Dealing With the Past and Present

Discussion in 'Relationships' started by NadaReDu, Dec 13, 2015.

  1. NadaReDu

    NadaReDu New Member

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    I have an ex, and we dated for 4 months. She was very emotionally abusive by insulting my body, hair, and height, things I liked to do. Then started being physically abusive by pinning me down and not letting me go and saying she wanted to choke me. She cheated with her ex who has children and left me for her without any explanation. I have a new girlfriend now, and we've been together for 7 months. She says she truly loves me and I do her. I can't stop worrying about her not really loving me and worrying about her not liking my body when she sees it. Maybe she will stop loving and liking me or cheat and leave me like my ex did and others have in the past. She says she won't though. How do I stop worrying and thinking this way? How can I stop thinking about my ex and what she did to me? How can I stop wanting to know why?
     
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  2. Eloise

    Eloise Well-Known Member

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    You need to listen to what she says and stop hearing what your ex said. Basically, you are punishing your current girlfriend for your ex's faults. If you keep your distance because of your fears she will feel it and eventually start looking for someone else. Which in the end, is exactly what you're afraid of. Be the kind of girlfriend you want to have. You have the chance to start over. Don't screw it up by thinking everyone is like your ex.
     
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  3. lorienczhiu

    lorienczhiu Well-Known Member

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    Oh, the human brain: millennia of evolution geared toward survival, with a strong negativity/danger-spotting bias, so busy keeping us safe from possible harm that it can't let us enjoy the things that are good and safe.

    Here is the truth: your new girlfriend is not your ex, but what you learned in your previous relationship is "people who are supposed to love me can hurt me the most, don't trust them completely and be ready for betrayal." That lesson was learned very, very well by your brain and your body, and all of your defensive thinking is just you trying to keep you safe and away from another abusive situation. This is normal, even if it's unwelcome. It is you trying to take care of you, and even if it isn't helpful or necessary this time, there are much, much higher consequences in terms of your safety if you don't spot the abuser than if it's a false alarm, so your brain has a hair trigger for panic and worry. If you want to be able to talk your brain down from panic mode, that means rewriting the story in your head about what relationships are, and that will take time - and probably some counseling or help. In takes, on average, three times as much positive experience/emotion to form a memory than negative experiences (there's a reason you remember every embarrassing thing you ever did, every time you got mad, and every time someone hurt you, and none of the times you kicked ass at life or just had a nice chill day). You're experiencing this right now: you have evidence that your girlfriend is not your ex, you know this, but it's just not enough to overpower your instincts, because Pretty Good will never outshout Effing Terrible in your brain.

    The good news? Your mind is growable, and just like you learned to be afraid and worried (with good reason), you can learn to talk back to your fear and trust the good again.

    Concrete suggestions:
    --> You were physically and emotionally abused by an ex. Make an appointment with a community center for women leaving/recovering abusive situations, or call a hotline. These services exist for you, and they may be able to refer you to other resources that are sensitive to your history and queerness. If you are able, start therapy and get an expert feelings-coach in your corner. Your recovery is not your girlfriend's job or her expertise, and while she can be there to support you, it is not fair to ask her to do this processing and constant reassurance with you, and it can cause real stress on a relationship to ask one partner to do this work.
    --> With or without therapy, reach out to your friends. The people who care about you and saw you in this relationship were probably terribly, terribly worried for you. If you email them to say, "Hey, Bad Shit went down with Ex, and I'm just starting to realize how deeply I was hurt," they will probably respond immediately and lovingly with "Oh, I didn't know how to help but I was so worried, what can I do now, let's get coffee." These people are your support team, and they are waiting in the wings - they can also be the people who agree to be called when you are afraid your girlfriend will cheat or hurt you or leave you to say, "Nah, girl, she's not Ex. You know that" so your girlfriend doesn't have to.
    --> Consider starting some kind of mindfulness practice (there's an app for that). Your problem is that your thoughts won't listen to you; thoughts don't really do that, which is the worst, but there are ways to build up mental habits that help you resist automatic negativity and come back to yourself and the good situation you are in. (If you start therapy, this is a thing your therapist will 100% suggest, so you might as well get a headstart.)
    --> Have a clear conversation with your girlfriend, explaining the steps that you are going to take to help yourself heal and that you know it will take time. Identify things that she can do to help without being prompted, or things you may ask for. Examples: Your ex held you down and threatened you - maybe you absolutely 100% do not want your current girlfriend to hold you unprompted, and you'd like her to ask first. Your defensive, just-wants-you-safe lizard brain is afraid she'll cheat - maybe you ask her to remind you she loves you before she goes out with friends, or doesn't talk about her exes without asking first. You feel embarrassed about starting a meditation practice - maybe she can remind you, give you alone time, or do it with you. The key is to enlist her as your supporter in a way that makes confronting your fears your job, not hers.

    It's going to take time, yes, but you can totally do it - it's worth it, for you and your current girlfriend. These kinds of fears, when left unconfronted and unchallenged, tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, because the constant fear and need for reassurance can be really draining to a relationship, and can get us into bad emotional habits/co-dependence. Avoiding that is 100% worth the hassle, for this relationship and for your own well-being.
     
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  4. rainydaze

    rainydaze Well-Known Member

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    Well-stated and sound advice, Lorienczhiu! As usual :)
     
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  5. NadaReDu

    NadaReDu New Member

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    Thank you so very much for your advice Eloise and Lorienczhiu. I will download that app to help with mindfulness practice and will reach out to my friends. My girlfriend and I will have a conversation about these steps, and ask for her support. Once again, thank you very much for your advice and ways to change positive into negative thoughts.
     
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  6. lorienczhiu

    lorienczhiu Well-Known Member

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    I'm glad it was helpful! Good luck.

    I do want to encourage you to do a little research about counseling, just to have in your back pocket; someone who has a degree in Navigating Unfortunate Brain Habits might be very helpful for you, now or in the future. (I resisted therapy for a long time, but it turns out that my therapist is basically my "trusting yourself/calling yourself on bullsh*t coach, and it feels like a very ordinary, healthy resource in response to trauma and anxiety.)
     
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  7. NadaReDu

    NadaReDu New Member

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    Thank you so much! I will look into counseling. It is really difficult changing brain habits.
     
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  8. RLrose

    RLrose Member

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    For sure see a therapist/counselor. It will help you so much!!!! I promise.
     
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