Learning to Trust After Abuse

Link to The Resurgence: "Nothing is Wasted"
Link to The Resurgence: “Nothing is Wasted”

Very few people look forward to dating again after the end of an abusive relationship. I didn’t. You may wonder how you will ever be able to trust yourself to not date another abuser. I battled the fear that it was something inherently wrong with me which caused a few individuals to abuse and assault me. That was not the case. If you have been a victim of abuse, there was nothing you did to cause it; abuse is always the choice of the abuser. It is the desire for power and control. Being abused by one person – or even a dozen – does not mean you cannot find (or do not deserve) someone who will treat you with love and respect.

Learning to trust yourself comes with learning to value yourself. That can be a process of years. Two books which helped me on this journey of self-appreciation were Ruby Slippers by Jonalyn Fincher and Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid (but there are countless books and articles written on the topic). Counseling or support groups can help. Surrounding yourself with positive, affirming people will also go far in understanding your own worth and value.

Once I learned my own value, I realized that not everyone deserves my trust.

Let’s say you’ve entered another relationship and things are going great. It’s a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. You feel relieved to discover that the abusive personality of your ex had nothing to do with your taste in partners.

However, you’ve still experienced a loss. Maybe the abuse didn’t start with your ex – it may have begun in your childhood. Either way, someone at some point deeply hurt you and betrayed your trust. It’s only natural that you would hesitate to trust people or allow them to get close to you for fear of another loss. Why would you want to open your heart again and risk being hurt? You fear betrayal and therefore find it difficult to trust this person. You fear (and rightly so) becoming vulnerable to a person who may only use that vulnerability as a weapon.

Part of learning to trust again is purposefully working through the grieving process. It’s not something that will happen overnight. And, ultimately, when you have reached a place of healing, you still have a right to protect yourself from hurt.

Link to “9 Things to Know About Loving Again After Emotional Abuse”

I found myself unwilling to tell the first guy I (pseudo)dated after my abusive relationship about the abuse at all, for fear that he would judge me for it and see me differently. He had never experienced abuse firsthand, which only increased my reservedness.

Eventually, he found out about my past through another source and asked me about it. All I said was, “He was abusive.” I didn’t go into detail because (whether I realized it or not), I didn’t trust him. We had not known each other very long and why drudge up every skeleton in my closet just to satisfy his curiosity? I wasn’t ready and, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t share my heart just to please him.

Long story short, he seemed to handle it really well initially but used it as an excuse to break up a short time later. Classy.

His use of something in my past – something I still did not understand was not my fault – as an excuse to end what had appeared to be a good relationship only reinforced my fear that a man wouldn’t be able to respect or support me once he knew I’ve been abused. Once again, I found myself totally unable to trust someone I had counted as a good friend. Once again, I entered self-preservation mode.

C.S. Lewis did much to change my view of self-preservation, or fear of vulnerability:

“Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffering.’

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities.…

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

(From The Four Loves, as found in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, 278-279.)

Once trust is lost, it has to be regained. Your trust in other people has been lost, or at least seriously damaged, and you have to patiently work on rebuilding that ability to trust. As Lewis wrote, there is no safe investment when it comes to loving the creatures of this world. People fail one another, hurt each other. Loved ones die. Pets are lost. Eventually, our hearts will break.

Allowing yourself to trust again may take years. And, frankly, there will be people who never earn or regain your trust and that’s okay. It most likely means they didn’t deserve it in the first place. Rebuilding your ability to trust another person does not mean you drop all defenses. It does not mean that, until you can “trust everyone”, you’re not a good person (because, again, trust must be earned). Real trust, particularly after abuse, is not allowed the luxury of assuming someone is what they appear.

But, as Lewis cautioned, there is far more danger in an unbreakable heart than in vulnerability.

In a healthy relationship, vulnerability builds intimacy. That’s how marriage was designed to work: two people being totally open with each other, trusting that the other person will love them unconditionally and not based on any failures or inadequacies they might bring to the table. Long term, trust is absolutely necessary to building a healthy, lasting relationship.

 

There is no perfect recipe (that I know of) for relearning to trust. As I’ve said, being hesitant to trust someone is not a failure on your part by any means so it’s okay if progress seems slow. You’re retraining your mind and emotions to do something that hurt the last time. My recommendation is don’t go at it alone: if you can find a counselor or trusted friend in whom to confide, take advantage of that person’s help.

Here is what I have found helpful in relearning how to trust and be vulnerable since that first abusive relationship:

  1. I still have to remind myself that the abuse was not my fault.
  2. I still have to recognize when I’m believing a lie spoken by my abuser about myself (i.e. “no one will ever care about you”) and then I have to combat that lie with the truth. Sometimes I’ve had to ask close friends to help me with that because those lies can be powerfully debilitating.
  3. I try to remember that building trust and intimacy can go as slowly as I need it to. And the person I’m with ought to respect that.
  4. I follow my gut. Not perfectly but I worry less about offending someone at the cost of my own safety (or perceived safety).
  5. I’ve spoken with a counselor and done reading on ways to cope with triggers and flashbacks. Sometimes it’s a breathing exercise or calling a friend or simply counting colors in the room; it’s whatever brings me back to reality. Do your research. The more you understand how your body works and how abuse has affected your physical brain (e.g. PTSD), the better you will be equipped to heal.
  6. I talk to and listen to other survivors. Sometimes I share my own story but not always. It’s healing to let others talk and share and be comforted knowing that I’m not alone. You’re not alone.
  7. I let myself fail. It’s not always pretty but sometimes I have very real mental battles and I’ve learned that they don’t make me weak. They make me human. Struggling to trust someone else – or especially to trust myself – is a sign of healing. A counselor once (ok, multiple times per hour) told me, “Let yourself off the hook”.
  8. Another key piece of advice that sounded cliche when I first heard it but really did help in the long run: take it one day at a time. Worry about tomorrow when it’s tomorrow.
  9. I constantly overthink things (i.e. “what if…” a million times a day) so it helps to talk it out with a trustworthy friend [or counselor] for a reality check.
  10. For me personally, my faith in Jesus Christ has been the rock upon which I build any other progress or growth in this area.

At the end of the day, no matter what a man might say or do to me, even my husband, I can trust that Jesus Christ is never going to betray me. Ever. No matter what I say, do, think, feel. He has claimed me as His own and that is permanent. God guarantees spiritual life and freedom for eternity through faith in Jesus Christ. His is the greatest love I will ever experience and it is never going to be removed. If the entire world around me were to turn against me, I would still have everything in Christ. I can trust Him.

I can trust Him with my relationships.

Jesus is the only safe investment of my love because His love is unconditional, unending, and unfaltering.

Link to Hidden Hurt: "Learning to Trust Again"
Link to Hidden Hurt: “Learning to Trust Again”

April 2017 Update:

I am learning to see my apprehension to trust as a good, safe thing rather than a bad. I listen to my gut instincts. I am learning to step away from relationships that threaten my mental health or happiness. My safety is worth caution.

Your safety is worth caution.

I’ve also been married now for almost nine months and I trust him completely.

I entered the relationship as I had others since my abuse: super cautious. Almost pessimistic to a fault.

Because he is a genuinely good man who cares about people and has treated me with respect since we first met, he won my trust faster than the others before him.

But I still had a hard time telling him my story. I told him after a few dates that I wanted to take things slow because I had been in an abusive relationship. He gained a bit of my trust when he did not ask questions, simply said, “I’m sorry anyone treated you badly in the past and I respect that; we won’t move faster than you are comfortable.” And he was being honest. After almost seven months of dating, I summoned the courage and told him everything. It was unspeakably difficult to relive all I had endured while sitting next to someone I had grown to love. I trusted him but there was still that nagging doubt in the back of my mind, “What if he leaves because of this?”

He never interrupted or asked for details. He listened attentively. And then he said something that, backed up by months of loving actions, confirmed in my mind that I really could be vulnerable with him and trust that he would never purposely cause me harm. He said, “Knowing you as I do now, I would never have guessed that you’ve been through so much. Thank you for telling me. But there is nothing anyone could ever do to you that would change the way I see you.”

Later he said, “I hate that you were ever with someone who hurt you. If I am not willing to be the person who helps to protect you from hurt in the future, I don’t deserve you.”

He anticipated my fears and put them at ease.

I share this part of my story to say: people who deserve to be trusted are out there and you will know it when you have found them. He is a man who respects my past and does not think less of me because of it. In fact, he supports my advocacy and I believe loves me more for it. Do not settle for anyone who cannot do that. Look to their actions, not just their talk. I married a man who practices what he preaches and that, for me, makes him trustworthy.

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25 thoughts on “Learning to Trust After Abuse

  1. I am so broken I don’t even trust or believe in god 😦 i trust no one not even myself I don’t know how to fix this I don’t feel like talking about it to strange people will fix anything it will only put myself out there to be judged and hurt again I was born alone and I will die alone 😦

    1. I’m dating someone feel same way I want ask you how do you build trust someone like this I’ve been for her for 6 years and it grew but then knock down stage 1 agian I love her so much how do I earn her trust build foundation togather

  2. I cannot begin to understand all you’ve been through but I am so sorry. I’m sorry you’ve been hurt and betrayed. I’m deeply sorry that you feel so alone. I promise you are not. There is hope. God loves to love and heal broken people.

    Thank you for sharing this. I pray it gets easier, that you are able to find healing.

  3. Finding this site is really a blessing, I cannot begin to explain my story, because I see it all that I am reading and it’s mind blowing. Why are we having to go through this torture? I fled with my 2 small children and moved 1700 miles away from him, I was fortunate to have family help me and grateful to be out from under his control, now a custody battle, a GAL, 2 small children that don’t realize the shit storm behind us, or even that may be in front of us. The thoughts of the kids having to go back there is so haunting, I don’t know what to do with myself on some days. I just cannot image that a judge could even or would even consider that he could provide a life for them, he wouldn’t and couldnt when we were living with him. Please pray for my dear children, and me that we will remain where we are safe and thriving. Thank you

    1. I wish I could say that it matters. The judge didn’t give my kids to my ex but even with him admitting to being a drug addict and alcoholic … with accusations from the kids of horrible abuse…. and no proof that he ever sought treatment… the kids still had to visit him regularly. So… Be ready… It almost killed me for years but it passed… I learned how to ‘work him’ so that he tortured me and thought less and less about the kids. And now it is over… they are grown. Thank the good Lord Jesus!

  4. I’m still scared. I am in a new relationship and I find myself failing, arguing, and being overly sensitive for fear that this wonderful man won’t love me. The fact is he does, its been 9 months and I know he is the forever man for me. However, the more serious things become, the more scared I become. Being vulnerable is proving to be very difficult. I don’t want to make him suffer. Why am I so sensitive. Why can’t I trust a good man. I almost makes me angry that the horrible man has made such a massive, negative impact on my life. Its unfair.

    1. I hope and pray that you can learn to trust again, and keep hope. Hope is what I’m finding to be very difficult to believe in. I just found a wonderful man. He is everything I could ever want, I prayed for him for years and I feel like I can’t get over the same thing you described. He is so patient and kind and all I want to do is love him entirely but I feel like I’m broken and don’t have all of me left to give. I find myself shutting him out and loosing hope for a normal emotionally intimate relationship ever.

  5. I am six months apart from my abusive husband. I want to love and be loved again but I start talking about it and its ruined right there on the first date. They think you’re weird and too much trouble. I just find it hard not to mention it when they ask you why you’re not with the father of my children and I want them to know it wasnt my fault.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that people have failed to respect your story like that. It’s so brave of you to share it. I’m so happy to hear you are no longer in an abusive marriage! I hope you are able to find someone who is able to truly love and appreciate you (and your children). You deserve nothing less than a partner who cherishes you. Thank you for your comment.

  6. I am three and a half months apart from my abuser, but he lives around the corner and used to invade my privacy, my home, he used to threaten, call me bad names and he even accused and difamated me and my 21 year old son who was mentally sick at the time , a bright young boy, institutionalized, and this abuser wouldn’t stop. He accused me of having affair with every man, called me bitch, broke things, filmed my home, had allucinations, my God, he wouldn’t stop! He threatened me to death, he pinched, he belittled me, he isolated me, he accused me of having “f….” with my students. he followedme, questioned me and at the same time he would feed me and be wonderful, all nearly at the same time.My God, am I a survivor.Will I ever trust and be safe again.I understand and my heart is with you all, the emotional and physically abuse.

  7. I can’t trust at all, as a comment in read the more deep into it the more scared I become, im at a point in the smallest trust and get scared. I cant trust no man ever, is where my brain is now. I trusted a took a chance in trust and wish I didn’t trust someone who hurt me. I left disabled in trust.

  8. After being out of an abusive relationship for close to 5 years now I’m finally engaged. Trusting my fiance is still a battle that me and him work together on. He’s very understanding of the situation I was in. I’m never in fear of the physical abuse but afraid of the mental and emotional abuse. I afraid that one day a switch will flip and I’ll see myself in the abusive relationship again. I am still working on trusting myself, that the way I see things is the reality of how they are. Trusting that I’ve chosen someone that would never abuse me. I think it’s taken me a long time because my mother passed away right after I left my abusive partner then my entire family fell apart…. So I was left with no one. Felt completely abandoned. No matter the situation I have taken the challenge to have a healthy happy relationship and will master it! Good luck to you all!!! May God bless you with healing and to love/trust again.

  9. I was in an abusive relationship for 5.5 years. He beat me, cheated, made me believe I was nothing, and was a pathological liar. I was a wreck.
    We lived in a house share as well. 1 Spanish girl, a couple who were our friends, and a third. The third was the friend of the couple, best friends with the man. I had known them both for the whole 5 years (though they hadn’t always lived there).
    When this third man moved in, my boyfriend had gone away on business, and had texted me “oh btw I don’t want you there when I’m back”.
    There was a little moving in party for the guy in his room, with lots of drink. I needed it then. Fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?
    Well, the third and I ended up starting a friends with benefits affair, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
    Two months of that, and I had the confidence to leave. I had fallen in love with this guy and viewed him as my saviour. I still do. We are two years together now, after the 7 months it took me to move back to the city, agonizing over whether he felt the same about me or not.
    Turned out he did! 🙂
    He is everything I could ever want in a man. Kind, sweet, fun, loving, faithful, generous and wants nothing but the best for me.
    However, not all is rosy, because I’m still dealing with the demons left from the abuser. I can get insanely jealous, over think a lot, take things personally that I shouldn’t, get scared/upset if he raises his voice about anything, and its not fair to him. I love him so much, but I keep hurting him because of the past. I’ve told him a lot about it, and he hates that I went through it, and does his best to understand, but he seems to think that by now I ought to be over it…
    I need therapy of some sort. i want to get my head around what happened before and after I left, and understand exactly why I am who I am now. I want to stop feeling jealous and worried about when he goes out with his friends. I want to stop calling him over n over and texting him when he’s out… I’m a bag of nerves, and being a complete ball and chain. I want to STOP. If I don’t, I will lose him. I want to husband this guy. He’s so right for me it’s like we were made as a pair.
    Help me accept my trust in him is real and won’t be broken. Help me help him understand what the fuck it is I went through.

    1. Nk, I wish I had an easy fix solution for you. Healing is a journey and wherever you are in this moment is okay. I’d recommend you seek counseling from someone who specializes in domestic abuse. Maybe talk to your partner about talking to a couple’s counselor.

  10. I was in a very controlling realationship from 15 it lasted 8 years i got out then i fell for a serial cheat i finished that then i fell for a nasty cruel man who after i finished it broke in my house filmed me and raped me then 3 other boys threatened to kill me in the woods with hack saws and rope 1 of these boys was as friend for 10 years so i trusted him I now h as be ptsd….im so scared of falling in love again but i want to I wanna trust again more then anything even when some1 calls me pretty I panic like they are gonna take it weather I wa nt it or not I fell so broken then I found out they put me on the internet I dont fell i can trust friends either if any1 talks to me i fell they are trying to get close to hurt me im only 26 years old and i fell im gonna fell like this the rest of my life it got so bad i tried taking my own life i got away from the abusive harmful guys but i have children with the guy i was with he refused to give them back after contact so he gets to chose my bf my friends everything i cant let my children go because my life is nothing with out them he has now started saying things to my kids about me i dont feel he will ever let me go fully unless i stsy away from my kids i dont know what to do what to think i just need some1 tO give me a cuddle and tell me everything going to be alright but i panic when some1 gets to close please help me find away to deal with these feelings i fell i will never haBBC e a healthy relationship because I don’t know how to

  11. Thank you for this writing I read today. Thank you for sharing it here, I am grateful to relate and for the reminder of eternal trust.

  12. Thank you. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man I thought was the love of my life. I found out after a year of dating he was an addict, was constantly being lied to, manipulated and my emotions were constantly belittled. My trust was shattered again and again until I was left alone while he chose drugs. He came back to me a few months later, clean, and I opened the door again after I got some apologies. I couldn’t trust him. I trusted him less than a stranger. I shut the door for good and am moving soon. It has been very difficult to move on. I pray every day for strength. It was/has been the darkest time of my life. I can’t imagine it will be easy to trust again after the man I loved and trusted blindly lived a double life and always made me feel so unimportant and was very hurtful towards me. Mean(for a lack of a better word) during mood swings. I lost a lot of dignity and self respect in not standing up for myself with the way he Spoke to me or about me. I’m trying to build myself up again after making the decision to shut him out for good by going to counseling and surrounding myself with good friends. It is not an easy feat and I hope that someday I will meet a man that wants to protect me, not hurt me. I have never not trusted love like this. I am so scared to ever let anyone in for the forseeabl future. One day at a time.

  13. Thank you for reminding me that God is trustworthy no matter what. Sometimes I get carried away with my thoughts but thanks for bringing me back to my foundation of my relationship in Jesus Christ. It is the only thing that matters and it is the only thing worth fighting for. When all else fails, He will be there!

  14. I have been through an extremely tough time dealing with abuse. It started at a young age and has been with me for years. Reading this has actually helped me. I have failed many times to trust someone, for i longed for the trust but went too fast with it and got hurt again . I have had to talk to myself. And reassure that people are genuine and want to help. We, as the abusees, must realise that healing can hurt. Resetting a bone is not painless but it will start a healing process to mend what has been broken. I am with you all and I am positive we will all make it.

  15. My heart aches from the thought of this pain. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 years and he physically abused me last month for the second time. He blames it on the drugs (estacy). He choked me on the kitchen floor until I could no longer breathe and kicked me in my ribs. I still feel lost and very much heartbroken…I feel cold with not 1 ounce of love for this man. I shame myself for picking him to represent the father of my children. Yet in still he is the father so I will do as I would want people to do upon me. I live with him at the moment due to my current financial situation but plan to move out next month. I cannot look at him, barely speak if it’s not regarding the kids. We have a 1yr old and 5 yr old. My son’s get me through each day, If itwasnf for my boys their father would be locked up and charged with assault and battery. I have too much pity for their dad which I know is an excuse. I’m dealing with the struggle of this reality day by day, flashbacks, the Why Me scripts, and fact of knowing for certain that this man will never be my husband after the time invested.

    1. I am so sorry to hear you have been experiencing this! The blog was offline for a little while – may I ask, were you able to move out as planned? I very much hope you and your sons are safe. Thank you for sharing your story. And please know that having pity on someone who has been abusive – especially one with whom you’ve had an intimate relationship – is a very natural response. It’s your right to choose whatever you believe to be the very best option for you and your sons. It is also your right to feel safe and loved and be treated with respect. I hope you are doing well and thank you again for your transparency.

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