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Loving Someone As Damaged As You Are

No, really. It can be a good thing. People who get each other — who truly understand trauma, down in their bones — can heal each other. In my clinical experience, finding a non-judgmental love (and extending that same non-judgmental love back) is incredibly powerful.

So how do you let the light in, together?

1) Be each other’s ablers, not enablers

(You’re correct, “abler” isn’t really a word, but it should be, shouldn’t it?)

To able your partner, you express confidence that he (or she) has it in him to do what needs to be done. You offer love and support but you don’t do for him what he can (and should) do for himself.

And he needs to able you, too, even when you don’t want it. Because ultimately, what we want is to be stronger together, to have a shoulder to cry on and to lean on, but not to be carried around like dead weight. How can you feel good about yourself if you’re utterly dependent?

2) Do your own healing

That might mean individual therapy; it might mean group therapy. It could mean medication. It might not involve formal mental health treatment at all but some other form of cathartic release. It could mean massage or other body work. It might involve a spiritual quest, practice, or community. There might be a journal involved, or some other creative endeavor that you can choose to burn or to share with the world.

But you need to find some expression for all you’ve been through, in addition to just talking to your partner. And your partner needs that, too. Then when you return to each other, you’re ready to commune.

3) Be kind, accepting, and compassionate

Not easy to do, but a worthy guiding principle. Stop sometimes and ask yourself (or even ask your partner if you’re not sure): “Am I being kind? Accepting? Compassionate?”

Treat your partner’s foibles as you would want him to treat yours. Try to learn the difference between aspects of yourself and your partner that are open to change, and those that are immutable. That’s not easy to distinguish but once you do, you can save yourself (and your loved one) a lot of grief.

I know, it’s not easy. If you’ve been through a lot in your life, your tolerance may be diminished and your fuse shorter than those of other people. (Which is why #2 is so important — you might need medication to take the edge off, to give your nervous system time to recover from all it’s been through, so it stops sending out warning flares all the time and can learn to recognize safety.)

4) Know that after a trauma (maybe even a lifetime of it, since trauma can beget more trauma), there is nothing as important as emotional and physical safety

If you do your best to provide that for one another, to keep reassuring each other that you’re not alone, that you’re in this together, whatever “this” may be — you’ll be amazed how far you can go.

Loving Someone As Damaged As You Are

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2016). Loving Someone As Damaged As You Are. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Jun 2016
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