Mental ill health and childhood trauma-
it is, aside from being all-consuming and completely energy-sapping, also very isolating.
When you’re ‘in’ it you can feel so alone, as though no one could possibly understand what you’re going through.
Even reflecting back on it, you can still be made to feel very ‘other’ because of it, not realising that there are people out there who get what it’s like to feel like that because they have had similar experiences too.
And so, when you actually meet someone who has been through the same struggles that you have been through, you can find yourself almost pulled towards them- ‘finally, someone who ‘gets’ me!!’- the connection you form being far stronger than it otherwise would’ve been had you not been aware of your shared experiences.
Furthermore, a ‘pull’ towards someone might also come since people with trauma in their histories often find that it takes more for them to ‘feel’ as they can find themselves feeling numb to external stimuli much of the time. This can result in their interactions requiring a lot more intensity to feel ‘authentic’, thus meaning they seek out extreme feelings and extreme situations. Whereas others might view someone’s unaddressed trauma as a red flag, a similarly traumatised person might not see the warning signs…
Is this a good thing, finding someone who ‘gets’ exactly what it’s like to feel so alone in their own head/who can appreciate the contrast between dark and light because they too have been witness to both? Inevitably a strong connection will be formed on the basis of this- you understand each others pain. But, again, to the question I posed above; ‘is this a good thing? Is it ever possible to build a healthy, stable relationship on an unstable foundation?’ And, to quote the title of this post; ‘is a relationship formed on shared trauma healthy?’
An argument against it-
‘Bonding over shared trauma doesn’t translate to compatibility.’
Don’t mistake the pain you have in common with someone for something deeper. That’s what it means to bond through shared trauma, and it’s toxic.
You cannot assume that, just because you hurt the same, you will also love the same.
Whilst there are of course lots of variables involved meaning that it would be impossible for me to answer the question ‘is a relationship formed on shared trauma healthy?’ definitively, one thing that is definite/that will remain the same regardless of individual circumstance, is that two people who have had/have a mental illness and/or childhood trauma will view the world* differently to people who have had no history of poor mental health.
*The world and every aspect of it-
Relationships with others, the relationship with oneself, it will all have been impacted upon, albeit to varying degrees.
On the one hand, this could be a really good thing- two people who share a very similar history in terms of childhood experiences and mental health connecting- it will certainly be more than a ‘surface level’ connection as early relationships so often are. Your shared understanding of the ‘darker’ side offering you an unrivalled opportunity for depth and genuine connection. But, it could also be really harmful. In bonding over trauma, are you not essentially keeping yourself in the past, revisiting triggering memories that you would rather forget and move on from? With such traumatic things in common, you are at risk of becoming both agents of pain and agents of coping for one another, learning how to live with your hurt, but not how to heal from it. Creating between you a vicious cycle of re-victimisation that ensures that neither can advance beyond the pain that binds you together.
Again, I think it very much depends on the context though. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. All relationships have their challenges but, if two people with a history of mental ill health are dating, it should come as no surprise that those challenges can be… more challenging. They can work, and I’m sure that people with such shared experiences can live really happy, fulfilling lives together, but, before entering any relationship, you must determine if you are in the right place for it. Is the trauma still quite ‘raw’/was it recent? How is your mental health now? Remember that, in committing to a relationship, you are also committing to someone else, which is why communication is key. If you do have any concerns, then it’s so important to talk through them with the person you’re dating to ensure that you’re both ‘on the same page’ when it comes to your relationship/to minimise the risk of anyone getting hurt.
So, whilst no, I cannot tell you whether a relationship involving shared trauma is ‘healthy’- there are too many things to consider/it would have to be judged on a case-by-case basis- I can tell you that, like any relationship, even those between two people who have no history of poor mental health or trauma (do such people actually exist?!), communication. is. key.
Ask yourself how you feel. Ask them how they feel. Make sure you’re on the same page and in the right frame of mind for a relationship, remembering that, from the moment you start talking to someone, you have not just your own mental health to think about, but theirs too.