Relationships are Hard for Survivors, We Don’t Know Ourselves

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Photo by Gerald Gabernig

I recently saw a link to an article that was posted back a few months ago on the Good Therapy website:
Why Hiding Who We Are Hurts Us

While the article is about relationships and marriage counseling, part of it resonated with me as a survivor. It even matches some of the things I’ve written about before about healing.

Who am I? What do I want, think, need, believe? What do I like, hate, fear, love? These are only some of the basic questions we wrestle with as we grow and develop our identities. When we grow up in an environment that feels dangerous or destructive, we need to find a safe way to protect ourselves from mistreatment and intolerable feelings. But when we adapt to a false self, we frequently miss the opportunity to develop the answers to these questions.

I’ve said it many times before, but child abuse survivors simply don’t develop a sense of ourselves the way we would expect children to. We do not understand our place in the world and our values. I know that the first time I got married, I did not have the appropriate answers to these questions. Is it any wonder that the relationship ended in divorce? I didn’t know who I was or what intrinsic value I had. How could I be in an intimate relationship with someone else when I wasn’t aware of myself?

To quote from the article further:

The development of a sense of identity—this is who I am; this is what I know and feel about me—helps us to locate ourselves in the world. The sense of self that we carry with us, including feelings of confidence and self-esteem, are constantly evolving as we engage in our relationships in the world. When we sequester our “true self” to keep it safe, it loses the opportunity to have “true self” experiences, which are the building blocks of identity. The false self may have kept Jeff safe from intolerable feelings, but it deprived him of becoming a person who could see himself and be seen as a person with a large number of positive and negative attributes (valuable, funny, smart, stubborn, courageous, mean, loving, etc.).

This is healing, becoming a person with a sense of identity above and beyond that of a “victim.” We see far too many people out there who seem incapable of having anything resembling a healthy relationship. If that’s you, maybe you should figure out who you are and go from there.

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