Do you ever feel like you are stuck? Just existing? Just trying to hold it all together so you don’t come undone? Afraid or unsure if you should move or change anything and not really quite sure where to start if you did?
I have been feeling like I am in the middle of a juggling act for a while now. The thing is, we often find ourselves in the middle of the circus wondering how things got so crazy, and we don’t recall putting up the tent and sending in the clowns. And how could we know that we have done that when it all felt so familiar and so right? And how can we go anywhere now that someone has to keep the lions in their cages and make sure that those who choose the highwire act have a net in case they should fall, and someone has to pay for the popcorn….and without makeup, we can’t tell the clowns from those who aren’t clowns.
When we first open the door…and we all need to let people in…we may notice a few things that are off, perhaps a bit odd. But we sweep those thoughts away like sawdust on the floor under the big top. But why do we do that? Why do we push our instincts aside?
Denial, I think is one reason. Also, my therapist recently asked me…what would your mom have done in this situation? So, we have learned by example. Was this kind of abnormality normal when we were children? We are taught religion as children. Remember hearing about all of those martyrs? Remember that we are also learning these stories as children when we have no reference to what life is like outside of the classroom and home.
God is always watching. The flames of Hell are licking at your heels. There are many stories and messages we learn from the bible as children that don’t prepare us for a life of watching out for ourselves and how to go about loving ourselves. It is mentioned here and there, but as a child in religious class, I heard about a lot of deprivation, suffering, violence, poverty, forgiveness, and miracles that we were born too late to have experienced firsthand.
We grew up learning respect, which meant even when adults weren’t right, they were right…which meant that even if we were right, we were wrong. So, we learned to be quiet and to be told what to do, even if we did not agree. We learned to say we liked something even if we didn’t, so we would not hurt anyone’s feelings.
We may have grown up having to keep secrets to protect people we loved. We may have learned that there were things that we did not talk about outside of the house. We may have learned to adjust our own behavior or actions in order to not stand out or not feel we were going to make someone else’s behavior worse.
In other words, we may grow up without learning the skills to process and understand and accept our own thoughts and feelings unless they directly relate to someone else and what they have said or done. We may judge ourselves by what other people say about us.
We may always wonder if we are good enough. We may find ourselves wandering into our darker side and doing something our religion has taught us is wrong and weigh ourselves down with guilt and shame.
Or we may struggle at our attempts at becoming more assertive, having been taught to bury the truth to appease authority and so as not to be unkind.
And stepping out of our comfort zone can cause feelings of anxiety and a variety of lovely physical symptoms that go with the overstimulated nerves. Our bodies are affected by our thoughts. And we generally don’t like to feel uncomfortable. We tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable. Like discussing feelings or speaking up instead of staying quiet because it causes less discomfort.
So, if we head back to the circus where we began, we see that we allowed people to come into our tent. Some people smiled as they entered and seemed friendly, and some people engaged with us right off the bat and wanted to help out and that felt good. Perhaps we are shy, or we find it difficult to connect with people. or we are lonely. Or perhaps we still have that empty spot inside that we are not quite sure unless someone else tells us, so we feel we need to attach to someone. We have a vulnerability which is not a bad thing. Unless, of course, we need validation in order to survive.
I don’t think any of us are ever really whole. And I believe that the more times we have been knocked down and have gotten ourselves up again does make us more resilient. More self-reliant emotionally. But we can still be susceptible to being wounded again by a predator.
Recently, my therapist pointed out that I have more power than I realize. She said that sometimes when we get angry, we push that anger inward and it becomes depression. And when depression settles in, we can go into “freeze mode”, as in, “fight, flight or freeze. And when we are in freeze mode, we may feel that we have no power or control over anything. That may be a stage where many of us got caught up in at one time or another.
Think about our “mirror image”, or the clown in the mirror for this post. We react to them. We may feel we need them. We may doubt our own beliefs and self-worth when they turn on the gas in the house lights.
Remember that they only have the power if you give it to them. Unfortunately, we need to hit a kind of our own rock bottom in order to see what is really going on. By then, the clowns have taken over the tent and we may feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin to assert our own power…which is…the power to say no. The power to respect your own needs.
You will be able to spot the Narcissist in the crowd. They will be the one who will throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want. They will have fits of rage. They will become the victim. They will blame you and want to turn others against you. They will threaten you.
But then they will apologize, or they will be helpful. And this will feel good and because you don’t want to poke the bear again, you hesitate to speak up, knowing it will only create more rage and threats and abuse.
And you’re not sure that it’s abuse. Because they will tell you that you are the one that caused the problem. And that will confuse you. And you will wonder if that is true. So, you are essentially being trained to do what this person wants you to do. But they will always point out that you had a choice. You’re not completely sure about that but you know that there was no physical violence, and you know that it’s easier just to give them what they want…which is essentially the entire point of training you and gaslighting you into submission.
There may also be a feeling that one or both of you may not survive without the other. They indeed will probably encourage this belief.
Our power is in moving forward no matter what. Seeing that the true person is the person in their rage when their entitlement is questioned. Our power comes in turning a deaf ear to the words they use to confuse. It’s hard to break through the fog of frozen depression to reach the heat of your own righteous anger.
Like I said, it usually has to come when we hit rock bottom. When their behavior affects someone we love or when it gets out of control and becomes physical abuse, or when we find our own inner strength to withstand the force of the storm coming towards us to stand our ground. And to not apologize for doing so. And no second guessing ourselves.
That is when the clowns will pile back inside the Volkswagen and you will have peace.
The next Zoom meeting for Abused as Adults will be held on the first Sunday in November….think that is the 6th…from 4pm to 6pm EST. Link will be sent out a day or so before the meeting.