As the year draws to a close, and the dawn of a new decade is upon us, I have been thinking about how 2019 will end. It was a busy year, as I’ve written about over the past few months. I think the biggest lessons I have learned are about relationships. How they ebb and flow, how they begin, or end. You know, there was so much buildup moving into this new decade of life. I never believed the hype until I arrived myself, navigating my thirties. There’s a lot of reflection on this side, and something I have been talking at length with my best friend about is our friendships in our twenties. I think about how ‘friendship’s formed. If you made new friends in college, it was usually born out of a commonality of some sort: a mutual friend, a mutual class, a mutual interest. Boom, now you’re cool. That was the narrative we told ourselves for years and years. Looking back, I wonder if we as individuals knew what a ‘healthy’ friendship looked like, what a layered companionship looked like.
What have you been taught about ‘making friends?’ When I think back, it was all so simple. Be nice. Share. Forgive. I think about how much emphasis there was on being ‘nice.’ But there was never an emphasis on setting boundaries. Listen, you can be a ‘good person’ and not take shit from anyone else. That’s facts. We just don’t teach that, and as a result, we end up entertaining friendships and relationships long past their expiration date.
If you asked me what friendship looks like now, it’s way more about reciprocity, understanding, and communication. We are all trying to find our way professionally, romantically, financially, spiritually, emotionally. That means that at any given time, we only have SO much to give. Quality time may look like grabbing tea at a coffee shop versus staying out late and getting drunk. Check-ins may be once a week versus everyday. You may only meet up every few months, because LIFE is happening. More grace is required now, because life is unpredictable, and we never know what anyone else is going through.
I want to talk about trauma bonds. I think it’s important to be able to recognize patterns both in your friendships and your relationships. Our friendship patterns can bleed into the way we relate romantically to each other, and this can prevent us from having full and healthy relationships in our lives.
Trauma Bond: A trauma bond is a bond that forms due to intense, emotional experiences, usually with a toxic person.
This toxic person can be a friend, lover, family member, etc. The point is that when we are trauma bonded to another person, this can alter our perception of what is healthy, and what is unhealthy.
What are the signs that you’re in a trauma bond? According to Bustle.com, you’ll accept ‘love crumbs.’ Ya’ll know about them crumbs! The half-assed invite, the lackluster birthday gift, a text here and there. You take it even though that’s not what you’re giving out. If we’re talking relationships, it’s very similar. You give in excess to your partner by way of affection, gifts, time spent. Meanwhile, their texts are spotty, time spent is like pulling teeth, and they never do much to surprise you or please you.
The predator-prey dynamic. There’s always an element of chase. It’s a constant need for this person’s attention or affection, that is never satisfied.
Brushing off bad behavior. Making excuses for your friend because ‘that’s just how they are,’ or ‘they don’t mean anything by it.’ Ignoring problematic behaviors because of ‘history.’ In a relationship, essentially ignoring all red flags from the start.
Your friendship or relationship is filled with drama. Fights, tears, there’s always a story. Everybody and their mama know what’s going on with ya’ll. You know it’s a lot but you get used to the chaos, and in some cases, you thrive off of it.
You feel like you can’t leave them. Maybe you love them too much, you’ve been friends too long, ya’ll got history. Or, you can’t see yourself moving on without them. In reality, this can apply to both kinds of relationships.
Healthy friendships should make you feel affirmed, help you grow, and hold you accountable. Healthy relationships should be nurturing, fulfilling, and positive.That’s what we on in this next decade. You have to be able to create healthy friendships before you dive into connecting with someone romantically.
The point of this post? Start to take inventory of the patterns of the people in your life. People show you who they are all the time. It really doesn’t matter what words come out of their mouth, if their actions remain the same. If you believe that you are in a trauma bond, the best way to break the pattern is to be honest and set boundaries. Here are some tips:
“Many survivors have such profound deficiencies in self-protection that they can barely imagine themselves in a position of agency or choice. The idea of saying no to the emotional demands of a parent, spouse, lover or authority figure may be practically inconceivable. Thus, it is not uncommon to find adult survivors to permit major intrusions without boundaries or limits.- Judith Herman ( Trauma and Recovery- The Aftermath of Violence)
Let’s start the next decade by learning to set boundaries.