Cheryl Burke on How Childhood Trauma Led Her into a 'Vicious Cycle' of Unhealthy Relationships

·3 min read

Cheryl Burke is opening up about how childhood trauma has impacted the relationships in her life — and she now recognizes that she must make peace with her past in order to seek a happier, healthier future.

The former Dancing with the Stars pro, 38, has reached a point of catharsis about her former behavior. "I unconsciously fell into the patten of falling for the same type of men which were abusive, non-available, non-committal, infidelity, all of that," she said on Tuesday's episode of the Allison Interviews podcast. "I now, through the years of therapy, I have been able to understand why."

She primarily attributes these patterns to having "no constant father figure" in her life and being sexually molested by "an older retired mailman" when she was a child.

"My definition of love was not real," she explained. "To me, love equaled infidelity, love equaled being treated like s---, love equaled physical violence, love equaled mental abuse."

RELATED: Cheryl Burke Talks Sobriety Journey, Says Drinking Has 'Been on My Mind a Lot More Than Normal'

If a "nice man" came into her life, she noted, she'd immediately recoil, and "I wouldn't understand why I felt so disgusted with that."

Now she knows why: "It was because I didn't have that as a little girl."

Burke has tried to break the connection in her mind between kindness and weakness, but she acknowledged, "I'm a work in progress until the day I die."

cheryl burke
cheryl burke

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images Cheryl Burke

RELATED: Cheryl Burke Is 'Slowly but Surely' Ready to Start Dating Again After Matthew Lawrence Split

Since her split from ex-husband Matthew Lawrence, Burke is trying to move forward with intention when it comes to her romantic relationships.

"If I don't retrain my brain, I will be attracted to the same person," she said. "I will marry that person who resembles the person before and it will just be a vicious cycle."

Until these changes are made, she said she's not actively looking for anyone because "I have to love myself. There is no loving anybody else until you love yourself."

RELATED: DWTS' Cheryl Burke Says She Has Body Dysmorphia: 'Tell Me One Dancer That Doesn't'

As for her biological father, who passed away in 2018, Burke further described him as "very non-committal. A successful Bay Area attorney, Burke said he followed his "passion" and opened "a whole strip of strip clubs" in Thailand — "like Vegas."

Though her mother was insistent they maintained a relationship and would send Burke to visit her father at his clubs in Thailand, it was a tough experience. "I saw her cry," she said, "I've never seen her so emotional."

Many questions about her father's life beyond her family have arisen during the years, she explained — and many more seem certain to remain unanswered. "I have met brothers and sisters I never knew I had, and I probably have more," she revealed

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Looking ahead to her future partners, she sees an example in her mother's behavior with her stepfather.

"With my stepdad, I [would] see her just being," she explained. "Being in love does not mean the roller coaster ride of emotions. It is actually when everything is … underneath the wave, underneath it all. That is true love. The exciting emotional roller coaster, I've had it in every relationship, and clearly it doesn't last."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.