When we’ve gone through life having to devote enormous amounts of energy to physical or psychological survival, we’re often not great at some of life’s social demands.
Many trauma survivors get told that they’re no fun.
They get told they can’t take a joke.
They get told to “lighten up.”
Often when we have painful or complicated pasts, relating to and working with other people isn’t the easiest thing int he world.
Our attitudes toward cooperation and trust are formed early on. Some of the most important childhood lessons we learn are whether other people can be relied upon— or if trusting others is a recipe for pain and danger.
What we don’t understand when we’re young is that the people in our lives at that age may not be representative of every person we’ll ever meet.
Maybe not every relationship in our lives was painful— many of us remember one or two friends or adults in our lives growing up who was safe or friendly— but our nervous system often tries to keep us safe by erring on the side of assuming that almost EVERY interaction with EVERYONE has the potential for danger.
As a result, we can grow up being prickly with other people.
People who have been through trauma often develop an instinctively defensive way of dealing with the world and other people— not for nothing, because much of our lives has been spent playing defense against really painful stuff.
We’re often prepared to hear attacks or mockery in things that other people say.
We’re often ready to fight or flee (or freeze or fawn) when interacting with new people is necessary.
The hypervigilance that so often keeps us on edge tends to consistently come out in social situations (including parasocial situations, such as interactions and relationships on social media).
To some people, the defensive anxiety that survivors carry into social situations comes off as hostility or aloofness.
Many survivors have gotten it in our heads that we are hard to be close to or difficult to love.
Our struggles to like or love ourselves can be compounded by how complex and frustrating our interactions with other people can often be.
One of the most vicious things trauma whispers in our ear an be, “Nobody likes you.”
If you’re a trauma survivor who struggles with being close to other people, you need to know you’re not alone.
You need to know that the beliefs and behaviors that, yes, may make it difficult to be close to other people at times, represent survival mechanisms that helped you get through things those other people don’t even know.
You need to know that you are NOT less lovable— or less worthy of love— because you are anxious.
The irony is that, while many survivors are labeled as “joyless” or “humorless” by people who don’t know what our deal is, the vast majority of trauma survivors I’ve met (and I’ve met a LOT) have actually been passionate, intense— and often hilarious— people.
We CAN learn to manage our anxiety and relate to others with less pain and awkwardness, if that’s our goal.
But whatever our goals in treatment and recovery, it’s EXTREMELY important we remember that we are NOT others’ perceptions of us.
And if your trauma is whispering in your ear that nobody likes you, remember: trauma, like depression, tells lies. It spins. It tells stories to make us feel a certain kind of way.
Plus, not for nothing: I may not know everybody who is reading this right now personally, but chances are, I’d like you.
In fact chances are excellent that I like you and I’m on your side.