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What Trauma Has Taught Me About Love

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Love is an emotion everyone wants to experience. The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” Many people dream about finding true love their entire lives, hoping they can experience the lovely depth of emotional intimacy with another person who accepts all of them, flaws included. Love is society’s universal fairy tale.

• What is PTSD?

For me? Love is terrifying. Growing up, I never experienced the typical unconditional love your parents are supposed to give you — scratch that — a family is supposed to give you. I never learned what it’s like to make a mistake and still receive affection and acceptance. I was only loved if I was useful to people, if I could help them in some way. It caused me to quickly learn that love is always conditional, and there were far more conditions needed to love me than the average person. I started to mold myself into what others wanted me to be, and prioritized everyone else’s needs before my own. This way, at least I could get a taste of what being loved felt like, even if it was disingenuous.

As I have healed and processed my trauma over the past few years, struggling with accepting love has still been a running theme. I struggle to accept love from others, as well as from myself. When I’m faced with someone telling me they love me, my body braces itself, my breath shallows, and my mind starts to race. My brain instantly tells me they’re lying, that there’s no way someone could truly love me… after all, it has never happened before.

My inability to truly accept love has affected my relationships. I start to pull away when I’m told I’m loved, even though all I want to do is embrace it. Pulling away ensures I won’t get hurt when they inevitably realize I’m not worth loving. When I no longer become useful to them, when I no longer make them feel special, the love will expire. This is what trauma has taught me.

Perhaps I do share the universal fairy tale of wanting to be loved. I do wish to have people love me and accept me for who I am. I want people to see my value, even in my imperfections. Although I aspire to have love in my life, for trauma survivors, love is often coupled with many fears. Even though feeling unconditionally loved is a positive feeling, it is new to many of us, and even positive change can be very scary and uncomfortable at first. Because of our pasts, we often fear losing love once we get it. It feels almost as if something so good would be expected to be eventually lost or taken away, just like the disingenuous love from our pasts were.

To all my fellow trauma survivors who relate to this: I’m truly sorry that you do, and you deserve the deepest, purest, unconditional love that could ever be given. So please, take some of that love from me.

Getty image by Westend61

Originally published: February 3, 2022
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