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If you’ve been in any type of abusive relationship and successfully gotten out, at some point in your recovery, you are likely to experience feelings of reticence, caution, cynicism and even paranoia about others. This is particularly the case in regard to romantic partners. Once you’ve been burned, it’s not so easy to risk getting close to fire again, right?

When it comes to abuse, the most important thing we can do to help ourselves and our children is to educate ourselves on the early warning signs of abuse. We need to know what to look for beyond name-calling, lying, and hitting. We also need to know how to spot an aggressive and controlling relationship, because while there are no physical scars, psychologically abusive relationships can slowly strip away a person’s self- esteem, self-worth, and quality of life.

What is reasonable to expect out of a relationship? Love and support? Understanding and encouragement? A sense of safety and belonging? Knowing that your partner really sees you? Knowing that your partner truly values you? Knowing that your feelings and needs matter to your partner? Trusting your partner even when you are not with him or her? Both of you seeking resolution, taking responsibility and attempting to restore closeness after conflict? If these things seem way over the top because you’re used to surviving with far less, they are not.

Our parents are our first mirrors.As we grow, we look to our primary caregivers to give us feedback and help guide us through a world unknown. What gets reflected back to us is the basis upon which we form our first self-impressions. Based on these reflections, we begin to develop a self-concept as we identify ourselves more with certain attributes, less with others.

Establishing healthy relationships means establishing healthy boundaries and clear and respectful guidelines for how we want to be treated by others.If you’ve ever been to therapy or read self-help books, you are likely to have come across the term, “setting boundaries”. In the past, I would skim over those words or nod my head in agreement with my therapist without giving this idea much thought. It wasn’t until I found myself exhausted from pouring so much of myself into everyone else, and resentful when I felt mistreated, that I realized I needed to perk up and learn what I could do to set my own boundaries.

Inner child work is something that is typically explored in therapy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Some of the most powerful “soul work” comes from looking at our inner child, or ourselves at various stages in childhood. It is particularly profound when we explore ourselves at a time when we may have experienced trauma of some kind. Trauma evokes such a strong, visceral and emotional reaction within, that it often stays with us for years afterwards and perhaps for an entire lifetime. Trauma doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific event. In fact, a chronic low-grade trauma in childhood such as a neglectful, dismissive or critical parent can yield a similar stress response.

Death is ultimately what many people fear, but we all experience other losses throughout our lives. Loss comes in many forms: our loved one dies and we are left with painful feelings in their absence, we go through a divorce and are left to navigate our lives without the partner we thought we would have, our children grow up and move away from us, or we identify ourselves with our job and one day it’s just gone.