Growing up abused as a child distorted the true definition of love. Instead of seeking the comfort and protection of a man, I looked instead for validation, someone who could fill this void in my heart. But because we associate pain with love, we inadvertently recreate the same environment we tried so hard from which to escape.

When you’re abused as a child, physically or sexually, you’re always subjected to emotional abuse. When it’s done by pedophiles, they call it grooming. According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, grooming includes:

Fulfilling a Need

Most child abuse victims are neglected or abused at home. The parents may work outside the home, leaving their small children home alone. Unfortunately, both situations applied to me. For years, it felt as if my mother didn’t love me and on top of that, she and my stepfather worked outside of the home. So as a second grader, I was responsible for getting me and my little sister inside the house and safe until an adult arrived. I don’t blame my parents in any way for this. They needed to work. But because I was neglected and alone for hours, I was prey.

Pedophiles also groom adults. They fulfill a parent’s need by offering to babysit or drive the child around. It’s very common for abusers to marry the intended victim’s parent just to gain access to the child.

Lowering Inhibitions

Some molesters groom their victims by buying them gifts and giving them money. If the family is in financial need, this could be devastating. Some children grow up believing it wasn’t abuse. They may insist they were dating the abuser. But all sexual touching between an adult and child is sexual abuse.

Like me, you may go through life living with a cocktail mix of the above resulting in severe depression and sexual problems, including promiscuity, as well as alcohol or drug abuse. Simply put, self-destruction is almost always present and is sometimes the only visible clue that abuse ever occurred.

A counseling session or two never really resolves anything because healing from abuse isn’t linear. We struggle daily with triggers and flashbacks and it can be challenging for the strongest survivor. If someone has yet to embrace counseling, it’s possible she can go through life without ever healing from the abuse or learning how to manage episodes or bouts of low self-esteem.

All of this factors into their perspective on love.

Because psychologists describe love simply as havingstrong desire for an emotional union with another person, there’s no internal mechanism to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy love. That’s because our desire arises from loneliness and our need to feel accepted and cherished. So you can fall in love with an abuser just as easily as you could for someone who treats you right.

So given the challenges most victims face, how can we recognize healthy love? And even more important, can we embrace it without destroying the relationship?

Relationship experts list several characteristics to having a healthy relationship. Here are a few:

Healthy LoveFights Fair

This doesn’t mean you’ll never fight or he’ll never hurt your feelings. But the difference with healthy love is that he won’t attack you personally and he’ll never hit you. When you do fight or when he does hurt you, he’ll be apologetic and work to make amends. Unhealthy love looks at fights as an opportunity to attack, blame, coerce and reject you.

Healthy Love Is There Through the Hard Times

It’s so easy to love someone when things are going well. But when an obstacle strikes, that’s when relationships are truly tested. Healthy love works to resolve challenges together,doesn’t blame the other or disappear when the going gets tough. Unhealthy love seeks to have their partner fix the issue and rescue them.

There Is a Healthy Give and Take

A healthy love is evident when both partners desire to help the other without requiring anything in return. Sacrifices may have to be made but it will never be one-sided.Mutual trust is established and there’s never a doubt that your partner will have your back. Unhealthy love is selfish and incredibly one-sided. If you find yourself in such a relationship, you may feel drained and used and may go with having your needs unmet.

Healthy Love Doesn’t Try to Change You

When you’re in a healthy relationship, your partner has no desire to change you; he accepts your flaws. He may drive you to make improvements in some areas of your life, but overall, he’s looking to discover your interests, dreams, and goals. In an unhealthy relationship, he wants you to become his image of an ideal partner. It may be your hair, clothing, hobbies, etc. and he’ll rarely support any interests of your own.

For a survivor to embrace healthy love without destroying it, she’ll have to first learn how to love herself first. But what’s ironic is that abuse victims search for love from others before they ever learn to love themselves..

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