• Eliza Jade Brown, LCSW

Complex Trauma on Love is Blind, Season 3

Updated: Nov 13

In reaction to the hate towards Zanab after the season finale and reunion.

Disclaimer: This is a commentary on characters on a tv show and not meant to diagnose real people.

Watching reality television aka "trash tv" has been a guilty pleasure of mine for many years. I have just recently connected my interest in the genre to my professional interest in psychology and human relationships. This connection is helped by Dr. Kirk Honda's commentaries. I recommend his podcast and videos under the name, Psychology in Seattle.

This brings me to sharing my opinion on Zanab or the character portrayed on Netflix's popular show, Love is Blind, Season 3. Zanab and those who relate to her character deserve our understanding and not our attacks. As a therapist with a specialty in complex developmental trauma, I see Zanab's perception and behaviors throughout the show as influenced by trauma and lived adversity.

Learning just a bit about Zanab's background, her parents passed during her developmental years, she immigrated to the United States, and grew up as a minority in Dallas, TX. She seems to have been disconnected from her family of origin and community. The underlying message of this lived experience may be something along the lines of "you are not enough" or "you are not accepted". Children developmentally cannot hold complexity for the reasons why their caregivers are not there or as to why they are different and that this isn't bad. Children simply feel the absence and disconnection and feel bad. These felt experiences turned messages may then turn into a default perception of the world and the people in it as threatening or rejecting towards them.

When people perceive threat, people find ways to cope. In the context of immigration and limited support, an option is to assimilate and self-reject. Although Zanab may have had loving and accepting relationships with her adopted family and found success later on, the internal wounding from childhood already occurred. Further, those who assimilate are likely to believe the reason people love or care for them is dependent on them acting a certain way and hiding their true selves. Their self-esteem becomes dependent on external validation, and may become highly sensitive to the opinion of others. True healing comes from reconnection and acceptance of themselves, and then connecting with others with this authentic self.

In comes Cole's character and Zanab's relationship in the context of speed dating for marriage on a reality tv show. Yeah, a lot to unpack there. Cole through the course of the season is portrayed as happy-go-lucky, immature, or ignorant. From the information shared, although Cole seems to have some strained family relationships as an adult, he largely grew up with secure attachment with his family and community. The internalized message from this lived experience is the opposite from Zanab's, "you are enough", "you are accepted", "you belong." This can lead to a playful personality and a more positive view of the world while also creating a lack of understanding of trauma and adversity.

In the beginning of the season, Cole announces his attraction to Colleen, triggering Zanab's internalized message of rejection and complex trauma. This probably is not helped by Colleen being a part of the dominant culture. This sets the stage for Zanab to be on high alert for further offenses by Cole. While on alert, Zanab is less likely to be relaxed or playful and is likely to display irritability, guardedness, or aggression. Which then discourages positive interactions from Cole.

Even with neutral or positive interactions or comments, Zanab can view the neutral in a way to fuel her preexisting perception, and for the positive to not register. This then leads us to the Cuties scene where comments about food and saving her appetite is perceived as a message of rejection or attack. And when Cole talked about offering her poke or when he brought up the idea of a second wedding with Zanab's biological family, this is ignored or dismissed as "Cole talking a lot of Cole" rather than "you are accepted" or "you are loved." I also find fault in Cole lacking the understanding of how food comments can deeply affect Zanab, and others who may struggle with their body image and relationship with food. He further displayed his ignorance with mental health in another scene when he asks if she is "bipolar".

By the time they get to the altar, Zanab has seemingly built up Cole as a villain that "single-handedly shattered [her] self-confidence" and as worthy of public defamation. Cole's shock and devastation is palpable through the screen, and was watched by millions of viewers. At their worst, those who do not heal their trauma can have behaviors that are hurtful or harmful towards others because of their perception of threat. Zanab will likely find that further retaliating or finding fault solely on Cole and in others she perceives as rejecting will not resolve her issues with self-confidence and self-esteem rooted in trauma. She will likely benefit from looking within and increasing awareness of her internal reactions of external experiences. Lastly as viewers of this show and the portrayal of Zanab and Cole's characters, we can also further learn more about the effects of complex developmental trauma. This can support actual healing and posttraumatic growth individually and within our relationships.