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Escaping the “I Can Fix Him” Trap

Prioritizing Safety Over Limitless Sympathy

By Veronica WrenPublished about a month ago 4 min read
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Photo by author: Veronica Wren

He’s a brooding, volatile man with a dark past and unprocessed trauma.

She’s an optimistic, intelligent woman societally conditioned to have endless compassion and a sense of self-worth tied to a successful relationship.

It’s, unfortunately, a tale as old as time.

Women's Emotional Care Burden

Society has forever pushed the role of the forgiving, endlessly empathetic, unpaid caregiver onto women.

We’re expected to be the calm, reasonable ones when men fly off the handle—expected to obediently provide comfort in whatever form is demanded, even when it puts us in the crossfire (too often literally).

The study of men’s feelings is essential for the women who often end up on the violent receiving end of them. As a survival instinct, we learn to intuit and pacify emotions in men that may endanger us.

Unforgivable or Unavoidable?: History, Genetics, and Abuse

As we gain a deeper understanding of human behavior, we learn that it can almost always be linked back to societal conditioning, genetics, or trauma in some way. Seeing people as a sum of their parts can help us understand the wounds that cause them to act in the way they do. We learn that these predisposed patterns are difficult to break free from and often span generations.

When we start to believe individual choice is entirely predetermined, it can lead to forgiveness being extended time and again, past the point of reason or safety. This results in relationship patterns that are dissatisfying, unhealthy, and even dangerous.

Women spend their lives internalizing the message that it’s their responsibility to understand and cater to the emotions of men. This can make it difficult for us to definitively label anyone as unsafe or toxic, even with their actions as evidence. Being forced to walk this tightrope may result in women tolerating unacceptable behaviors.

Unfortunately, this mindset of limitless empathy is thrust onto women, often leaving us rationalizing and making excuses for their partners because we’ve been taught it’s our role. This behavior is a survival tactic and is highly vulnerable to exploitation.

The Temper Trap: Excusing Abuse

It’s easy to call my abuser a shitty person in passing. He cheated, punched walls, abused alcohol, sexually assaulted and abused me regularly, and posed an imminent threat to my life on multiple occasions. Sounds like irredeemable trash, right?

What about when I tell you a little about his backstory?

How he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), stemming from his time in the military, as well as his continued exposure to trauma working in law enforcement? How his father, too, was a horribly abusive, substance-abusing, small-town cop whose corrupt, good ole’ boy buddies happily covered up his crimes?

Human behavior is rarely black and white. My abuser had a lot of factors working against him, predisposing him to the violence he passed on to me. His behavior absolutely stems from severe mental health issues and trauma. So how many chances does that afford him, according to the societal rules imposed on women?

He spent five years trying to manipulate me into believing the answer was “unlimited”. He’d use his own trauma as an excuse for his harmful actions while making no attempt to grow, learn from, or repair the damage he left in his wake.

After finally escaping that relationship, I was diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

My abuser refused to manage his trauma disorder, so he passed it on to me.

Conditional Love is Healthy Love

In our quest to understand and make sense of human behavior as it relates to our experiences, it becomes challenging to label anyone as inherently “bad”. This nuanced perspective is both enlightening and perilous.

While we should avoid unearned and hasty judgments, we must also learn to listen to our instincts and experiences for our own safety. Empathy, while noble, should never impede our ability to protect ourselves.

Women are at particular risk in this area thanks to societal pressure for us to put the needs of others before ourselves. Those with a history of trauma themselves may feel especially drawn to “fix” or rescue others.

To navigate this thorny landscape, we must strike a balance between understanding and accountability. By setting clear boundaries, we acknowledge our own worth and create a space where empathy coexists with self-preservation.

Understanding someone’s trauma doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it can provide insight into the factors that contributed to it. While empathy and understanding are essential in any relationship, we need to address the toxic belief that it should come at the expense of women’s own safety, autonomy, and happiness.

Conclusion: Boundaries Can Set You Free

So how do you create healthy boundaries with someone while also understanding what they’ve been through? I wish I had a better answer, but the truth is I’m still learning. It’s messy.

One realization I’ve come to is that if I can learn about these harmful behavioral patterns, so can the man exhibiting them. Let’s put the responsibility to explore and cope with emotions healthily back into the hands of the individual in control of them.

It’s imperative to acknowledge that while empathy is noble, our own safety should never be compromised. Understanding someone’s past might explain their behavior, but it doesn’t absolve them of responsibility. By holding space for their experiences while encouraging accountability, we can foster growth and break the trauma cycle.

Subscribe in one click to receive your FREE digital copy of my new guided journal, “Empower and Heal: 90 Days of Transformational Prompts for Trauma Recovery, Self-Discovery, and Growth”, delivered straight to your inbox!

Veronica Wren Trauma Recovery Book Club

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself — Nedra Glover

This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click a link and decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a few extra pennies to support my writing (and do a celebratory dance around my apartment just for you). My promise is that I’ll only ever recommend resources I truly believe in and have found beneficial in my healing. Happy reading!

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About the Creator

Veronica Wren

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn't. Subscribe here for your FREE exclusive guided journal

❤️‍🩹 bio.link/veronicawren ❤️‍🩹

Domestic Abuse & CPTSD Recovery Coach

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