If you manage to extricate yourself from an abusive relationship, you’ll probably find a few surprises waiting for you. One, you’ll begin to see yourself for who you actually are, which is likely a very different person from the one your abuser tried to make you think you were. Two, you’ll begin to recognize that most people are not like your abuser: manipulative, controlling, deceitful, etc. Three, you might just find yourself wanting to trust people again.

This last one was truly a surprise to me. After what I had experienced for so many years and realizing that my trust had been seriously misplaced, I doubted I would ever be able to do it again. To be honest, I didn’t even want to be in a situation where trust was part of the equation. On a certain level, this is understandable; you will likely find it difficult to believe that anyone (other than your allies, and there may even be doubt about some of them) will treat you with genuine kindness and respect without the possibility of some deranged desire to control you lurking underneath. This is perhaps for your own good, at least for a while until you have a solid emotional foundation and a clear understanding of yourself.

I would go so far as to recommend that you heed the abundance of caution that your brain will produce upon re-entering the real world. Take some time getting reacquainted with normal, healthy relationships where people generally say what they mean. Enjoy the feeling of being able to say what you think, go where you want, eat what you like, talk as you please, but don’t feel compelled to do it all at once or around just anyone. It’s okay to guard your heart for a while.

However, be prepared to find yourself in what might seem like an impossible position: looking someone in the eyes and feeling the urge to trust him or her. What then? How can you possibly feel this way at all? And why would you ever risk being hurt so badly again?

You might feel the urge to run, to turn away from the questions entirely so you don’t have to answer them. After all, remember what got you into the abusive relationship in the first place. Trust, right? If what I’ve read and heard is true, many victims of abuse share a particular characteristic that makes them especially vulnerable targets: empathy, of all things. It is a dangerous virtue because it’s almost like a neon sign advertising the person’s capacity for putting up with all kinds of injuries because of the overwhelming desire to help others. So when you find yourself wanting to be a part of someone’s life in a way that requires mutual trust, it can be pretty terrifying.

This isn’t at all limited to romantic relationships, by the way. Even making new friends can lead to such a dilemma, and I would advise you to approach them carefully. Abusers may very well be in the minority, but there are enough out there to warrant a slow, deliberate approach to developing new friendships. Not that I would suggest a scorched-earth policy in which you forsake all future happiness to avoid the possibility of further injury, either.

I wish I could tell you that the answer is just to open yourself up to people and give them a chance. For many, it’s not that simple. Everyone’s time frame is different, and every survivor of abuse will take a different path towards a new life. Maybe the best way to put it is to trust your heart, but only when it has healed enough to do its job. You will probably be burned again at some point, perhaps on the very next attempt, but you will be stronger than you ever were before and much more capable of handling it. On the other hand, you just might find someone who is worthy of your trust and who will actually accept you for who you are.

That would be quite a nice surprise, indeed.

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