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Showing posts from 2017

Out With The Old...

It's New Year's Eve, and I'm spending it deep cleaning my house. I've been working on "good enough" instead of "perfect" all year, my kitchen and bathroom certainly reflect the achievement. I usually have a Sisyphean outlook about cleaning, given that I have three kids and lack the assistance of Alice from The Brady Bunch.  But I love a good metaphor, and what better metaphor is a thorough house cleaning on the last day of the year?

So, this year has been... interesting. I'm not one of those people who declares the whole year to be great nor terrible. I mean, how is that defined, anyway? By fate or free will? I am neither looking forward to 2018 in fear and dread, nor giddy anticipation. There were ups and downs in 2017 and there will be ups and downs in 2018. But on the whole, I felt this was a year of progress. There is something that feels complete about it, other than the date. Perhaps because I feel like this was a year where I met my goal…

Integration

Writing about the nature of abuse along with my own personal experience of it has been an extremely helpful tool for me to better integrate who I am. For a long time, I distracted myself from going there, knowing full well that when I did, it would be intense. Eventually, that strategy failed and I was left with no other healthy alternative than to face the big, hairy, purple monster head on. When I did face it head on, guess what? It was intense.

I had to do a lot of interior work to get to a place where I could be fully honest and present with the full impact of what happened and the damage that was done. In this full embrace I finally allowed myself to grieve on a level I previously thought was "too selfish" (my abusers' words, not mine) to do. I allowed myself to fully acknowledge a range and depth of feeling that was previously inaccessible. The paradox of pain and relief that go with this sort of work often overwhelms me in a way that requires literally all I have…

Point of View Ping-Pong

I have always been a perceptive person, able to see any situation from the point of view of others. Growing up, I never understood how I could see my parent's point of view, but they could never see mine. And the (not so) funny thing is, their point of view was always skewed in their favor. If they were upset, it was my fault. If I was upset, it was my fault. If they were offended, it was my fault. If I was offended, it was my fault. See the pattern?

When I was blamed, which was inevitable, I would take responsibility for my part, and then some. Even when things were not my fault, I could trace the line of reasoning back to how they could potentially find fault with me, and I would even take responsibility for their false perceptions. For example, one time, in a rare act of generosity, my parents took my friend and I to see our favorite band. My bestie and I were understandably excited, and screamed and cheered throughout the show. It was two hours of sheer joy, for which I later…

When It's Not Enough, It's Enough

Many survivors, myself included, struggle more than usual this time of year. Perhaps it's the darkness. Perhaps it's the expectations. Perhaps it's the collective anxiety of the season. For me, it's all of these and more. I can prepare, plan, and manage all the tricks I know to deal with my stuff, but complex trauma sneaks up on me in unusual ways, and right now it feels particularly intense. With that, here are a few reminders for those of us who struggle.

When you are doing the best you can, but it doesn't fix or change things, your effort is enough.
When you are trying to be gracious in spite of your pain, but it is not reciprocated, your consideration is enough.
When you are curled up in a ball with your head under a pillow trying not to die, being alive is enough.
When no one sees how difficult it is for you, and yet somehow you manage, seeing yourself is enough.
When you do everything right, but it still falls apart, your goodness is enough.
When you don'…

When You're Curled Up In A Ball

As I write this, I have an excruciating migraine. It's the kind that would knock out most people, but I get them so frequently, I've learned to push through even when the pain is intense. However, earlier today, I was completely debilitated, curled up in a ball, in too much pain to even whimper. It started last night after along with panic attacks related to processing a freshly unearthed traumatic experience in EMDR therapy. I was wholly consumed, exhausted, yet afraid to go to sleep because of the inevitable nightmares I knew would follow. My panic was at the "I think I'm going to die" level, but I knew from too many similar experiences that the feeling would eventually pass.

As a survivor of complex trauma, too often, this is my reality. I am still learning to make space for it, especially after therapy. Going in for EMDR is like going in for chemo. It often takes several days for me to process afterwards. I am physically ill. My body tenses up so much I can …

White Women and Current Events: Scapegoating Helps No One

As an abuse survivor who struggles with complex trauma, I must limit how much I engage with the inescapable political frenzies that consume the cultural landscape. Like many other survivors, the idea that anyone could set aside reason to vote for a sexual predator stirs up a deep reservoir of physical, emotional, and psychological distress for me. I know first hand what the excuses sound like, and I have zero interest in entertaining them. I have written before how those who enable abuse are often worse than their abusers. I despise enablers. As a survivor, I process more traumatic fallout from the enablers than from the abuse itself.

 That said, I want to address why it's important that white female voters do not become the political scapegoats for the actions of predatory white male politicians. Last night's election in which Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore, largely due to the voter turnout of black men and women who voted over 96% in favor of Jones, was a win for everyone. A…

Validation

Recently, Arc of Hope, an (excellent) child abuse recovery and support network on Twitter added me to a list titled "Abused Kids/ Child Abuse Victim Army." Seeing myself associated with being a victim of child abuse sent a shock through my body. It might sound weird, but it felt like a new revelation. Now, one might think that someone with the Twitter handle @AbuseSurvior, having over 10 years of no contact with her abusers, who has been been blogging about the nature of abuse for several months now, with scores of posts and a steadily growing audience might be used to the idea by now that she was abused. But seeing this struck me in a new and different way. Here's why. It was external validation, by people who "get it," that it really happened.

Growing up, not only was there no one else to validate that the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and sexual abuse happened, but the very nature of the abuse meant that I was brainwashed into doubting my own first-h…

Hoovering Sucks

I went no contact with my abusive parents many years ago, but my mother, a covert narcissist, still continues to hoover me in. Hoovering is a strategy characteristic of Cluster B disordered people wherein, like a vacuum cleaner, they try to suck people back in to their manufactured drama. It is yet another form of manipulation and control, often thinly veiled as "caring" or "concern."

When I went no contact, I moved away and left no forwarding address, on purpose. My mother has managed to get hold of my address with every subsequent move. Sometimes she manipulates other family members to get it. At first, she played innocent, as if I must have "forgotten" to give it to her. Other times, she has used the "poor me" approach to gain sympathy from the other flying monkeys in my family, who were all too willing to sell me out. (They are no contact now, too.) The thing is, if there was a real emergency or if she wanted to have a real conversation wit…

Actually, It Was That Bad

Recently, I wrote about the ways "It's not that bad" has kept me from owning and validating the true cost of my traumatic past. There have been times I have envied those with physical trauma because they received all the validation and support that was denied me as a survivor of psychological trauma. There are plenty of abuse survivors with far more dramatic stories than mine. Surely, we've all been in situations where someone else's story of calamity and misfortune has humbled us. Ironically, for many, holding on to the misplaced shame that their own story of abuse isn't "good enough" to be validated because more terrible things have happened to others is exactly the trap that keeps us silent and perpetuates the cycle.

Acknowledging trauma is about acknowledging one's own perception. It's not something someone else can determine or validate for you. The greatest goal for an abuse survivor is to be able to own what actually happened to them…

"It Wasn't That Bad" Is Worst Of All

Even though I had all the classic symptoms and psychological traits of someone who has been abused, it took me a long time to understand and own what happened to me. For many years, I thought that it wasn't that bad. After all, there was no physical evidence, at least not in the way a bruise or a broken arm communicates the obvious. I had no dramatic story that could someday become a Lifetime Movie. There was nothing particularly off about my abusers that an outsider would pick up on. If you met them, you would think they were normal people.

The abuse I experienced was rarely grandiose, though my abusers were. Instead, it was the cumulative effect of many years of subtle lies, manipulation, and devaluation. It was in the form of gaslighting and emotional neglect. It was the quiet but consistent denial of my boundaries and personhood. It was the kind of abuse that is so under the radar, no one sees it. If I were to try to describe it to others, they would give me too familiar doub…

How To Gray Rock A Narcissist

As a child of narcissistic parents, one of my proudest life accomplishments is over ten years of no contact with them. But let me qualify that. It also took over ten years of no contact to feel proud. For the bulk of my life, I carried all the guilt and shame about their bad behavior. Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a lifelong process that some people never even have the opportunity to begin. Back when I was in contact with them and still trying to make things work, I often experienced extreme migraines, panic attacks and other physical symptoms, not yet understanding all the reasons why my body acted in such violent opposition. Today, I still have frequent migraines and nightmares, but in spite of my daily struggles, I consider myself one of the fortunate ones, especially because I was able to go no contact.

For many, especially those who have children with narcissists, no contact is not an option. For many, gaining the necessary distance to recover one's identity and heal…

To Be Seen

I spent much of my childhood invisible. It was easier that way, as the alternative was to be blamed and punished for imagined faults and shortcomings projected on to me by my narcissistic parents. As an invisible person, I created other universes in my imagination which were not quite as sad and lonely as the one I was born into. To this day, my inner life is vivid, and I often prefer spending time "inside" to the more mundane realm of daily tasks and activities.

Perhaps it is my inclination to disappear, to blend in, when the external stimuli overwhelms me. Perhaps I still hold on to the unconscious belief that I don't deserve to take up more space than I do in the hearts and minds of others. Perhaps I am simply so used to living this way that I don't see how to do it differently. But I long to be seen.

I long to be seen in a way that tells me I am loved. I long to be seen in a way that tells me I am understood. I long to be seen in a way that tells me that it is n…

Telling the Truth

As a person was was manipulated, gaslighted, and lied to for all of her childhood, truth-telling matters deeply to me. Even though I was often punished for it, it became extremely important for me to always tell the truth. I realized at a young age that truth and my own integrity were all I had, and as much as my abusers tried, they couldn't take them away from me. Even if no one believed me, I knew that at the very least, I could trust my myself. My own integrity is what helped me discern the difference between what I was told by my abusers and what was actually happening. I value truth more than anything, and even though sometimes truth does hurt, I believe in its power to heal.

That said, holding to the truth in the face of abuse is not easy. In many cases, it's easier to accept the deceptions and lies of the abuser that nothing is wrong, it's not that bad, and to just get over it. Over time, victims of abuse cope by deceiving themselves often become their own worst en…

Grateful To Be Ungrateful

Gratitude is popular in self-help and spiritual circles, and it's easy to see why. Grateful people are easy to be around. Gratitude spreads to others and offers perspective. It feels good and puts positivity in the world. It can also be a huge obstacle for those healing from trauma.

In this season of my life where I am finally uncovering all of my formerly repressed feelings about my abusive childhood, gratitude is a stumbling block. For most of my life I was shamed into feeling that I "should" be grateful for the material aspects of my middle class childhood, in spite of the obvious but unspoken lack of love or understanding. The pressure to be grateful kept me away from the more painful and real feelings of grief, anger, and abandonment. Gratitude was one more brick on the pile that kept all of the secrets of abuse in place. It was yet more more thing that made me feel like being who I am, as I am, isn't enough.

The thing is, most people I know who have survived a…

Yes, They Meant To Hurt You

One of the best ways to spot a toxic person is to confront them about their behavior when you've been hurt. Toxic people will immediately act more hurt than you. They will almost always overreact and become extremely defensive at the slightest suggestion they did something wrong or malicious. They will feign shock  that you would ever suggest they do anything to hurt you. Not only will they minimize and deny any wrongdoing, they will twist the situation around to make you feel ashamed and guilty, hyper-focusing on a more "important" problem: their own bruised ego. How could you ever suspect them of doing such a horrible thing?! Bonus points if they need smelling salts after fainting from their perfectly executed melodrama. 
The histrionics and high drama are a deflection from the truth. Yes, they meant to hurt you. No, they won't ever admit it, and yes, they will make your life a living hell if you try to hold them accountable for their own bad behavior. 
A normal p…

Finding My Audience

I have always been a strong writer and communicator, but growing up in a home full of narcissistic abuse and neglect, it never felt like it. As a child, I was often heartbroken and confused because I thought my parent's inability to understand me was my fault. They blamed me for nefarious intentions I never had. They presumed malice that was never there. I didn't get why they saw my seemingly simple requests as something to be threatened or angry about. Direct confrontation was cause for extreme reaction and punishment, so I learned not to have needs for basic things like boundaries or attention.

I tried to brush it off, but as much as I tried, the unmet need to be heard and understood never left me. Because I thought it was my fault my parents didn't understand me, I overcompensated. I set out to express myself with as much clarity as I possibly could. If I shared my thoughts and feelings, I was  very careful to not offend others in the process. I learned to explain myse…

Like Nails on a Chalkboard

I am a highly sensitive person, and I often find myself in the position of understanding people better than they understand themselves. I often physically feel what others are feeling, and I can sense whether their thoughts are clear or whether there is a jumble of static in their brain. People who are not empaths are probably scratching their heads right now, but the empaths are nodding. My people get it, so much so, it's often not worth explaining to those who don't.

People often want to talk to me, but I am sensitive to the people who drain me in order to make themselves feel better. They slather me with their problems that they have no interest in solving for themselves. Over time, I've learned to keep up pretty good boundaries and limit how much of myself I give to others. But then occasionally, a few slip through the cracks. Some people carry so much psychic chaos around, it zaps all my defenses.

There is one such person who, from the very first moment I met her (an…

Abusers Are Weird About Holidays

Holiday season is a difficult time for many abuse survivors, especially if their abusers are family members. Even survivors who have gone No Contact can be quickly overwhelmed by the social pressures of the holidays. They are surrounded by advertisements of happy families in sweaters, beaming at each other while they pass the gravy, and serving as a too-painful reminder of what the survivor never had. Everyday small talk turns to whether they are going home for the holidays, which almost always guarantees an awkward conversation. The constant reminder of what a family "should" be causes many, including me, to re-process through the stages of grief this time every year.

For those who have not gone No Contact with toxic family members, there is the added tension and anxiety of having to manage the inevitable confrontations. The pressure to "be nice" around toxic people during the holidays becomes magnified as many abuse survivors are trained to absorb the toxic envi…

Abusers Are Weird About Money

As I mentioned in Abusers Are Weird About Food, the common denominator of abuse is control. Abusers will use anything within reach to control their victims, so the most common, everyday resources are typically the ones most used. Money is no exception. I can't think of a single case of abuse I know in which money wasn't used against a victim in some form.

In my house, my narcissistic father often bragged about how he made three times more than my mother. We lived in a big (empty) house that they couldn't afford. He had lots of toys- a motorhome, ski boat, houseboat, new cars, etc. He surrounded himself with expensive hobbies. He had an expensive pool table in the game room and a dedicated dark room, but he spent much of his time in "his" brown La-Z-Boy watching "his" shows in the "family" room. Every area of the house was his, down to the grass we weren't allowed to walk on in the back yard. In spite of his "very important" jobs…

Abusers Are Weird About Food

The common denominator of all abuse is control. Of course, it's no wonder that the things that are within our realm of control on a daily basis are also the things abusers want to control for us the most.

My mother was a very thin, petite woman. She dutifully put a hot meal in front of my narcissistic father every night. As a covert narcissist, her choices about "healthy" food appeared well within the range of normal to an outsider, but they were far from it.

She was fiercely anti-sugar, not out of love and concern for health, but because it was something I liked and enjoyed that she could keep away from me. We rarely ever had dessert, but carob instead of chocolate was the "treat." Or raisins. I actually have always liked and enjoyed natural foods, but her excessive control over my eating anything sweet backfired. As a child, I was obsessed about the opportunity to eat dessert or go trick or treating. I would go to my friend's house and down sugary cereal…

Bad News: We Were Right All Along

Here lies the dilemma of anyone who has been psychologically abused. When we pointed out what was not normal, we were told that we were wrong. When we got upset about not being believed, we were told we were overreacting. When we told the truth, we were told we were making it all up. When we tried to reason, we were told we were the unstable ones. Many of us were willing to be wrong if it meant keeping the peace, but, unfortunately, we were right all along.

Some of us were children, and therefore even less likely to escape the gaslighting and manipulation our abusers applied to keep the status quo. Some of us grew up extremely confused in spite of our own impeccable integrity. Our abusers, always and purposefully a step ahead of us, went to our friends and family and whispered things in their ears to discredit us. Because we were so used to having our words twisted and our intentions misinterpreted, we expected to be misunderstood. Because it was often easier to absorb the blame than…

Scapegoat Upside: It Probably Saved My Life

I was the scapegoat in my family, and my older brother was the golden child. According to my abusive parents, he could do no wrong, and I could do no right. We were often pitted against each other, as narcissists tend to do with their children. My brother beat me up daily after school, and when I told my mom about it, she shrugged and made it my fault. If he complained about me, she immediately took his side and I was punished. My father alternately ignored or raged at both of us, but my mother made it abundantly clear that my brother was the favored one. She fawned over him like she fawned over my narcissistic father. In her world, males were to be enabled and blindly followed, and females, well, were in the way.

To them, I was the "annoying" one when I spoke up about things that weren't normal. I was the "over-emotional" one when I reacted to things that were not normal. I was the "rebellious" one when I challenged things that were not normal. When…

Trauma Bonding

As someone who experiences complex trauma from child abuse, it's frustrating when a friend, family member, or say, an entire political party, continues to stay with an abuser even when they know he's toxic. But I understand it.

Trauma bonding, also known as Stockholm Syndrome, happens when the negative experience of abuse becomes so great, the brain switches tactics, attempting to "go along" with the abuser at any cost. VoilĂ , it doesn't hurt as much any more. Trauma bonding often happens in long-term situations where there is no perceived escape, such as childhood abuse or when someone is held captive. Some victims of abuse are cowed into submission over repeated attacks, simply worn down to a point where they no longer can muster any resistance. It then seems easier to disappear into one's self, or dissociate, rather than take any action to get away. Others become agreeable, cooperative, and can even fall in love with their abuser as a form of self-protect…

Codependent or Empath?

There are a number of resources and articles for survivors of narcissistic abuse, and taken in all together, are extremely helpful in better understanding the abuser and our own role in the abuse. There is a certain type of person narcissists, psychopaths, and Cluster B abusers tend to seek out. Terms like "codependent" and "empath" are tossed around, sometimes interchangeably, but they are not the same.

A codependent's core issue (like the narcissist) is low self-esteem. They attach themselves to an alpha personality for their identity, and are constantly looking outside of themselves for validation and definition. They are helpers and fixers. Many people in the caring professions, such as teachers and nurses, tend to be codependent. They crave external praise and will go to great lengths to enable others in order to be liked. A codependent's sense of happiness and self-worth can be entirely dependent on the moods, actions, and feelings of the alpha. Code…