When I found out that my parents split up was because of an affair, just one thought crossed my mind: Because of a man's misconduct, my mother - who I had always thought to be the strongest, most inspiring woman on the planet - cried to sleep almost every night. And that man was my father.
Today, 16 years later, I still clearly remember sneaking into my mother's bedroom and seeing her cry. I wanted so badly to hug her, but I was frozen. I could just watch helplessly and hold back my own tears as best I could. Little did I know then how much this childhood memory would affect my perception of men in the long term.
Seeing my mother's suffering made it difficult for me to trust men - and that is still the case today. According to a study by psychologist and author Ana Nogales, in which she examined how a parent's infidelity can affect a child, around 80 percent of respondents said that infidelity as a child had changed their perspective on romance and relationships. Around 70 percent even said that their general trust in other people had been permanently damaged.
At some point I was sure, men can Do not treat women properly at all. I assumed that, like most of the women around me, they would inevitably one day hurt.
As I got older I saw some of the women in my family being betrayed by men. Most of the time it ended in lengthy, painful divorces - and all the more strengthened my belief that men are to blame for the suffering of women. At some point I was sure, men can Do not treat women properly at all. I assumed that, like most of the women around me, they would inevitably one day hurt. That had consequences: In my first steadfast relationship, it was difficult for me to really open up to my boyfriend at the time and to show myself to be vulnerable. I was worried that it might hurt me and let's put it this way: The fear was not unjustified.
I am not alone with these feelings. “My parents separated when I was seven. At that time I was happy about the divorce, ”says 29-year-old Alisha from London. “But my mom carried the painful scars of her past with her. She always said to me: 'Don't trust a man.' “But it wasn't just her mother's words that stuck in her mind, says Alisha. “I have never seen my mom in a happy, loving relationship. That took away the hope of running one myself. Perhaps with her warnings about men she even ruined a relationship that could have turned into something serious: Because when I was 17, I met the perfect guy. We were together for about a year before my mom told me to break up with him because 'he'll definitely cheat on you'. Unfortunately, I took her advice. I thought she might be right. "
From a young age I heard older women in my relatives say that they were unable to trust men. And while that wasn't her intention, of course, it cemented my opinion of men all the more.
Only my therapist was able to convince me that certain limits are important, but that I have to stop mistrusting men in general. If I want to have a healthy, happy relationship for myself one day, I have to shake off the expectation that sooner or later they'll all break my heart anyway. And I wanted such a relationship; but before I could admit that, my therapist had to do some persuasion. The belief that I was incapable of a relationship ran deep. I just knew too many women who carried the emotional scars of their past love with them.
Of course, my therapist did not encourage me to tear down all the protective walls around me and to throw myself naively into every new relationship. The instinct for self-preservation is simply too strong for that; In addition, every relationship also includes certain personal boundaries and a clear idea of what you (do not) want. But it's just as important to open up to your partner or partners.
“Women often want a loving relationship with a man who will protect them - but at the same time they fear being abandoned, rejected or embarrassed,” explains trauma, sex and relationship therapist Cate Campbell. "If you are expecting to be injured, it is not easy to get rid of these protective tactics from childhood."
However, therapies and social counseling can change relationships permanently. The so-called EMDR therapy has proven to be particularly helpful. In Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, both hemispheres of the brain are stimulated by the guided movement of the eyes and stressful memories are emotionally weakened. “EMDR is particularly effective at influencing women's attitudes towards their fathers and other men. Following on from this, systemic therapy can help to cement the relationship between all family members, ”advises Cate. "Systemic therapy can also identify external factors that have a negative impact on the patient's experience - such as problematic gender roles within the family."
I now have the reins in my own hands and don't let my childhood experiences stop me from developing healthy romantic relationships with men.
In any case, I can confirm that my therapy helped me a lot with my image of men. She encouraged me to at least approach the idea of a relationship. I now dare to go on dates again - but this time with a more positive attitude from the start. And today I also have a great relationship with my father. It wasn't always like this: at the time, our relationship had inevitably suffered from what had happened between him and my mother.
I'm not pretending to hear no more voices in my head telling me not to let myself go too much because sooner or later it will hurt you anyway. Thanks to the therapy, however, I have learned to ignore them as much as possible. I now have the reins in my own hands and don't let my childhood experiences stop me from developing healthy romantic relationships with men.