Archive for the ‘Effects of abuse’ Category

Control Patterns (1)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Control pattern: I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.

I would never have stated this explicitly, and I don’t think I ever thought this, at least not that I was aware of. But when so much of one’s life is spent in cleaning up after other people, is there any more-likely conclusion for one to draw? No matter how clearly a problem was not my fault during my childhood and much of my marriage, it was always still somehow “my fault”. Of course I came to act as though I believed others were incapable of caring for themselves: that assumption — that they required me to take care of all of their problems — was the foundation of so much of my intimate relationships. How could I have thought otherwise of my parents or my husband?

In the context of Borderline Peronality Disorder, this may be characterised as being “clingy” or of having unstable relationships.

I can remember one time, when I was a teenage, my parents rented me out to one of their church friends. I can’t remember what the friends needed me for, and I have no idea why my parents consented to letting me out of their sight (and thus their immediate control), but the weekend involved travel out of state and visiting one of the friends’ families.

The trip was over and they were taking me back home. When we were almost there, we had to stop; a tree had fallen across the road. They weren’t sure what to do; this was the boondocks and was well before the era of cellphones. But then we noticed that the car stuck in the road in front of us was my father’s. So we all hopped out and, while they chatted happily with my father, I climbed into the back seat of his car.

Where I found my sister looking anxious. Before our father got into the car, she had just enough time to whisper that we were in big trouble.

It was months, maybe a couple of years, before I found out what had happened. That’s another story for another time. The point is that I was “in big trouble” for something that had not involved me. I hadn’t even been in the same state! But somehow it was my fault, what other people had done and said, and I had to bear the responsibility.

So, yeah, I developed the habit of viewing people as incapable. I’m hoping that, with time, intelligence, and determination, I can learn to view people as just people. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses, and other peoples’ lives are neither my fault, my responsibility, nor my shame.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Low Self-Esteem Pattern: I  have difficulty making decisions.

For most of my life, my opinion didn’t matter. Heck, the facts, if I were the one presenting them, didn’t matter. I didn’t matter. My attempts to say anything, on my own behalf or otherwise, met with disapproval at best, reprisals at worst. Is it any wonder that I learned to doubt myself?

But it is worse than that. I learned how not to make decisions at all, how not even to have opinions at all. When one is not allowed an independent existence, when attempts at such are punished as representing “betrayal”, then one tends not to have much “sense of self”. When everything “wrong” is somehow “your fault”, will you dare take the risk of being seen to make a decision, to have an opinion? Of course not! For one’s own safety’s sake, one learns not to think, not to care, not to decide. One only watches. One is ever-watchful for any sign, any hint of what one is “supposed” to think, feel, believe, want.

In terms of Borderline Personality Disorder, this might be characterised as “intense attachment” or a lack of a “sense of self”.

A friend of mine has, for many years, been in quite a few different Twelve-Step programs. He recommended that I try something similar. I’d tried Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) some years earlier, but hadn’t been ready for it. And I’d been trying therapy, and still couldn’t get past the “give yourself a break” and “give yourself permission” stage. I didn’t “get” to give myself permission. I’d lived nearly five decades being required to get permission from outside sources. What outside source had the authority to overrule that, and give me the permission to give myself that authority?

Yes, it’s very messy inside my head.

In the context of CoDA, I couldn’t get past the “turning my life over to” any sort of “Higher Power”, because that just meant more of the same: obeying people who, in the name of God, told me to do things that hurt myself and others.

This friend asked me if I really thought God wanted me to hurt myself and others. Did I really think that God wanted me to do things, for instance, that profited (literally, in monetary terms) my ex-husband but (emotionally and monetarily) harmed my child? No, I didn’t. So maybe it was time to let go of that idea of “God”, and instead accept the idea of a god that wanted me to do good things, both for myself and others.

And that God did “give me permission” to “give myself a break”. That was what I needed to get over that hump, and learn to start exploring making decisions for myself.

Thank you, Jade!

Denial patterns (1)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Denial pattern: I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.

My therapist could attest to this one. He has often asked me things like, “How do you feel about that?”, and I’ve honestly had no clue. Other times, I’d been feeling intensely about something, but had no idea how to describe it. Nearly all the time, I “minimize” or hedge. For instance, I’d never be “angry”; instead, I might be “perturbed” or “unsettled” or “displeased”.

Within the context of Borderline Personality Disorder, this characteristic might be referred to as a mood disorder or as an inadequate sense of self.

Throughout my childhood and much of my marriage, I was required not to feel how I really felt. I was told that my (normal) reactions and feelings were wrong somehow, and was often told how I “really” felt or how I “should” feel. After decades of covering, hiding, squelching, and numbing myself, being allowed at best only to hint at what I meant, I finally reached the point of being very much “out of touch” with myself, sincerely having no idea what I might have been feeling in that instant before I’d managed to supress.

While I still believe that we shouldn’t be run by our emotions, I also now believe that we have emotions for a reason. They serve a purpose. If nothing else, they provide additional data. If I’m feeling happy about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing “okay”, but it could indicate that I’m feeling invested in the thing and am thus deriving pleasure, on more than just an intellectual level, in the success of the thing. If I’m feeling angry about something, this doesn’t necessarily “make” the thing (or me) “bad”, but it could point out that I’m trying (by force of habit) to ignore something that I shouldn’t, or that something is attacking me and I need to start defending myself. (Whether or not it’s acceptable to protect myself is another issue for another day.)

A very kind lady told me many times that I needed to learn how to “feel your feelings”, which made no sense at the time, but she worked hard at explaining. Her first rule was to use basal terms for my feelings. I’m not “perturbed”; I’m not “unsettled”; I’m not “distressed”. No, I’m “angry”, “scared”, or “sad”

As silly as that may sound, just the fact of naming my emotions with such bald terms was enlightening (though scary) and eventually freeing. After decades of being required to minimize and hedge and hide and cover, I was saying, explicitly and with no “shading”, how I felt. And I wasn’t struck by lightning; the world didn’t come to an end; people didn’t hate me; I didn’t become evil. It was okay.

Learning — from experience — that it was acceptable and safe to feel these things, and also to acknowledge feeling them, was one big step in my early recovery. Peggy, wherever you are: Thank you!

Standing up for myself

Monday, July 30th, 2012

For three and a half years, I listened to attorneys who told me that I didn’t make enough money to get better representation or better deals, who warned me that I’d better do whatever my husband said (under the “friendly parent” doctrine) or I’d never see my son again, who told me to trust that they were advocating for me regardless of the results.

Leaving aside the facts of that situation, it looks like I’ll do okay representing myself, now that the divorce is (ha, ha) “over”.

My ex refused to comply with the court order’s rules, etc, for providing health-insurance coverage for our child. I waited as long as I dared, after making all the efforts that I could think of to obtain coverage on my own, and then went to court with my motion for an emergency hearing.

My motion wasn’t “perfect” and I wasn’t “supposed” to be allowed to file it, but I was. There was “no way” the judge would hear me today, but he did. My motion was, in the end, stricken, but this was because the ex claimed (amidst various documented falsehoods and a little slander thrown in for good measure) that he had provided insurance two weeks previous, and had provided notification well in advance of (actually, about an hour after) my having filed for relief.

The “coverage” he crowed about is only good for three and a half weeks, of which two are already spent. But my motion is now part of the official record. When (not “if”) I have to go back to court, I’ll have started the record of his obstructionism, laying a foundation, I hope, for increased assistance at some point.

The judge seemed very nice. He’s new; I hope I draw him again.

What is “good” in a relationship?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

My therapist has assigned this for my “homework” this week: figuring out what I view as “good” in a (romantic) relationship. I pointed out that, with my background (an abusive childhood followed shortly thereafter by an abusive marriage), I don’t have much experience with “good”, and clearly my judgement is suspect. After all, had I had a solid grasp of “good” or “healthy”, it seems doubtful that I would have married a man who turned out to be disburbingly similar to my own mother.

But I suppose this is something that I need to work through, or at least consider investigating, if for no other reason than in hopes that I won’t be quite so ready to make the same mistakes as I have in the past. Granted, I’ve already become aware of how completely my ex-(yay!)-husband fulfills the checklists of “warnings he may be an abuser”, but that is in retrospect. It would be better, surely, to be able to have some confidence going forward, rather than only in looking back.

So what is a “good” relationship? What does one look for, both positive and negative?

For so long, I could easily have been presented as a “needy” or “clingy” woman — though only after a relationship had begun. I’d been so deprived of positive attention that any attention that wasn’t actively negative (in the early days) was precious to me, which left me open to (and likely attracted toward me) abusers who would take advantage. I hadn’t had much in the way of healthy relationships so, not knowing any better, I accepted unhealthy ones. I’d like something better now, but how would I, of all people, know how to recognize that?

One thing I should probably start doing more of is “listening to my gut”. For too many decades, I discounted my own feelings and desires and deferred instead to what others claimed was right and “for my own good”, merely because the person hurting me insisted that he was doing it “out of love”. Actions should speak louder than words, and my own feelings should be viewed as more reflective of my own needs than somebody else’s self-serving and unsupported say-so.

Another thing I should probably do more of is speaking for myself. I don’t mean just complaining when I don’t like something. I mean asking for what I want (after figuring out in the first place what that actually is), being willing to say “no” when that’s what I mean, and being willing to give up a relationship if it’s hurting me.

If I’m putting all my emotional health at the disposal of somebody who’s draining me, will I have anything left that I can invest in somebody who genuinely wishes me well? Probably not. It’s the “oxygen mask” analogy: when the plane loses cabin pressure, I can’t help my child with his mask if I haven’t put my own mask on, since I’ll have passed out already. It’s not (entirely) selfish to take care of myself; in fact, sometimes self-care can be the more caring and un-selfish thing to do.

A “good” relationship is probably one that encourages me to put my own oxygen mask on first, if and when I feel the need.

“Exactly as it should be.”

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

“My life is exactly as it should be.” “My circumstances are exactly what they should be.” “I am exactly where I shouldbe in my life.”


These sorts of statements get my back up, but I think they’re meant to say something other than what they appear to. When people say things like the above to those of us who have had fairly miserable backgrounds, they don’t necessarily mean that everything is as we would like things to be. They mean instead that things could hardly have gone any other way.

Suppose somebody is in a high-rise, and, for no good reason, a bad guy pushes him off the deck. The man falls fifty stories, bounces a couple times on the pavement, and then is run over by a Mack truck. Did he deserve to have this happen? Did he want to have his body end up looking like hamburger? No. But, given the circumstances (the bad guy shoving him, falling that height, bouncing a couple times, and being squished by the truck), it is perfectly reasonable that his body has ended up looking like hamburger.

Given the actions and the circumstances which led up to the coroner’s van pulling up, it is to be expected that the dearly departed would be in this condition. It’s not that it’s “right”; it’s that no other outcome could reasonably have been expected.

It’s “exactly as it should be” in the sense that the immediate events could not have ended up any other way.

I think this is what people mean when they tell me that, (for example) as lousy as my current court case is, it is “exactly as it should be.” Given the man who is divorcing me, and given how profitably I made it for him to behave as badly as he has; given the “shark” of an attorney he’d hired, and given how “nice” and “patient” I’d been for way too long; there could have been no other outcome. It’s not that the way I’ve been treated is “right”; it’s that the circumstances — some of which I created — could not logically have been expected to lead anywhere else.

The terminology still rankles, but at least it sort of makes sense.

Hurting myself by “being nice”

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Part of the reason my divorce case has gone so long and been so painful is that, for way too many years, I’ve been “too” nice.

By “being patient” (with people who were knowingly doing wrong), “being understanding” (with people who were knowingly deceiving), “being supportive” (of those who were intentially harming my interests), “being cooperative” (with those who were openly manipulating the system), and just generally “being nice” (by being a doormat while waiting for people to “do the right thing”), I enabled bad behavior to succeed.

Why am I now surprised that bad behavior is so strongly in evidence? Why do I ask myself why it has continued for so very many years?

The abuse began and has continued because I made sure that it worked well — for those who were doing the abusing. Of course the abuse continued! Why wouldn’t it have, right?

Yes, it’s nice to be “nice”, but only when one is being “nice” in a global sense. When all one is doing is being a doormat for somebody who wants a “thing” on which to wipe his feet, one isn’t being “nice”; one is being a doormat. It’s not the same thing.

Learned helplessness

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

“Learned helplessness” is a behavior observed in animal experiments. When a dog in a cage is subjected to shocks but restrained so that it cannot escape, it eventually stops fighting. Even when the door is open, the dog just lies there, “taking” it.

It has been proposed that people who suffered sufficient degrees of abuse (especially women, and especially those subject to intimate terrorism) eventually manifest this same tendency. This is used to explain why “she doesn’t just leave him”.

However, others have observed women in these situations, and have contented that the women do not demonstrate this behavior. In fact, they do still “rebel” in various ways. It’s just that that ways aren’t particularly useful or effective. Therefore, the thinking goes, the women are not “helpless”; they are just… well, they’re something that makes the results pretty much their own fault. “Hysterical” or “immature” or “manipulative” or something.

I think each position has merit, but is too absolute.

Another metaphor for “learned helplessness” is the elephant who was trained in its early years not to fight the chain holding him to a stake in the ground. When the elephant is small, that stake is sufficient to hold him fast. If he fights, he only tires (and perhaps injures) himself. Fighting has no positive result, and potentially negative results.

Once the elephant is grown, he has more than enough strength to pull the stake from the ground, but he never tries. Instead, he may toss its head, trumpet, give his mahout a dirty look, or otherwise generally act cranky or resentful. He does “rebel”, but not in effective ways. He learned long ago not even to try. Pulling the stake doesn’t even occur to him as a valid option.

This, I think, is a better model of the ineffective patterns resulting from prolonged abuse, especially when it started in childhood. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) generally includes the accusation of manipulativeness, but also condemns the sufferer for her ineffectiveness and clumsiness. The abused spouse is condemned for staying with her abuser, and her staying is used to accuse her of making it all up or blowing things out of proportion.

But the problem is simpler than that. She makes those dysfuntional decisions because she honestly can’t conceive of other options. She is ineffectual because she learned, long ago, that the effective means of rebellion were not options. Fighting for help (as a child) or leaving (as a spouse) simply never occurs to her.

“As We Understood God”

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Twelve Step programs are spiritual at their base. They don’t specify the god one should worship, and I’m not even sure that “worship” is the right word for the relationship these programs espouse.

I grew up with my mother telling me repeatedly, “God is going to get you for ruining my life!” Praying seemed only to guarantee that whatever I’d asked for came back to hurt me, or seemed specifically to be damaged or destroyed. The highest ideals (chosen by others for me) were submission and obedience. “Surrendering one’s life” to God meant doing whatever those in power told one to do, no matter how detrimental or even illegal.

Understandably, I have issues with the whole idea of surrendering my “will and life” to anyone or anything. Granted, I have a tendency to do this anyway, but I’ve rarely ever meant to.

But back when this was required, at least the expectations, some of them, were clear, because I was told what I was supposed to do (or think or feel or believe). I might not have done it, but I knew what “it” was.

How would that work with one’s “Higher Power”? What does it mean to “surrender control” in the Twelve-Step context? What would this Step look like in practice? Because it sounds to me like I’d just be sitting there with my thumbs up my @$$, waiting to hear voices. And I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what’s meant.

“We admitted we were powerless…”

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Part of any Twelve-Step program involves agreeing with the statement that one is “powerless” over whatever is the problem at hand, whether alcoholism, codependency, or something else. This presumed powerlessness may be presented within a “disease” framework, such as calling alcoholism an “allergy” or referring to codependency as “Borderline Personality Disorder”.

I objected to this “disease” characterisation because it seemed to “blame the victim”. My parents and spouse abused me, and the results are my fault?!? Sure, I’m damaged, but I’m hardly “diseased”! But I’ve rethought the issue.

Imagine a child who was born perfectly healthy. While he was still just an infant, he was “shaken” to the point of having his retinas detach. It doesn’t matter that the child did nothing wrong; the fact is, he’s blind, and always will be. He will always have “issues”; the effects of the damage will always be present.

And if he tries to live his life without taking that damage into account– well, that’d just be crazy, and his life could easily become unmanageable.

Similarly, my sisters and I never did anything to “deserve” what was done to us. But that doesn’t matter; the fact is, we’re damaged, and always will be. The effects of that damage will always be present.

I need to start taking account of that.