“Maybe it’s time for the fighter to be fought for, the holder to be held, and the lover to be loved.” ~Unknown

Growing up, I had no reference whatsoever for what a healthy relationship looked like. My parents had me as a result of an affair. I was estranged from my father for a decade or so, and I spent my childhood with my mother and my stepfather. And both were far from healthy.

I remember vividly this one day they got into a verbal fight. Things got so heated that he angrily threw her a glass of wine at her as she approached the door to go to work.

Fortunately, the glass hit the wall as my mom closed the door, laughing at my stepfather’s failed attempt to hurt her. I, a little girl, stayed behind to clean up the mess and deal with my stepfather’s rage. Since he could not aim it at her now, he had no problems aiming it at me, hitting and abusing me my whole childhood.

To add to the mix, we lived a very isolated life; I would never hang out at my friends’ homes or have people over until my mom finally decided to leave him. I was seventeen when we nervously packed our bags and secretly ran away, leaving my stepfather behind.

Because of the abuse and isolation, I was pretty unaware of other family dynamics. You may laugh at me, but since I had nowhere else to look, sometimes Brazilian telenovelas were my main source of information.

When I think about it, there’s this particular day that comes to mind.

I see myself, a skinny little black girl with short, relaxed hair, sitting on the floor, watching a telenovela with my mom and two brothers while dreaming of a telenovela-like, loving relationship. I recall the main characters on screen passionately declaring their love for each other. My eyes sparkled in awe, hoping that that would be me one day.

I don’t know if my mother would notice how hopeful I looked, but she would bring my hopes down to zero by reminding me that that did not happen in real life.

Good times, ay? Nowadays, I laugh about it while living my telenovela-like relationship, minus the toxicity characteristic of these shows. I’m so happy she was wrong!

For years, though, I believed I did not deserve love and that no one would ever want to have a long-term relationship with me, and that got me into a cycle of unhealthy, loveless relationships.

Luckily, as I started healing, I realized this was not true. It was just something the adults in my life taught me when I was a child, with words and actions. Let’s get real; I didn’t have the best examples growing up.

But as I always say, just because you didn’t have good examples growing up, that doesn’t mean you can’t be the example.

Still, I had to be honest with myself. Although I was open to a healthy, long-term relationship, I had no idea how that worked, so I knew I had to start from scratch. And let me tell you: I learned some invaluable lessons on this journey, and I cannot wait to share them with you.

#1. Your relationship with yourself will dictate the type of relationship you attract.

I didn’t realize I was still treating myself the way my abusers used to treat me until I was almost thirty years old. Before this realization, my self-talk was atrocious: I would call myself stupid, ugly, dumb, weirdo… As I said, atrocious. On top of that, I’d deny myself things, sabotage all chances of real success, put everyone before me, and bully myself all day long.

I later learned that even though we tend to do these things in the intimacy of our thoughts, they inevitably show up in all areas of our lives. For example, people with bad intentions see we don’t have self-respect, so they step in and disrespect us. Self-centered individuals notice our lack of boundaries, and guess what they do? Yes, they cross the line over and over.

I’ve learned the hard way that others will treat you the way you treat yourself. So, when you’re looking to have a healthy long-term relationship, the first step is healing the relationship with yourself.

#2. Boring is good.

I’ve noticed that most of the time, when survivors like me talk about being bored in a relationship, we’re not actually talking about being bored; we’re just unfamiliar with peace and “normality.” This was something I definitely experienced.

I remember being confronted with this feeling on a particular day; nothing special happened, but I felt weirdly uneasy while walking down the street. My survivor’s brain immediately started thinking something was wrong; I started screening my mind for problems and things to worry about. And then it hit me: I was just feeling peaceful and calm. There was absolutely nothing to worry about, and that’s healthy and okay. I was simply not used to it. At all.

When it comes to relationships, if we’re used to unhealthy patterns and make them the norm, it feels strange when things are good. That’s why we may try to look for problems and things to worry about in our relationship when, in reality, everything is okay, because we don’t realize that’s what healthy feels like—peaceful.

Of course, if you’re really bored and there’s no love, that’s a different story. But I think it’s worth doing a check-in just in case our brain is trying to trick us into sabotaging true, healthy love to make us go back to the “familiar,” which, for many of us, means unhealthy.

I know how crazy that sounds, but trust me, our brain thinks all familiar things are good, and it takes some time to reprogram it. I feel like this is an excellent opportunity to start doing the reprogramming work. What do you think?

#3. Healthy love is easy.

As someone who grew up watching toxic relationships in telenovelas, endured abuse, and also suffered from society’s pressure and influence, I used to firmly believe that love was hard, painful, a struggle, and that it took work. A lot of work.

I spent half of my life chasing butterflies in my stomach, only to realize the butterflies were actually anxiety because my now-ex-partner didn’t make me feel safe.

Today, if there’s one thing I’m confident about, it’s that healthy love is easy, and it flows. Yes, you’ll have challenges, but the whole relationship does not feel like a struggle.

I promise you, you’ll know healthy love when you see it, especially after you start healing the relationship with yourself and begin looking for peace instead of trauma-related emotions.

Do you know the feeling of carrying the weight of a relationship? It’s not going to be there in a healthy partnership. The same goes for questioning your partner’s love and dedication to you and the relationship.

But here’s the thing: We can only experience this if we start healing and stop wasting time in unhealthy relationships.

You see, the chances of finding someone incompatible with you are infinite, and of course, you will encounter some interesting characters. The secret lies in not wasting your time there. Keep moving. True, healthy love is around the corner!

I hope this inspires you to welcome and nurture true love and healthier relationships and not let your past experiences tell you what you can or cannot have.

You are worthy of a beautiful, fulfilling, and loving relationship. Let it in.

About Erika Sardinha

Erika Sardinha is an empowerment coach for survivors based in the Canary Islands. Her purpose is to help survivors reconnect with themselves, heal, and thrive from the inside out. She offers private and group coaching for people who’ve been through trauma while providing various free resources to her community. Check Erika’s Free Community of badass thriving survivors: Happy Survivors Tribe, and access her 10-minute Guided Tapping Meditation for True Relaxation and Joy! Instagram / Facebook

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