I am still quantifying this. I’ll explain that I could really only relate to people from age 14-25 through sharing and relating through shared trauma experiences. Its the first thing I talked about, the first thing I asked about and I’m absolutely certain I moved through the world making many people deeply, deeply uncomfortable. But I also moved through the world for about a decade decoding, understanding and helping others move through whatever they found traumatic about their life.
I attended university for sociology until I realized that I didn’t have enough money for a grad degree and a BA in sociology will get you unpaid work or well paid work doing EVIL. I switched my focus many times and will eventually go back to finish in geography with a focus on urban issues.
What do I define as a survivor?
A survivor is someone who has experienced a trauma or traumas that have been the catalyst to significant or less significant changes in a person’s life, personality and or lived experience.
How I consider myself a survivor: I know that my personality as a child and my personality now are quite different. I watched my own progression from extrovert to introvert through years of freewheeling school abuse.
People who have experienced significant blocks and detriments to their success, but are still struggling towards success are survivors. In my world, everyone has survived something and this means that we can relate our commonality and shared humanness through the knowledge that struggle is part of humanity.
Humans are survivors.
No matter what, I do not believe that you can quantify who is and is not a survivor. This understanding is required to follow my writing. Pain is a relative experience, defined by us and in some ways controlled by us—in some ways pain controls us more than we control it. People who are victims of trauma are often controlled by pain, our agency has been so removed from our consciousness that we forget our power.
What does it mean to be a survivor?
- You make this yourself. Take what you will of it. It means different things to different people. Make up your story and adapt it as you come to new information. You have all the power here to define yourself. No one can take that forever.
- Being a survivor does tend to necessitate some evolution. We do have control over how traumas affect us even if we aren’t aware we are controlling how things are going.
- Change after trauma is normal.
- You might feel like your personal agency is nonexistent.
- You might know that you need to avoid certain types of situations or stimulus.
- You might feel at the whim of a multitude of blaring obligations that you never signed up for and don’t know how you got to be in charge of.
- You might try to solve other people’s problems before they themselves know they have a problem because you have learned things just work better when you are psychic.
- You might be more secretive about your needs.
- You might be unable to keep your needs to yourself.
- You might work to phrase your requests of people so that they cannot be refused.
- You might not take “no” well.
- You might not understand why people react the way they do when you act normally*.
- You might not understand how people don’t understand what a big deal it is that they forgot something they promised to you.
- You might react poorly in scenarios others don’t react poorly in.
- You might not understand why others react poorly in the situations they react poorly in.
The list goes on and on and on and on.
Realities of being a survivor of traumatic abuse at the hands of others:
We’ll narrow our definition of survivor here to encompass; semi-specifically, people who have suffered at the hands (voice, or will) of others—to the benefit of those others.
Abuse is not OK or truly beneficial to the abuser.
Lets get that out of the way. Originally it was written “Abuse is not normal, ok or truly beneficial to the abuser.” but sadly, I think abuse is all too normal when we expand our understanding of abuse to encompass more than just physical abuse. I believe strongly that defining abuse under so narrow a definition of ‘was there hitting? No? Then it wasn’t abuse’… I believe this is a tool of abusers mainly, as well as a plague of the blissfully ignorant.
A big part of overcoming trauma is actually understanding that and how it happened to you. I’ll discuss some types of abuse:
Psychological Abuse: Found in families, intimate relationships, work and school place bullying, as well as friendships, Psychological Abuse is super common and not well addressed.
Also called emotional abuse and mental abuse. I’m also lumping in verbal abuse in here because verbally is how most of this happens. This is exactly as it sounds, in my definition — Creating a psychological atmosphere that damages the people exposed to and subjugated to it.
A psychological atmosphere can be loosely described as the climate emotional beings exist in. Driving forces in a psychological atmosphere are behaviours and the effects of the psychological atmosphere an emotional being spends their time in can be seen in core values and mindset.
Lifted straight from the wikipedia article on psychological abuse:
According to the University of Illinois counseling center, ″Emotional abuse is any kind of abuse that is emotional rather than physical in nature. It can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics, such as intimidation, manipulation, and refusal to ever be pleased. Emotional abuse can take many forms. Three general patterns of abusive behavior include aggressing, denying, and minimizing’.″
Accusing, public embarassment, blaming, intimidation, shaming, name calling, slamming doors/cupboards/drawers, arbitrary and unpredictable inconsistent reactions, jealousy, threats, isolation, destruction of victim’s property, and gas lighting are all forms of psychological abuse. Gas lighting refers to behaviour from a movie from the early 20th century that showcased this behaviour so ingeniously that its title has become the go-to term to define it.
Gas lighting is simply denying the reality of a person who is experiencing your behaviour or actions.
- “No, I didn’t say -horrible insult- under my breath, you’re just being insecure.”
- “I didn’t move your shoes.”
- “Why are all the lights turned on if you say you turned them off?”
To me, a person who displays psychological abusiveness is absolutely traumatized themselves and needs help desperately to stop making these scenarios that they often do not enjoy. I believe that people learn abusive behaviours because the abusive behaviours work for them somewhere along the line. And eventually they perpetuate a cycle of abuse on those around them.
My father was multiple different kinds of abusive and I did not realize the extent of this until well into my twenties after I realized that my younger brother LITERALLY remembered childhood differently than I did because his school experience was better… a little violence goes a long way to create an atmosphere of fear that is very beneficial when you’ve been up playing the guitar loudly at night and you want complete silence during the day when you want your nap time. I’ve spent the better part of my life loving and trying to understand my father and at some point perhaps I will tell the tale of how I came to lose faith and understand that I created the man who raised me out of the lies dude wove. And I’d prefer that my real father weren’t the dude acting the way he is now. Its a long story.
The point: My father’s mind was as disorganized as he forced everything and everyone around him to be. The only way that he ever seemed to thrive was in chaos; and thus chaos seems to reign wherever he goes. At this point, it depends on what day you get him on he will either acknowledge (and dismiss) or deny completely every example of trauma he demands be put before him so that one can persuade him that we were harmed by his actions. Is it gas lighting if your actual lived experience is so completely random that you can’t tell whether you are coming or going… and are a violent person in general?
It doesn’t matter WHY someone is behaving abusively. Their pain is spilling onto you because the way they figured out to deal with it just absolutely sucks and blows chunks in every conceivable mind blowing way.
It shouldn’t be your cross to bear because they can’t figure out their issues.
A wonderful resource for adult children of psychologically abusive parents is a blog called The Invisible Scar. Its linked somewhere on here. Or google that shiznit.
Financial or Economic Abuse: Found in intimate relationships, parental relationships—child or elder, and working situations.
Financial abuse creates dependence, shames dependence, and uses money to control the behaviour of the victim. It is predicated upon a power imbalance and can take a lot of different forms. Financial abuse spans classes and is not relegated to those with an abundance of money. I feel that financial abuse is just as likely if not more likely in a poverty stricken scenario. But perhaps more hard to spot.
Financial abuse is not just withholding money. Financial abuse can encompass taking your money; an example, opening a joint bank account that you have no or little access to. Preventing people from making money is also a form of financial abuse. Excessively criticizing any money spent is completely financial abuse and one that many people experience at the hands of partners.
A personal example, again, from my father: My family was extremely poor. We didn’t have a lot of nice things. My mother smokes cigarettes. They’re the one thing on which she spent money on herself that she didn’t need to. Clothing from second hand stores if ever, and shoes that barely supported her. My mother and father worked as a cleaning business from which the house finances were paid.
My father had a side business that he claims all the money from was his and his alone despite the fact that everyone in the family helped him with this business. So he has and has almost always had, very expensive musical equipment, computers, guitars, and a sail boat. Sometimes we got gifts from that too. Some sketch books for me and some skiing trips (where my father deposited my younger brother on the bunny hill and ditched him) for my brothers.
He swears up and down that my mother ’embezelled our money’ to make it look like we were very poor when she was smoking enough to put us in poverty.
Says the man who before janitorial work was scamming welfare and forcing my mother to also scam welfare (FINANCIAL ABUSE!) because he could NOT be employed due to his behaviour. Even by family.
Physical Abuse: Is a lot more complex than just hitting. A little violence goes a long way. Threats of violence are just as bad as actual violence when it comes to fear. Better even because it is less work for more reward. Less is more.
Hitting, chasing, pulling, towering over people, grabbing, choking, throwing things at or near, mimicking hitting, forcing someone to look at you physically, using weapons, and preventing people from leaving are all forms of physical abuse.
If you haven’t noticed yet these things bleed into each other and there is a lot of overlap. I consider a physical aspect of emotional abuse to be slamming doors. I consider an emotional aspect of physical abuse to be threatening violence.
A huge part of physical abuse to me is that the abuser believes and enacts their justifications for why the physical abuse is valid, not abuse, and deserved by the victim.
- “I’ll give you something to cry about.” – totally. This is the best way to deal with a child that feels unsafe.
- “You should be glad I’m only yelling at you.” – yep. That’ll work. Clearly I’m awesome because I’m not beating my family with two by fours.
- “Don’t make me come over there!” – But… they aren’t making you do what you do when you come over there. That’s all you, jerk face.
I believe that physical abuse is an indicator of other violence elsewhere. Be that emotional, sexual, or financial. I don’t believe physical abuse ever shows up alone. At the very least when my dad was following my brother down the hall spanking him. He was often spewing personal insults at his child too.
Sexual Abuse: we do it to people we love.
I have the bliss and privilege and shame of not knowing what my father was doing to my mother until well after the fact that I could have pulled out my information on healthy sexual relationships to hammer my father over the head with and start helping my mother heal her past traumas as well as the ones my father compounded.
Sexuality is so policed in our society and so rooted in shamefulness that what we see of it is truly limited unless we’ve got our eyes open and are already looking. We don’t talk about healthy relationships. We see sexual violence everywhere we look because its more acceptable than sexuality itself and we wonder why something that should at least be rooted in love becomes perverted into a disgusting display of power.
Consent is sexy. Consent is the be all and end all of sex. You aren’t having consensual sex if you insult and badger your partner until they relent to having sex with you the way you want it, when you want it—NOW. You aren’t having consensual sex if your partner is ‘holding out on you’ and so you ‘hold the car out on them’. You aren’t having consensual sex if you treat your partner poorly after they refuse or tell you something they don’t like.
If you don’t like a sexual act: you don’t need a reason to not like it, you don’t need to do something that your partner likes more to ‘make up’ for not liking it and you certainly aren’t weird or strange and it doesn’t make sex with you any less enjoyable and if it does? Your partner is clearly not very creative.
Some examples: Not being allowed to refuse sex or sex acts, constantly having to submit to sex whilst simultaneously being called unsexy, having sex acts performed against the subjects will in public and any kind of yelling, violence or insults that aren’t prearranged and thoroughly explained and consented to with the promise of aftercare.
People are insecure about sex and abusive people don’t tend to like insecurity which is where all their horrible behaviour comes from.
Well that took way longer than I thought it would to just blithely cover ‘abuse’ in a way that let me move on with my thoughts.
Back to the realities of being a survivor of abuse at the hands of others.
Other people who haven’t been abused like you might LITERALLY see reality differently.
As we grow up, we develop our coding of the world based on the interactions and outcomes of all the experiences up to the point at which we are considering. People who have been abused have a faulty set of wiring that defaults them to expect unnatural (abusive) reactions and attempt to avoid those reactions with a set of behaviours that were developed within an abusive paradigm to avoid abuse.
The parameters upon which our abuse avoiding behaviours are created don’t actually follow us when we flee abusive situations.
This has a multitude of real world implications:
- Victim mentality is a thing. I think its an overused thing and I respect people less who accuse me of a victim mentality because clearly they haven’t been paying attention. But it IS a thing. And even one I have been guilty of before and will be guilty of again. A victim mentality is the soft whisper in the back of your mind telling you that it isn’t the world being jerks… it actually is some quality unique to you that other people can pick up on and they know that treating you badly is not only right. It is IMPERATIVE. This is not true. But it feels true sometimes.
- We have difficulty engaging others who aren’t dealing with their own paradigm of abuse. For whatever reason. They may not know their behaviour is triggering.
- Whether or NOT it is their job to educate themselves: the issue right at that moment is that you have been triggered by someone else’s behaviour and as much as you deserve some understanding and compassion for the fact that you have been triggered. They deserve some understanding and compassion for the fact that they did not know. The issue is how these things get resolved. Not why they happened in the first place.
- Your tool box for conflict resolution might be (or feel) frighteningly sparse.
- The world might not have a lot of understanding for why things are hard for you.
- You might fold when you need to fight.
- You might fight when you need to fold.
Our judgement is affected by abuse. How could it not be? We have been actively taught not to trust our own judgement and in many cases actively punished for using it.
You aren’t just starting back at square one for confidence building and decision making in a reality that gives you completely new scenarios where abuse is not present. Or maybe present. Or maybe hidden until you trust it enough. Or maybe it doesn’t mean to be abusive but it is doing it anyway and isn’t looking to change anytime soon. Or. Or. Or. Or. Over analysis of situations doesn’t help a person who second guesses themselves suss out the right answer. It can be overwhelming and feel unavoidable for a person who was well rewarded by over analyzing abusive situations to figure out how they could possibly avoid it in the future.
Like a farmer who learned to swing a sword in defence being regarded by a sword trainer, there might be more work to undo than work to learn what is left to be learned. But if our metaphorical farmer doesn’t unlearn the poor training they have learned up to the point they are able to get training, the real training they get will never be effective. Because they will use it improperly.
The same is true of emotional issues. We who have them, we got bad training—in all likelyhood from someone who received terrible training themselves.
So you acknowledge you have got some problems to deal with.
GREAT. Seriously you have no idea how many people never get here. You were probably already here when you got to the blog but I’d like to just acknowledge that if even half the people who suffer abuse got here, the cycle of abuse would be easier to break. So many people blunder through life trying to make do, get by and just continue on to the next week so that they cannot address these issues. Because if they stopped for a second everything might come crashing down.
Maybe things are crashing down for you. I’m sorry for that and remember. You have training to undo. And your life will look different once you undo it and so if things are crashing down… this isn’t the end of the world at all. Its the start of a new one and that gets to be your choosing.
Things that help me as a survivor: They might help you too.
There’s no proscribed way that your healing is going to go. I can’t tell you what will work for you because what will work for you is what you decide. The worst thing I can tell you about this coming process is that ALMOST NONE OF THE ADVICE THAT I’M ABOUT TO GIVE YOU IS GOING TO TRULY MAKE SENSE UNTIL IT STARTS WORKING. Its crazy. Its true. You aren’t going to get it until you do.
1. Self care – something you’ve probably been swindled into doing excessively for someone else to your own detriment.
- Treating yourself like a small child – would you say that nasty thing you just told yourself in your head to a small child? No? QUIT IT. Would you let a small child eat a tub of ice cream because they felt bad? Hopefully not. Would you let a small child stay awake all night in a bad mood? Surely not. Would you let a small child not eat for days because they were upset? Unlikely! Would you let a small child dwell on their bad feelings and escalate themselves into a complete emotional meltdown? Probably not.
- We need to take care of ourselves.
- We might have been taught to take care of others before ourselves.
- You might feel like taking care of yourself is selfish. (It’s not!)
- Its not easy. I fail at it most of the time.
- Its dangerous to go alone – Isolation is your enemy. Friends, people who aren’t family but act like family and valued family members are important, they are the moderating effects that are going to help you reorient yourself and assess if you are backsliding into old behaviour patterns.
- Medications – for years. YEARS I tell you I was dead-set against medications. I found that my coping mechanisms worked well for me, but I was young and stupid and those coping mechanisms were ineffectual at best and co-dependant/abusive themselves at worst. Medications helped me through a time when things got really dark. They aren’t meant to be long term, and I think doubly so in cases of depression, anxiety, and PTSD that stem from abuse. You weren’t biologically wired wrong. You got rewired along the way. Some time for your chemicals to re-balance themselves so that you can move forward with cognitive therapy is not something trivial or insubstantial and can be of great benefit.
Medications can be of not great benefit too. The medication isn’t meant to help you deal with the abusive situation. The medication is to help you deal with the effects of the abusive situation after it is not a problem but still plaguing you. PLEASE talk to a doctor and or a counsellor and or a therapist and or a psychiatrist. Any and all of them that you can.
2. Ignoring the demons – they’re there, they’re square, get used to them.
- This comes from a dear friend of mine who I reach out to so that I can check in with to see if the things I’m feeling have a basis in reality. We work together so its helpful. Clue: I am usually not living in reality when I am in fear and depression.
- The demons are your negative inner voice. They’re the thing telling you that people are doing things specifically to harm you for Reasons** and not only is it happening but you deserve it. That you aren’t good enough. That you will fail. And on. And on. And on.
- I am better at ignoring the demons when I’m feeling whole, loved, capable and strong. This is usually when I have had enough sleep, food, water and cuddles.
- I am significantly less able to deal with the demons when I am tired, underfed, stressed financially, dehydrated, or after I have been performing***.
- After a performance weekend I once said that it was as if “Real Amie”, who can deal with the demons easily; who I have cultivated as a strong person that takes care of herself, is asleep. And Demi-Amie is in charge, only Demi-Amie is not good at ignoring the demons and doesn’t have as much of that internal light to guide her.
- Demi Amie’s job is to take care of Real Amie’s body so that Real Amie can wake up and shine in it. … sadly Demi-Amie sucks at her job.
3. Having an action plan with loved ones – your reactions might be a teensy bit out of line from time to time… I know mine are.
- From time to time I freak out. From time to time it is justified. But usually it isn’t. It has been a long process of both making myself aware of some of the things that I can and cannot deal with as well as making the people around me aware of them.
- Having the ability to walk away and cool off for a predetermined amount of time and readdress a situation. This is invaluable.
- I’m still working on this.
4. Patience – if we came up with as many rationalizations for ourselves as we did to deny the fact that our abuser was abusing us… perhaps we might be happier.
If you can. Look into therapy. Most larger towns in Canada have a mental health and addictions centre that you can be referred to for either group therapy or one on one therapy. Your doctor should know resources for your specific town or a near by town. There are ways to get into these programs for low income participants.
There are Family Life Associations in towns across Canada that offer a multitude of counselling services with a sliding fee structure based on income. These counsellors are trained by the family life association and they may not be personally able to deal with some more complex issues. If your abuse also includes trans issues or alternative relationship styles I’m not sure how effective these groups can be because the incidence of a judgemental counsellor can be deeply re-traumatizing.