If you’ve been in any type of unhealthy relationship and successfully gotten out, at some point in your recovery, you are likely to experience feelings of reticence, caution, cynicism and even paranoia about others. This is particularly the case in regard to romantic partners. Once you’ve been burned, it’s not so easy to risk getting close to fire again, right?
Since it’s pretty unrealistic (although sometimes quite appealing) to live your life in solitary confinement, it’s vital to know how to work through some of these feelings of extreme mistrust. The following three steps are essential if you want to not only protect yourself, but also reclaim a healthy social life.
- Educate Yourself- The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from getting into future destructive relationships is to educate yourself about unhealthy patterns. And not just obvious markers. You need to be attuned to the subtle nuances that often get overlooked. Knowledge is power. You need to know what to watch out for like the back of your hand. Once you familiarize yourself with early warning signs of abuse and classic red flags, you can move forward with confidence in your relationships, knowing that you can accurately identify worrisome behavior early on in the relationship and walk away.
- Practice, Practice, Practice Setting and Maintaining Boundaries- If you’ve been in an unhealthy relationship, there is no question that you’ve struggled to maintain boundaries. A manipulator will use all types of tactics to push, blur or collapse your boundaries including mockery, manipulation, playing the victim, intimidating or threatening you. As your will to maintain your boundary increases, the punishment for doing so escalates, likely causing you to fold eventually.
This abusive conditioning might leave you fearful of setting any type of boundary moving forward and doing so will likely cause you discomfort. Do it anyway. Learning to tune into what you really want or need and ensuring that it happens, while also protecting yourself from mistreatment, is a necessary skill if you are going to have a healthy life. It’s like riding a bike; awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never look back.
- Trust Yourself – One of the most challenging pieces of recovery is recognizing that the lack of trust in others is really about the lack of trust in yourself. It’s easy to lose faith in your “gut feeling” if you feel it has led you astray in the past. Your sense of helplessness feels like something beyond your control, something that happens to you, which you are powerless to stop. But let’s break it down.
- Did your intuition fail you or did you choose to ignore it?
- Did you decide to look the other way because it was easier than confronting what you didn’t want to believe?
- Did you tolerate mistreatment because you just wanted to be loved?
These are tough questions to confront, but remember, this is not about blaming yourself, it is about knowing yourself and your tendencies in relationships. This is extremely valuable information so that you can trust yourself to know the warning signs, set boundaries and end mistreatment if it arises in your future.
Trusting others, and yourself, is arguably the hardest part of recovering from an unhealthy relationship. It may feel practically impossible to get to a trusting place again. You can do it. You have knowledge and the beautiful gift of intuition. Listen to it and set healthy boundaries by honoring what it says. As you practice this, you will see your fear of relationships dissolve and the quality of your relationships flourish.
Avery Neal, PhD, LPC is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. Avery is the author of, “If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse,” which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by Oprah.com, DailyOM, Counseling Today, American Counseling Association, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine and her courses have been taken by nearly 18,000 people worldwide. For more information visit www.averyneal.com.