correct way to get her sleep through the night, can experience trauma.
On the other hand, something major can happen to a child, like an accident that lands them in the hospital, and they can emerge without trauma because they were able to talk about it and process it and be comforted.
What Trauma Has to Do with Love
The greatest cushion against trauma is secure, loving relationships.
When you can rely on someone in your life to be there for you and listen as you share your darkest moments and support you through your pain, you’re able to heal.
If you experienced that kind of secure love and support as a child, you tend to expect it in your romantic relationships.
You won’t stay with someone who can’t handle your truth. If he runs away at the first sight of your pain, good riddance!
But if you’re one of the many women with unhealed trauma, then it’s likely that you’re used to people shutting you out and letting you down. You’ve learned not to put your full trust in anyone. You hold back, because you’ve been burned before.
So when someone tells you to hold back with a guy and NOT tell him your true feelings and NOT show him your true self, you’re all over that. That makes complete sense! That’s how you already deal with the risk of emotional pain.
You think you can keep yourself from being hurt by never showing up fully and authentically in a relationship.
How Trauma Affects Attachment
This is why I say we’ve got traumatized people giving dating advice.
A secure person would NEVER tell you to avoid leaning on a man or avoid telling him how you feel. Solid relationships stand on a foundation of honesty and interdependence.
But when you’re traumatized, honesty and interdependence feel terrifying.
Let’s go back to that kid who’s having an overwhelming experience.
For whatever reason, the kid is really upset, they’re hurting emotionally, and they need someone to help them.
But they don’t get that help. No one is coming to hold them and reassure them and tell them that everything’s okay.
That child can conclude one of two things.
They can tell themselves:
Right, no one is coming to help me. I can’t trust adults. Obviously, the only person I can rely on is myself. I’m going to become completely self-sufficient, so I don’t ever have to need anyone.”
That’s an avoidant attachment style, and it describes a lot of guys.
Or the child might conclude something else:
Right, no one is coming to help me. How can I make that adult over there pay attention to me? Maybe if I attach myself to them physically, they’ll help me. Maybe if I do exactly what they want and make them happy, they’ll help me. Maybe if I become the perfect child, they’ll help me.”
That’s an anxious attachment style, and it describes lot of women.
No wonder we have people telling women that they need to twist themselves into a pretzel to please men. That’s a survival strategy born from trauma. It says, “You can’t expect men to love you as you are; you have to WORK for their approval, and THEN they’ll reward you with love.”
Think that works?
The funny thing is, it works for other traumatized people.
They’re playing the same game. They’re as afraid of getting close to you as you are of them. They don’t want you to see who they really are. And they don’t want to see who you really are, either.
So the next question is:
How do you break free?
How to Heal Trauma
The only way to truly break free is to heal your attachment wounds. As long as emotional pain is running your life, you will attract the wrong guys.
The best way to heal attachment wounds, hands-down, is through a strong and trusting therapeutic relationship.
I know therapy is expensive. I know it’s a huge time commitment. I know it’s painful.
But for some of us, a therapist might be the very first person in our LIVES that we could tell our deepest, darkest secrets to and feel unconditionally supported and accepted.
A good therapist models a secure attachment bond for you. They show you what it feels like to be with someone who’s not going to judge you or turn their back on you.
So I really recommend therapy, but that’s not the only way to heal attachment wounds.
You can also heal attachment wounds in a romantic relationship.
Healing Trauma in Relationship
Imago Therapy is a therapeutic modality developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his wife Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt.
Dr. Hendrix and Dr. Hunt believe that the purpose of relationships is to heal each other.
They believe that relationships are the perfect vehicle to heal childhood wounds, because the vows of marriage keep us together when the pain of healing becomes unbearable—as it invariably does.
The problem is…
Not all men are willing to do that work with you.
They won’t even admit they’ve got attachment wounds. Childhood trauma is for other people!
If you’re with a guy like that—a guy driven by his own wounding, a guy who refuses to look at it and refuses to change—I have to wonder what that relationship will feel like for you in 10 or 20 years. It gets old.
So, if you want to do this work in relationship, make sure you’ve got a partner who wants to do it with you.
Someone who’s so sick and tired of his own pain, of never letting down his guard, of never really getting close to anyone, that he’s ready to change.
As you learn to trust each other, as you learn to share your real self and no one is running away, you start to feel secure.
This person is your home base. No matter how hard life is, when you come back to them, you’re enveloped in a safe cushion of love and support. They’re not dangerous. They’re on your side.
That’s what we really want from relationships:
We want to finally feel like someone has our back.
Does your guy have yours? Do you trust him enough to allow it?