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Showing posts from July, 2017

Am I a Narcissist?

Narcissists, among other things, are extremely selfish and require everyone else around them to reflect their own image. Like the myth of Narcissus, they are totally preoccupied with how they look to others. Narcissists will go to any length to destroy anyone who they think makes them look bad. They run entirely on "likes" and compliments, and build up a grandiose version of themselves in which requires an entourage of others to agree with them. They have to be the best. They are always winning, and everyone else by default must be losing.

Targets of narcissists are often the opposite. They tend to be caring, empathetic people who look after the needs of others, sometimes to their own detriment. Because the narcissist lacks empathy, he feeds off those who have it. Consequently, relationships with narcissists become one-sided. The narcissist who can never receive enough praise and attention will eventually overpower and criticize the target who can never give enough. Targets…

Moving On

"Well, admitting that I was abused emotionally, psychologically, sexually, and spiritually was healthy and important for a season, but I want to be done now. I'd like to go back to being myself again. You know, disconnected and ignorant of the real impact all this had on me. I'd like to move on now, as if it never happened."

Lately I've been having thoughts along the lines of this. A couple years ago, I started making major adjustments to my life so that I could free up more time to deal with myself. Originally, it was involuntary. I got sick, and subsequently had to scale way back. As I went down the path of healing, I decided to strip more and more out of my schedule. The more I uncovered, the more I needed to make room to grieve and heal. While I do feel like I am experiencing major shifts in how I relate to my trauma, I also know it is far from over. Sometimes it feels like an eternal sentence, where I am destined to don my perpetual sackcloth and ashes. So…

When It's Time to Get Some Help

Complex trauma is like an impressionistic painting. Up close, it's a bunch of tiny brush strokes, a jumble of dots and colors. It doesn't look like anything, just stuff, seemingly unrelated. It's not until a person takes several steps back to look again that the whole picture emerges.

At least, that's how it was for me. For many years, I felt "off" but couldn't pinpoint why. I was aware that I had a difficult childhood, and that my family was atypical in their dysfunction, but I also thought I had moved on. My issues were a jumble of seemingly unrelated dots. Of course now looking back, it all makes sense. I wish I had started this work so much sooner. Putting the past behind me and moving on ended up prolonging my healing. I had buried the trauma deep in my psyche. Now, many years later, it's a major excavation.

Moving on is not the same as healing, but it might be the stepping stone to help get someone to a place where they can do the work. Every …

When You Can't Be The Parent You Want To Be

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had panic attacks. I was terrified of having children, for good reason. I was afraid that I would succumb to the cycle of abuse that I grew up in. As much as I had already made many choices that were vastly different from my parents, I feared that abuse would be some inevitable fate. I knew, statistically speaking, about the high risk, and I was worried.

On top of that, I already had a traumatic parenting experience, which struck me to my core. When I had just turned twenty-one, the summer I had just graduated from college, I became an instant stepmother to a four year old whose birth mother was a drug addict. 

The child's father and I had just moved in together, which is a whole other story. I met the child maybe once or twice before his mother kidnapped him and disappeared out of state. When the DA found them, police in the other state were about to arrest her for aiding and abetting a homicide. He was taken from his mother and flown b…

The Best Thing You Can Do to Help a Trauma Survivor Heal

I went no contact with my abusers many years ago, and in the years following, I spent much of the time putting the whole ordeal behind me. I escaped, and I went on to live a fairly successful and happy life. Or so I thought. A couple years ago, I hit the wall with several physical health problems, which forced me to take a step back and reevaluate everything. At first, I couldn't figure out why my body had collapsed in exhaustion. I tried all I could to manage the physical symptoms, and when nothing worked, I moved on the to emotional. What I rediscovered was that I was experiencing complex trauma from the long term effects of childhood sexual, emotional, spiritual and psychological abuse. Oh, right. That.

Complex PTSD explained my anxiety, nightmares, migraines and digestive problems, all of which I previously thought weren't connected. It explained my exaggerated startle response and high blood pressure. It explained why I felt too responsible, and why I felt like my achiev…

No, They Weren't Doing Their Best

One of the most overused platitudes I hear in response to toxic parents is that they must have meant well, or they were only doing the best they could. This is a terrible thing to say to a survivor of child abuse. It's false and damaging to the victim, because it implies a false projection that their toxic parent had good intentions.

Some people are not doing the best they can. Some, because of personality disorders, choose to harm and destroy their victims. Some people lack empathy, and have no intention of improving their behavior. They would prefer to make scapegoats out of others than take responsibility for their actions. 

I am a mom, and I get why people say it. I too would like to believe that I am always trying to do my best. But here's the thing. Sometimes, I'm not. Sometimes, I can do better. As someone recovering from complex childhood trauma, I can be distracted. I can be upset about things that aren't in my present environment. I can be on edge, and a l…

How Bad Was It?

It seems like a simple thing to figure out, but it's not. in order to cope, I spent many, many years believing my abusers' lies. It wasn't that bad. Other people had it worse. There was something wrong and shameful about me, especially if I had a problem with what happened. Even though I acknowledged the facts, for most of my life, I rejected the label that I was sexually abused. It was a club I didn't want to belong to, and on subconsciously I thought that if I could minimize it enough, maybe my abusers' lies would become true. Maybe it didn't happen.

One of the most profound and horrible discoveries I have experienced as a result of intensive therapy and finally dealing with it all is that yes, in fact, it really was that bad. Denial and minimization had such a grip on me, even when I thought I was being "honest" with myself. I was so used to going numb and dissociating under stress, it was my default way of living. For the first time in my life t…

When Your Family is on TV

Don't laugh, but watching The Brady Bunch as a kid offered one of my first insights that there might be something wrong with my family. You see, in spite of all the Marsha envy and Peter ruining the song with his pubescent voice, they actually seemed to like each other. They talked to each other. They fought, but they weren't punished for expressing themselves, and they actually apologized to each other. That was completely foreign to me.

Then, The Simpsons came along. At home, my own bumbling, drunk father and my mumbling, hand-wringing mother were far from funny, but I found solace in a show that featured a smart, sensitive, woke child named Lisa, who tried her best to manage the chaos around her. I understood the irony of The Simpsons, and the emphasis on the witty humor in spite of the pain made me feel less alone. Someone, on some level, understood my family.

Fast forward to today, where TV dramas are full of complex anti-heroes and psychotic, abusive, crazed, broken dy…

A Letter to my Younger Self

Dear Younger Self,

Trust your instincts. Your frustrations are proof that something is wrong. The knot of anxiety in your stomach is not normal. You should not have to dread going home. You should not have to live a life surrounded by their walls of negativity. You should not have to worry what kind of mood they will be in. You should not have to endure anyone else's rage. You should not be expected to stay silent in the face of constant criticism. No, you are not being over-dramatic. Yes, it really is that bad.

There is nothing you can do to make them love you. There is nothing you can do to make them understand your point of view. There is nothing you can do to make them change. If there was, you would have done it by now, because all you want is peace. In spite of what they tell you, your behavior, good or bad, is not causing their rage and neglect.

There is nothing wrong with your emotions. It is normal to feel angry when people are hurting you. It is normal to feel scared wh…

The Broken Projector

One of the most frustrating aspects of overcoming abuse is freeing oneself from the projections of an abuser. Abusive people by nature do not take responsibility for their own actions and behaviors, and victims of abuse often have an overdeveloped sense of misplaced guilt and shame. Abusers blame everyone but themselves for being out of control. "If you did the dishes correctly, I wouldn't have to yell at you." "You didn't call. You must hate me." "You're making me crazy!"

Here's what's paramount. No one can make anyone do anything. How someone responds to their environment is their choice.

Projections are a form of cognitive distortion. Abusive people will often project their own bad behavior onto another, and then punish the innocent person of the very thing they are guilty of doing.

When I was a teenager, my dad was paranoid that I was sneaking around behind his back, and thus, I was constantly grounded for things I never did. I f…

Scapegoat and Golden Child: A Melodrama

Act I
One could do no right; One could do no wrong.
Mom assigned the roles; Dad agreed on parts.
They both knew their lines; Angel and Demon.
Triangled siblings; equidistant truth.

Act II
Angel goes on stage; plays to the rapt house.
Flowers, cheers, and praise; 'Bravo! Well done, child.'
Demon goes on next; but forgets her wail.
Never gets it right; always doomed to fail.

'Try harder,' Mom says; 'You make me look bad'.
Demon asks to switch; shocked Mom spits, enraged.
Angel points and sneers; you will never be me.
Forever entwined; the foil for the spoiled.

Act IV
At last, Demon flees; unmasked, she feels strange.
What is this feeling? Is this self-esteem?
Angel's thoughts disturb him; Don't they all love me?
Where's my attention? Must be Demon's fault.

Act V
Mom dies, Angel there; Demon breathes relief.
Dad dies, Angel there; Demon breathes relief.
Angel cries, 'Where were you?' Demon stands straight.
I was always here; you …

Five Things Trauma Survivors Need in Order to Heal

I spent many years absorbing the blame for my abusive family, and exhausted every possible avenue of attempting to "get along" with them. When I finally went no contact, it took another ten years to feel safe enough to fully embrace my past and grieve. Even though I thought I had done quite a bit of work along the way, it has taken an entire lifetime for me to come to terms with certain aspects of the abuse. Some memories were locked away, some were buried under misplaced guilt and shame. Some were minimized so much, it seemed almost normal. I was fortunate in the sense that most of my adult years were spent acknowledging that the events in my childhood were not right, and I went no contact even before I fully understood how important it was to do so. I just knew I needed to do it for my own sanity. But for me, it's far from over, and in many ways, I feel I am just beginning the work.  

Healing from childhood trauma is possible, but survivors need the right environment…

The Power of Resilience

Psst. I have a superpower. And maybe you do, too.

There are many long term, far-reaching, negative effects that children of toxic parents endure, from physical health problems to emotional and social issues. Children of emotionally abusive parents often have the hardest recovery because it is so difficult to de-program all the negative feedback they received from their toxic parents. As adults, they must retrain their brains how to think, and it's extremely challenging for a victim of abuse to even recognize how the negative feedback they received from their abusive parent has turned into their own negative self-talk. Recovery feels counter-intuitive, because their identity is formed in lies: "I'm worthless." "I'm bad." "Nobody could love someone like me." "No one cares." "I'm a screw up." "I'm permanently damaged." "I'm hopeless."

Children who live in toxic environments in which they are c…