All images by Cindy Kunsman from Under Much Grace used with permission.
The previous post listed many factors that increase our vulnerability to people who are not safe for us, but what is probably more difficult is that subconscious impulse to gravitate to people who are unsafe. This comes from a complicated mix of many things, most of which are based on feeling in addition to our lack of good experience with healthy people who could have modeled better relationship skills for us. We end up figuring much of this out through trial and error.
The Subjective Pull of Reenactment and Familiarity
We tend to gravitate to people and situations that remind us of earlier traumas or bad relationships. And the “devil you know is usually better than the devil that you don’t.” We seek out the familiar without even realizing it, because this is how we are wired as people. If we are most familiar with people who are unavailable to us emotionally, and if we are guarded emotionally or not guarded enough, we will find ourselves drawn to the same kinds of people in new relationships. We tend to feel without balancing our decisions with thought about whether and why a relationship is good or bad for us.
This can lead the pull towards unsafe people or unsafe environments with peers who stay stuck in the same place without growing. Many of us fall into the trap of hope beyond hope of changing others to make them more comfortable for us. We ignore the warning signs and let what seems like fierce love and radical hope “protect us” from our own feelings of discomfort. This self-deception only puts us at greater risk of further harm. We try to cast our friends into the roles that we’ve created for them in our fantasy of what we hope will be.
I’m often guilty of believing that if I am just honest and transparent that people will recognize that in me and will cooperate and respect me. This is a fantasy, too, which makes me very vulnerable to unsafe people. If I do the right thing and find the right combination of factors at just the right time, I will win the long awaited and desired prize. Much of that for me is driven by the perfectionism that was expected of me. I was expected to achieve unrealistic standards at too young of an age, and that also dulls my awareness of what is truly real and reasonable. I see what I hope to see and dismiss what seems too painful whether it is real or not.
The Weird World of the Internet
I’ve read books that discuss how the internet has changed the way in which we communicate with one another, how it has affected language, and the threats that it can pose for us.
This weekend, I saw a commercial for a new cable TV show called The Internet Ruined my Life. My husband remarked that it wasn’t the internet that did so but the lack of respect and awareness for the medium of communicating. I try to always consider that anything I commit to electronic communication can and will come back to me at some point in some way, and it lasts forever. I wish that I were more mindful of this fact and the power that such communication holds.
Yesterday, I read Suzanne Titkemeyer’s post at No Longer Quivering that brings up the point that though we may aspire to create safe places online, no electronic message can ultimately be “safe.” It is an ideal, but we often fail to reach it. A few years ago, a friend set up a private discussion forum which allowed only those who grew up in a homeschooling family to join. It turned out that two different mothers lied about who they were and signed up for it to satisfy their curiosities. Many people were deeply hurt by this intrusion, but it does point to the illusion of safety that we tend to have about the internet.
Again, I think of the shortcuts we must take in life to cut through all of the thinking we probably should do every day but take for granted or we would accomplish nothing. The internet connects us in positive ways, but it also provides a means by which people can deceive others. As hard as we try, we may never find a safe place online.
Growth and Change
This past year has pushed me to grow in relationships that I’ve had in real life but started out online. I had two different friends who I felt were like sisters to me, and I opened up my heart to them. I spent time with them in person which was a wonderful thing, but over the course of many years, things changed. We grew in different directions, and we got to know one another better which resulted in an end to each of these friendships which meant so much to me. But it was a good reminder in a way, because people are dynamic and we do change and grow. Sometimes we grow away and then back together again. Sometimes we don’t.
I think of marriages that fail, especially when a husband and wife lose a child. Money disputes can break marriages apart, and marriage is a relationship built on love, trust, and commitment. We grow. We change. And though we may be lucky enough to find a few good, safe people who turn out to be faithful gems who become true friends to us, they really are a rare find. Even those friends can have bad days as can we, but hopefully the bedrock of trust gives us room for compassion and empathy for one another.
Learning these lessons comprises a major part of the tasks we face as we work through the maze of Stage One of healing from trauma.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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