Jan. 19, 2021

E51 When to talk about trauma while dating

In this episode, I talk about the right time to talk about your trauma experiences while dating.
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This episode is sponsored by https://www.ThinkUnbroken.com
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In this episode, I talk about the right time to talk about your trauma experiences while dating.

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This episode is sponsored by https://www.ThinkUnbroken.com

Follow me @MichaelUnbroken

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I'm Michael Anthony. I'm an author, speaker, coach, mentor, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma. And you are listening to the Michael unbroken podcast. 

You know I'm really stoked to be hanging out with you guys here today. We're two weeks now into 2021 and yeah, life is hard right now. You know, I posted something the other day that I think is really important that we have to recognize, and it was something to the extent of it's okay to be okay. I think now more than ever, it's okay to just be okay. You don't have, you have to be good. You don't have to be great. You don't have to be amazing. You don't have to be bad or in a bad mood, you can just be okay.

And that's kind of how I feel about life right now. I just feel like, okay. And what does that mean? As someone who considers himself to be a high performer and successful as moving through trauma and a leader and a spokesperson, that's human nature. Sometimes we're just going to be okay. And there's nothing wrong with that. And it's okay to just be okay. And I just want to start this episode with saying that and like, I know that tomorrow I might wake up and it'll be very different, but that's how I am in this moment. And that doesn't mean that I don't show up for myself. And that doesn't mean that I don't work towards my goals. And that doesn't mean that I don't stick to my habits and routines. It just means that today, I'm just okay. And so if you're just feeling okay, that's okay. And I just want to see you and acknowledge you and let you, you know, that that is totally fine. 

The other day it was on social and I posted, and I had someone request just for me to talk about when is the best time to discuss having a traumatic childhood in dating. And I thought about this for a long time and I actually have decided to record this instead of the original podcast that I was going to record, because I think it's really important. And the answer is, I don't know. Because I don't know what your experience is. I don't know what your journey has been. And I don't know what your dating relationships are like. Now, can we kind of look at this from a few different aspects? Absolutely. I think that if you're immediately dumping into a conversation the first time you meet someone. Hey, I'm Bob, I had childhood trauma and you're going into the depths on it. That's going to be problematic. 

One or two things is likely going to happen in that experience. One, you're going to completely scare off this other person or two, you're going to accidentally trauma bond and they are going to go, wow, I had that same experience or something similar thereof. And because of that, I feel connected with you and I would argue that trauma bonding in the beginning of our relationship, or at any point in relation is one of the worst things that can happen because now that becomes the baseline for acceptability communication. And often that trauma bonding experience is negative and it's painful and it's dark. And you know, the joys and fun that dating should be don't exist or take a really long time to work back towards. I don't think of it as a good jump-off point. 

So I would say immediately the first thing you should not do in discussing trauma with a person that you're dating is to have that conversation on the first date. And look, I get it. We live in this world of talking about mental health issues and things of that nature. But I think that it's important to establish a bit of trust, a bit of communication, a bit of love, even dare I say, before having that conversation. Because you may scare someone off and you're probably thinking yourself well, but everything I read on social media says that, you know, people should be accepting of who I am. Yes, I agree with that a hundred percent. But that doesn't mean that they have to be immediately just because you exist or walk into a room. And I know I'm going to get pushed back on this and people are going to be upset.

I'm going to get hate mail. Everyone should love everyone. Yes, that's true. But in the context of this conversation, I vehemently disagree. 

I think the worst thing that you could do is open up the introduction with, Hey, nice to meet you. By the way I got the shit kicked out of me when I was a kid, it's not going to work very well. Trust me as a guy who's tried this many times, it does not work. And I think about my dating experiences early on when I first started this healing journey and then the way that they kind of transposed as I got older and became more healed and a better understanding of myself into personal growth and all those things. And what I discovered was that I didn't even want to talk about it at all. And it's not that it doesn't impact me, right?  Obviously, I mean, I'm sitting here talking to you about it. 

It was more so about how do we not make trauma be the most important conversation in the room, which I think happens all too often where you're in this position where people want to talk about the more bad things that happen to them, because it creates human relation. It's really easy to talk about negative things that happened to us, because often they kind of sit with as much longer than the good things. Think about how often you've been in these situations, the scenarios in which you kind of have to reach for something great that has happened in your life. But if someone asks you about something bad, you go to it immediately. 

If I asked you to tell me the greatest moment of your life, I guess you might have a little bit more difficulty doing that than for me to ask you to tell me about your worst. 
And so, because of that, I think one of the things that you have to do is ask yourself, at what point does it become pertinent to have this conversation? Now there's so many factors in this, like, are you going to therapy? Do you have support? Are you in this healing journey? Have you been in personal growth long enough to know who you are? Can you identify your wants, needs, interests, values, and more importantly, your personal boundaries around having a conversation around trauma. Because sometimes what'll happen is you inadvertently open Pandora's box, meaning that now this person who you were trying to connect with in an intellectual and emotional and physical manner, perhaps now they out of curiosity may want to dive deeper. Well, then this could become problematic if you don't have the proper support to be able to navigate that if you bring something up. Also, the question that you have to ask is, do they really need to know? I would argue that a lot of the things that we bring into the present conversation around our trauma experiences don't actually need to be settled out. I think that it's extremely valid. I think that it is extremely valid to just say I was abused as a child. And thus, sometimes this is how I am. This could be 10 dates in four years, and I don't know what that looks like. It's going to be different for everyone. I think, you know, when you know. If you notice or they notice these negative behaviors coming to pass and you're having a conversation about is my trauma creating and invoking this response in me that is now negatively impacting the relationship that I'm trying to build, or the relationship that I have, then the question that you should be asking yourself is, have I actually done a good enough job explaining and understanding myself about how my trauma narrative now impacts the person that I am today and that's a harder conversation to have, right?

It’s OK to talk about trauma in your dating life

I think the most important thing that you can do first is be comfortable with having that conversation with yourself before you have that conversation with someone else. People want timeframes often. They ask me in coaching, they ask me in so many different aspects of my life as can you put a timestamp on this? I do not have an answer for you. I don't know, because again, it's going to be different. And if you're in this place of healing and you feel safety in your relationship, in your dating, then maybe that's time, but you have to define what safety feels like. You have to define that understanding of trust. And one of the things that happens is we want to, again, pointing back to trauma bonding, we want to connect with people to build an established trust through the bad things that have happened to us because we go, Oh, human connection in relation, they understand this experience that I had. Thus, they will see me for who I truly am. But I would argue if that's true. Because as you're in this place of healing and growth, you don't want to be the person that you were any longer. I think about that. When I was the person that I was before doing the work, before putting myself in a position to be successful, despite trauma, it was so much about these conversations around how I can connect to you through the bad things. And what I recognized in that is often I would feel empty. I would feel left with wondering what it would be like to step into something from a place of being happy. And I think that you can do that. You can step into a place of being happy through bonding over shared positive experiences. 

 Now, if you're a couple of weeks in and still probably too early. Couple of months? Yeah, even maybe still a couple months, couple years, that might be too late. I think that you have to find the clear and concise parameters and boundaries within yourself. Have the conversation with yourself first and foremost, definitely have already done the work. Like one of the things I think about also is like, if you, how do I phrase this? Because I don't want people to not feel like they can date, but I would save this. If you haven't seriously stepped into the place of being alone of doing the work, of going to therapy, of journaling, of learning who you are, of doing personal growth, of coming out the other side, feeling more whole then you shouldn't be dating. And as someone who has experienced all sides of this, I think about the most important time of my life being the times that I was alone or being alone with myself in the healing journey, not dating, no sexual relationships, nothing. And thinking about how transformative that was for me. Because it helped me solidify and build sovereignty within myself that I was okay with who I am. 

And I think about this idea of sharing the bad parts of us, trying to validate our experience of being okay with bad things that happen by allowing other people to give us permission to have the space or the platform for them to reiterate to us. No, no, it's okay that, that happened to you. You have to get comfortable with that within yourself first and foremost. Because the worst thing that you can do is trauma bond with someone too early, or in general, I should say, I don't want to say too early. I don't know I said that, but I think the worst thing you can do is trauma bond with someone because you're taking so much away from yourself. 

Now, let's say, that's not the case. You're in a healthy relationship. You've defined it. You've said, this is what I want. You took a piece of paper, you wrote everything down, you're in that ideal situation and you feel like it's appropriate. Well, then I think you need to have the conversation. But I think that conversation should be based within the boundaries that you set around it. And you have to decide at that time, what you're actually willing to talk about, because there is also a level you could just dump something on someone unexpectedly. I think you need to create parameters around it and say, I need to talk to you about these experiences that I had because I want to grow with you. I want to bond with you. I want to connect with you. And in doing so further say, I'm only going to share certain details of this with you. And I would prefer that you don't ask questions unless you feel like it's really necessary to better understand me versus understand the experience that happened, because I don't know about you, but I don't really like reliving some of the dark things that happened to me. I will talk about it if it's necessary, but ultimately, I'd prefer to just talk about the emotional experience that I had in that moment, as opposed to the actual like negative experience that occurred. 

And then within those boundaries, you know, this may be a situation where it's ideal to have the conversation with a therapist together, to sit with this person, your potential partner, the person you're dating and say, I would like to talk to you about these experiences that I had. Would you be willing to come and sit in therapy with me? Just so that I have a feeling of safety and security and in a situation like that, you're going to learn a lot about someone. Because either they're going to be okay with it and they're going to be supportive or they're not. And personally, I don't know that I would continue to see someone who was not supportive about this notion, because if you're going to grow and again, timeframe wise, it might be too early. You have to figure that out for yourself. But if you're in this situation where you feel like you're ready to step into that with someone, and they're not supportive or worse, which you may have heard, which I’ve experienced myself is why don't you just get over it? Might be time to hit the eject button. Cause I don't know about you, but I don't want people in my life who were telling me to get over bad things that happened to me. I want people who are supportive, I want people who want to help me grow. I want people who see the best parts of me. And so you have to figure that out.

Ultimately, when do you share, when do you share, you know, think about this, when do you share anything? Because it feels right. If it doesn't feel right, if it feels like you're pushing, it feels like you're grasping at straws to have conversation, not the right time. But if it feels right and you've sat with it and you feel connected to this person and you've had other vulnerable conversations leading up to this moment, which I think is probably pertinent, you know, have the talk. But on day one, if someone goes, tell me about your past. It doesn't have to be my stepdad kicked the shit out of me. My mom cut my finger off. It can be, I didn't have the best childhood in the world. But right now I don't really want to talk about that. But I will tell you this.

I've had amazing experiences in my life that had led me to right now. And I want to talk to you about who I am in this moment. 

So I hope that helps. I hope that brings you some clarity. I love these questions. I'm always open and willing to answer them. So if you have a question, you can DM me, email me, ping me, whatever that thing is. And I'm happy to talk about it, especially around topics like this. Do me a favor, subscribe, like, comment, share with a friend, leave a review. And until next time my friends be unbroken.

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Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.