Someone once asked me how to not let bad experiences in the past override their judgement when meeting someone new.
I have found the more important question should be ‘how to heal after bad past experiences.’
If our primary focus is on meeting someone new, on dating again, or on getting out there as soon as possible (which may reflect our need to be perceived as though we are doing well or a way to hide all the other emotions and feelings we are carrying), we will more than likely find ourselves ending up with the same kind of people (cue emotionally unavailable for me) or in similar situations we have been in in the past. Our inner wounds are some of the primary instinctual drivers behind our behaviour and actions. If we continue to operate without taking time to address and heal these wounds or we are only place small bandages over them, we will continue to carry them into all future experiences and the person who continues to get hurt will be ourselves. And I am not about to let a person from my past impact on my ability to feel contentment and happiness in my future.
As with most aspects of healing, the path is never straightforward or linear. It is very much up, down, sideways, around the corner and far out to sea. The work is never truly finished. It is terribly tiring, exhausting and challenging at times. It is individualised – what works for one person, may not resonate with another, the timings can differ, but that’s because everyone has different experiences and many of these are not necessarily from your past dating experiences, but from those initial attachments you formed from birth and throughout childhood (not just daddy issues, but mommy issues, sibling and extended family issues too).
So the first part to being able to date or enter new relationships again after past bad experiences, is deliberately and intentionally focussing on your healing journey.
Some of my own reassurance extends from the knowledge that the person I am now would have never given men I had dated in the past an opportunity. Not because I know what I know now about how it turned out, but if I look at their behaviour and the way the acted; my standards and boundaries would never have allowed me to give them any further energy past a first interaction/date (cue the guy who never even took me on a date at all, or the guy who showed up in shorts, took me to Mcdonalds and then sat on the phone for 30 minutes in the middle of our date talking to his coach – what in the below sea level standards).
A few of the things that helped me on my way to healing and, in particular, confronting that past version of myself who had contributed to these situations too – with as little gas-lighting of myself as possible, but also acknowledging that the only person I ever had control over, who I could change; was me.
- Writing was my best outlet and most important resource. It helped to unpick and make sense of all of my feelings. I wrote the ways I had been hurt in the past, I wrote all the ways I had felt and it was the first time I had truly realised all the red flags I had missed. I used the notes app on my phone every day, whenever a memory or thought would surface from the past – it acted as a reminder, but it also gave my head breathing room when it was crammed with thoughts. Physically seeing all the evidence of how I had been hurt written down also helped to show myself that I had been hurt and the way I was feeling was not all in my head (that gas-lighting).
- Self-confrontation started with self-reflection. I was the only person I could change, so it started with the acknowledgement that I had played a part in those experiences – whether it was missing red flags ignoring my own discomfort, doing things that did not align with my value system, having below sea level standards or having porous boundaries.
- Forgiveness. It was the realisation that I could never truly move on, make peace with the past, and experience worthwhile and fulfilling interactions into the future without first identifying my own fallibility and forgiving my younger self for each and every one of those things and continuing to do so even to this day. To do so, I had to realise that my younger self did the best she could with the knowledge, skills, and experience she had at the time.
- Learning to trust myself again. which was fucking hard. Like when someone loses your trust, it takes time, patience, and grace. I utilised affirmations and positive self-talk as well as relying on the character witnesses statements of close and valued friends to remind me that I was never asking for too much, that my discomfort was valid, that regardless of whether I was fully healed or not, I should still be treated with respect, dignity and kindness. When I could not trust myself, I put my trust in the people that knew me, valued me and wanted the best for me. Nurturing those relationships was an investment in myself.
Doing the above, helped to show very clearly what I did not want and supported my understanding of what I deserved.
So when it came to dating, my standards were already higher, my boundaries were clearer and I was more discerning. What I had to be more clear on were my intentions – was I dating for sex? To test out the experience? Was I open for a relationship? Just looking fro friends? Knowing these beforehand, also helped to uphold the boundaries I had in place for myself as well as helped me to place my emotional energy appropriately e.g. I was not bothered by someone’s thoughts about kids if I was only looking for sex, but it might raise orange flags if I had communicated that clearly and they were talking about something that indicated more longer term intentions on their part.
I was not infallible in the dating experience as a whole. I think, in part, that practice is a part of the process. Re-evaluating my expectations and re-wiring my brain meant that I approached it from a “have fun” stand-point rather than “looking for the one”. This was something I had identified through reflection and self confrontation which had been a limiting factor for me in the past; seeing people’s potential rather than who they were presenting themselves as and ignoring my own needs or feelings of discomfort that arose. But this did not mean I didn’t get hurt or make mistakes – like the person who I allowed to string me along for months purely because he was handsome, kept a clean room and shopped at kmart – I’m embarrassed just writing it down, but what I also have to acknowledge is that I was the one who ended up blocking him because of how he was making me feel and the inconsistency of his interactions – past me could have never!
Continuing all the steps above throughout the dating process was key.
Even before you are ready to date. Focus on your healing. Reflect. Forgive yourself. Prioritise you. Learn to trust again and nurture valued relationships. Have clear intentions when you start dating, remembering to check in with yourself, remain honouring yourself, know that you will make mistakes, but remember all the work you have put in up until this point, that you are not the same person you were and lastly, ensure you have cultivated and nurtured external relationships that can help give you perspective and whose judgement you can trust when you can not trust your own.
Life is all learning and if you make a mistake that’s okay; it was for the plot anyway.