I’ve been actively working through trauma for about four years now. What I’ve unfortunately found is that during this time I have actually lost much of the social support that I had before I started on this journey. This has naturally made the process more difficult for me, and it has been heartbreaking to lose so many friends just because I want to and am working to improve my life by dealing with all of the things that are holding me back. I’ve talked to many trauma survivors and/or people with mental illness who say too that when they started to talk openly about what happened to them and about what their lives are like now that they lost many friends and heard many hurtful comments from people that they love.
So why do people leave or mistreat trauma survivors during their times of greatest need? For one, it is hard to accept that bad things have happened to a person that you love. In addition to this, it can be even harder to face the reality that terrible things happen in this world and that not everyone is a good person, because this can bring up all kinds of fears that a person may not be aware of or is trying to suppress. A second reason why someone may respond harshly or move away from a person who is working through trauma is that it is triggering something that the friend or family member has not worked through. Thus, they react, and a lot of the time it is not in a very nice way. In this scenario, much of the time the person doesn’t even realize that their friend or family member is triggering something within them, which means that unless whatever struggle is being triggered is brought into his or her awareness, the person likely will continue to act defensively and negatively to a person in their lives who is working through triggering events. A third and important reason why someone might act defensively or simply leave a person who is working through trauma is that because people tend to change when they are working through trauma, and this can create feelings of loss for other people as it can feel like they have lost the person who they know and love. But, instead of dealing with this loss and learning to accept the new aspects of a person who is recovering from trauma, some people get angry at the person or try to keep them from changing in mean or disrespectful, even abusive ways because they don’t want to lose who they know to be the friend or family member that they have known and loved for so long. Rather than facing that loss, though, and/or working to accept you as you work through trauma, a person like this might just go their separate way or act very out of character towards you to the point of turning abusive or mean.
Now you might be wondering if there is anything that you can do in these scenarios. The truth is, at least that I have found, is that the person who is struggling to deal with and understand what you are going through has to have some degree of willingness to change themselves in order to accept the new you or at least to accept things about you that they didn’t know before. But this can be difficult for others as it means that they might have to look at trauma in their own lives, or accept really hard things about the world, their lives, or themselves that they don’t want to accept. And, sometimes it is more important for them to not deal with these realities than it is to hold onto a relationship with a person who is working through trauma, even if that person is a family member or good friend. This is because, as you know, it is incredibly painful to work through trauma and life itself, and some people will do anything to avoid that type of pain. In this case, then, although it is hurtful that a person puts themselves over you in this fashion, it usually isn’t as personal to you as it feels, and unfortunately if this person isn’t willing to deal with their own lives, there isn’t a lot you can do to prevent them from distancing themselves from you or mistreating you if they feel threatened by what you are doing in your life.
When it comes to the person who is afraid of the changes he or she sees in you, and/or your relationship changing as a result of your trauma work, again some people are so afraid of facing and adapting to change that they will simply run the other way when it comes. This again is another scenario where the person is acting out of self-protection to the point where you end up getting hurt. Just remember that this person, and the ones described above, are likely acting out of their own self-protection and might feel deep inside like they need to in order to survive.
Then there are those people who are simply abusive and who capitalize upon other people’s vulnerabilities. They may have been supportive of you for most of the time that you’ve known them, or at least seemed to be, but then when you start to show a hint of vulnerability in any way, suddenly they become extremely abusive. Likely, this person looks for any opportunity to make themselves feel powerful at another’s expense all of the time. They might do this through being the best of friends, as this can give them an ego boost and feeling of control, but then when the opportunity knocks to gain even more power and control, their entire personality and behavior towards you can change entirely. This can be shocking, especially if the person has always been very supportive of you. Just know, though, that likely this person has been very abusive to others behind your back even if he or she has been supportive of you, but now they have turned to exploiting you as well. Also, this is the kind of person, too, who will be nice to you as long as you are an acceptable person to him or her. But, as soon as you do something they deem unacceptable, which might be working through trauma or changing in ways that the person doesn’t like, their true monstrous nature shows.
I’m sure that there are many other reasons why a person might leave you or mistreat you when you start working through trauma. These reasons are just some of the major ones that I’ve noticed and read about. Just know that in all of these cases that you are likely dealing with someone who does not want to change and may or may not ever change in the future. And, because you are changing and working through trauma, these people might never treat you the same again. Ultimately it is up to you to decide whether you want to keep people in your life who do not react well to what you are trying to achieve in life, which is overcoming trauma and hardships. There are people who will learn to adapt to you and work to understand you even if they do not behave well when you first approach them about your trauma and/or see changes in you that are hard for them to accept. These people can be gems in the long run, and it is up to you as to whether you want to give them a chance to learn and change. Sometimes it just might be too much though to deal with. While it is hard to tell which way a person might turn when they begin to learn about and see what you are going through, eventually it does get easier to tell what a person is likely to do. Just remember that when it comes to other people that you still must put yourself first.
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