Gotta Give a Little: Building Trust in Relationships After Surviving Abuse
By: Avery Smith
I always thought once I started therapy, I would be completely healed; I soon learned that even after healing from trauma, trusting someone again would be the most painful thing for me to do. Tearing my walls down and being vulnerable was hard. I realized that I now needed to take everything a little slower - dip my toes in and see how it felt, gauge if it was safe - instead of diving right in.
So, let's talk about trust. To start, you need to build that trust back with yourself. After experiencing abuse, it's normal to lose your trust in yourself. It's important to learn to feel comfortable with yourself and start to silence those voices that were put in your head by your abuser. Self- love is going to help you a lot during this process. When degrading self-talk starts to creep in, offer yourself some compassion. This is easier said than done, but with practice, you can do it.
Once you have your sense of safety with yourself, the process of trusting other people will start to unfold. What I like to do is start small. When you enter a relationship, platonic or romantic, start with something people already know about you. Some examples can be, what your dream job was as a child, a time you broke a bone, a funny memory that happened to you. Reveal a little of yourself to see if people will reciprocate and remember to build, little bits at a time. If you start at the bottom and build a foundation, you will have a successful relationship. Part of building that foundation is having to give a little bit of yourself.
If you are not ready to reveal anything about yourself, that’s okay! Work at your own pace and don’t let anyone pressure you to talk about something you don’t want to, big or small. When I told my best friend about my abuse, I did it on my terms and she respected how much or how little I wanted to tell her. Same thing with a romantic relationship; I told my boyfriend months into our relationship. It took a long time for me to trust a man again as well as people close to me.
People often ask me how I got to the point of being comfortable with my story and being able to speak about it. The truth is, I’m still at step one, maybe I jumped to step two. I was forced to tell my parents because the police took me out of class and they made me call my mom. Today, I tell people I can trust. Therapy taught me that being a survivor of domestic violence and rape doesn’t have to be my identity. I thought of it like I would walk up to someone and introduce myself with, “Hi, nice to meet you, I was sexually assaulted and abused.” But, I am so much more than what happened to me, and so are you. I want anyone reading this to remember that you are here and you are breathing and that is AMAZING. If all you did today was breathe, I am proud of you.
I was in high school when my abuse happened, and my ex used it as a tactic to bully me and get me to talk to him. He would tell every guy in the school that I was easy, and guys would constantly degrade me. After telling my family, they did not want to believe it happened, and that made my healing harder. If you are feeling this way, please reach out for help. Therapy helped me not feel trapped and invalidated. I was able to finally get my story out to someone who understood what happened to me and remind me that it was wrong.
Once you start to feel secure and validated, you will be able to trust your gut feeling of knowing who you trust. Do not ever feel forced to tell YOUR story. Trust yourself that whatever you are doing is right. Regain that trust in yourself. Look in a mirror and chant, I AM BEAUTIFUL, I AM LOVED, MY STORY IS VALID. Do it every single day until you know it to be true. I will leave you with this, “Friendship is built on two things: respect and trust.”