In our guest blog this week, the author talks about how their abuse affected their entire life.
Some may wonder why people just can’t “get over it” and “get on with their lives” as it was “just sex” or “not even a real relationship”. Or perhaps it was “just psychological”. That last one is a big one. I get asked by people many times if they are eligible to join the Abused as Adults meeting because their abuse was “just psychological”.
Much is misunderstood about the lasting effects of trauma and what is considered trauma by one person and perhaps not by another. Some effects can be seen, such as declining grades or severe depression. Other effects can linger for years underneath the surface. People can seem to function. They can get up and get dressed and go to work and go home and make dinner and pay the bills, but they can be put together on the outside while crumbling on the inside.
I have a little dog that was in a puppy mill until six months ago when I got her. She was forced to produce puppies. Then she was dumped at a shelter when she was no longer useful. When people come to the house, she hides behind my back and burrows her head underneath my shirt so she can’t be seen. She has no outer scars. Nobody who comes into my house has ever hurt her or ever will. But she will most likely always have trust issues. She also has problems with some men and things that aren’t familiar and loud sounds. You might say that she is “damaged” emotionally or psychologically from things she has endured in the past.
Yet, I’ve actually had people say that she should be getting over that by now because she is safe here. But I don’t think she will ever get over what has been hard-wired into her brain for survival.
And that’s how it works, doesn’t it? We learn survival skills. We started out learning how to survive as children. We learned how to get what we needed. Whether it was food, or attention or love or approval, we learned what we needed to do or how to act. We learned how to avoid punishment. We learned how to make friends. We began to learn how to survive physical and emotional pain.
We took those skills as we learned them into young adulthood. We made some bad decisions along the way. We learned some more. But coping mechanisms don’t always line up with knowledge. We can learn that something isn’t good for us but still find ourselves being drawn to a situation out of a high drama tolerance. Just associating having our heart race for the wrong reasons.
Studies have found that couples who go through a frightening experience together will be more attracted to each other. Such as if they go on a roller coaster on their first date. Adrenaline gets the heart racing which mimics sexual excitement.
So it seems to make sense then that we can find a bit of danger or power exciting. Especially when we are young and hormonal and our sense of reasoning hasn’t fully kicked in. And when heightened adrenaline has been inside you all along growing up, it may feel you have found a match when someone triggers that response.
But almost always inevitably, we end up hurt because there are always people out there waiting to take advantage of someone with poor judgement or someone who is looking for acceptance. And those feelings of….not being safe, not knowing who you can trust, not knowing if you can trust yourself….begin to become a part of who you are. Emotions and responses that become ingrained in order to protect sooner or later become unwanted armor that we cannot shed.
We learn that when we hurt, alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or food helps us cope. We learn that if we avoid, we will be safe. And so, as they say, we become a prisoner of our own device.
Is there any loneliness lonelier than a self imposed prison? Is there anything lonelier than wanting to be close to someone but being terrified to do so? To be alone not by choice but because you can’t get through your own armor?
For me, the thought of someone coming so close to me that they can see all of my imperfections….that they can see me as I am without defense…vulnerable to judgement and rejection…..is terrifying. The thought of commitment used to make me hyperventilate when I was younger.
That is a life lesson that I have worked on and struggled with for many years.
Abuse can filter the way you see yourself in the world. I have seen many very attractive and talented and intelligent people destroy themselves or at the very least, not see their own worth, because they can’t see clearly. Or they get stuck in unhealthy patterns from which they can’t seem to escape.
So we see this guest blogger and how their life was going in the right direction….from a poor struggling beginning to a prestigious college and a bright future….to a life that never gets off the ground. And it’s sad. And we can try to analyze why this intelligent person fell apart and took years to put themselves together again piece by piece and still working on it…..or we can ask why this was allowed to happen and nothing was done about it.
Because this person had a bright future. And a predator saw their vulnerabilities….perhaps their emotional home life or the fact that they were not rich or maybe because they were trusting and naive and in need of a mentor or friend….and they took advantage of that and they not only robbed this person of their happiness and their GPA, but their future and their feelings of self worth and how they feel others see them in the world. And how close they allow people to get.
And this is just one person. The life of one person. And this person’s life branches out and touches other lives. They affect the people they interact with as well. And the world may have lost a brilliant doctor who could have gone on to do great things.
And some, tragically, don’t make it at all. Some can’t live with the pain.
Multiply this one life times however many people one predator abuses in their lifetime. Five maybe? Ten? 25 or 50? Maybe even more.
And you begin to understand why it is important that these predators are taken out of circulation. Jailed. Incarcerated. At least lose their job and positions and licenses to counsel and to be in positions of trust.
And it starts with people becoming aware of what goes on. What abuse looks like. And it continues with people speaking up and not covering up.
And it continues with healing. Talking helps. When you learn that you can talk and what you feel is shameful and shocking and will have people hating and shunning you….once out in the open…..is accepted and love is given back….it helps.
Anyone who would like to write a guest blog is welcome to. Just contact Albany@SNAPnetwork.org