Not everyone is a survivor of abuse.
Though our world is highly abusive and provides much pain to be had, not everyone has a specific trauma that plagues them.
You might not be a survivor of abuse; but you might be dealing with survivors of abuse and if you haven’t yet you will certainly come into contact with one of us. We’re everywhere… You might be a survivor dealing with people who have no concrete conceptualization of what you have been through. Neither of these things are easy. I thought I would just write a quick thought about being a survivor and dealing with the world that may or may not be traumatized and then going on to having some concrete thoughts about dealing with survivors without a specific trauma of your own to relate to them through… and why that on its own might be kind of silly, can’t relate one trauma through another, even though we try…
Gather round survivors, I’m going to say an unpopular thing. And I do not want to re-traumatize people or give a ‘tough luck’ attitude but let me be clear: dealing with your traumas so that you can function in a scenario with a non-traumatized person is REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT.
The only one who can deal with it is you. It’s hard, you didn’t ask to have to deal with this extra stuff and it seems only fair that once you can communicate that you ARE traumatized and how there are things that can be done to help you that you should receive some kind of empathy from people who AREN’T traumatized. Let me be clear: They don’t owe you anything**. If we can’t function in society, ultimately the ones that is on is us because we aren’t dealing with the cards we were given appropriately, sometimes we have to fold that hand (or most of it, this is not a perfect metaphor) and draw some new cards.
Folding the hand means actually discarding the shit we were given at some point and not holding it on the table and referring back to it at every chance we have to check back and see if the old cards are valid now. They’re not valid. They were never valid and no matter how useful the tools we learned under abuse were there are better tools for us to use now that we are conscious that we can choose our own. We need to deal with our shit so that we don’t perpetuate it upon others in new and fun sideways ways. Complacency is our enemy.
We live in a society that seems to approach triggers as if they are offensive because the subjects they concern are offensive. Trigger warnings are a complex subject but I don’t think that the key to healing is avoiding the subject that hurt you… I don’t think this is remotely healthy because what we need to do is be more ok with flowing through triggering scenarios…. at least: this is how I chart my progression in my healing. How easily (or how catastrophically badly) I deal with triggering scenarios.
When I say triggering scenario I mean something that is not abuse that makes you remember abuse. There will be more on this subject later. And there was. I ended up describing a trigger as something that makes our brains go back to the time when we were being victimized. Whatever that thing is. Maybe it is seeing an example of the abuse. Maybe it is something else.
The person who was most helpful in understanding what to do; once I realized I was traumatized somewhere along the way so much so that made it hard for me to function in society, was another survivor. She badgered me until I went to counseling and got some help that I needed. Let’s call her J. J was a wonderful person who had empathy coming out her ears. J was also so utterly angry at the world at every step along the way of her recovery as people re-traumatized her by not understanding her issues, not immediately agreeing with her world view as she stated it, and more or less by any act of a person who is not ‘awake’.
I use the term ‘awake’ to describe a person who realizes that their traumas are only the beginning in a world of trauma that affects most other people on this planet. I use the term ‘awake’ to describe people who are committed to changing their actions, communication style and or life so that they can lessen the trauma inherent in our world.
J would; if you let her mind go that way, simply spend her time focusing on all of the ways that the world was rigged against the poor, the gendered (any gendered which way or what), the sexualized, and almost every other person blighted by the intersection of privileges and disadvanteges inherent in a Kyriarchical society. “Kyriarchy” is my preferred term to discuss any kind of disadvantage because it accurately reflects the complex nature of our society. When I say intersection of privileges; I mean the lens through which my advantage/disadvantage is estimated hitherto usually addressed individually: class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and as I understand it– any and every place where institutional privilege may apply in the nature of my being. Institutional privilege is often relegated to the traits that we visibly show, as an example: I do not visibly present as First Nations, thus I don’t get any of the disadvantages that come from that despite being status Metis. I learned the term Kyriarchy from J I believe.
If you did not understand immediately the information; which was generally very specified to recovery programs, that J was telling you–possibly very angrily as to why your actions were horrible in that case and attempt to make things ‘better’ in the future… you were the enemy.
I became the enemy many times. I felt very controlled by J and afraid of upsetting her. She was my employee but I was taking most of my direction from her. I was over ten years her junior too. I don’t think these things excuse me letting the situation get the way it did, but she was my friend and it would have been highly unpleasant to fire her. The other thing was that she was a good worker dedicated to the people we were serving. Whatever internal problems we were having which I won’t get into, lets just say that J had a lot of things she was correct about…
J made that environment toxic for me and every other person working there because she didn’t feel it was anything but toxic to her. She could have done a million things differently. She was in an environment that was as good as I could make it within my power and she refused to quit until she drove me out by putting me in a position actively against whatever our boss wanted for whatever reason she could come up with. There were lots. Our boss was a jerk. But he was the boss. And I figured that fighting with him about everything was better than fighting with J because she could and did make my life a living hell with passive retribution. I was a martyr in this situation. Willingly, I stayed there three months longer than I wanted to because she didn’t want me to leave, did horribly in my semester at school trying to organize the office so that she could deal with it and after I gave and served my two weeks notice she stopped showing up because I was no longer there to organize things the way she wanted (I assume). And when all was said and done, I felt used because I didn’t stand up for my own needs the way I should have and the person whose needs/wants I did stand up for certainly didn’t thank me in the end.
This is something I’m personally mad about and an example of the ways that we can be damaging to others simply by being damaged. J knew a lot of ways to deal, was an exceptional person but needed a job. Rather than finding another one, she used her skills of a survivor to adapt to the situation she felt trapped in and attempt to make better what she could. What she needed to do was leave. Nothing my boss did was actually legal from the get go. She was happy to have things on the sly when it suited her and happy to attempt to use the law she was breaking when it suited her the other way.
I will always be grateful for the things I learned from her. I will never forgive her for being actively further along in understanding emotional issues and not caring what she was doing to me at the same time as trying to tell me how helpful she was to me. She damaged me personally because she was damaged and she didn’t care enough to try and avoid it. That to me is the highest form of selfishness that I can think of.
It perpetuates the abusive cycle. As if to say that because if it ends with you… this is unacceptable… because then you have to carry the weight of it when you could so easily pass it off to some other poor soul.
J had a god damned problem because every single thing she experienced was toxicity. She saw the structural violence inherent in society and blamed each and every practitioner of it as if they themselves were personally aware and conscious of their actions. As if they meant to hurt her by not understanding immediately why she was doing whatever she was doing.
This story is anecdotal evidence to make a point. And one that I shared freely because it makes me look good and someone else look bad. There is an example of how my personal traumas made at least two other people’s lives hell and very likely more because those two are the ones I personally acknowledge. I wandered around the world for twenty five years thinking that my boundaries were everyone else’s concern if they were a ‘good person’ and that shit is horrible. I’m sure I’ll drag that out at some point. … possibly in the boundaries post.
This lady knew everything about trauma except how traumatizing she was to be around. She bled rage everywhere. She accused anyone/everyone at any time of basically being in on some plot to harm her personally.
She didn’t deal with her problems. She just pushed them onto everyone else. Particularly anyone that would willingly take them on (me). There was never anything I could do to help her unless it was doing what she wanted me to do and sacrificing my own precious spoons to do it*.
How you deal with your problems is up to you. But if you are causing harm to others you need to do something the fuck differently.
I personally only realized that a lot of the ways my father treated my family; the way he got mad, how accusatory he was when he was fighting and how bad the phrase “you’ll know when I’m yelling!” is, by realizing that I was treating my partner in a similar fashion and I didn’t like it.
I had every rationalization under the sun for why I had so little patience. Why I was totally unwound over an issue that triggered me. Why my actions were justified in a scenario because I had been traumatized.
NOT OK. As ashamed as I am of how I behaved when I was triggered before, I will always be proud of myself for stepping the fuck up and realizing that I wasn’t dealing with my problems effectively in a way that was going to make me happy. That I wasn’t seeing the world in a way that was going to be conducive to my happiness and that I could change these things.
As a survivor. It is your job to deal with your shit so that the buck stops with you. So that you end the cycle of abuse rather than just flinging your metaphorical shit at anyone and everyone that has the misfortune to come near you because you don’t know another way. Like a fucking trauma monkey that can’t help but create the things it feels it was damaged by so that the world can SEE that these things are damaging by experience if nothing else. Its not your god damned job! And that’s not the way!
You are SO STRONG. You have gone through shit and made it here. What a cruel irony that a world that created you can’t deal with you. It might be true. Its your job to deal with it so you don’t create more little yous to be angry with the world and create more little thems. Get help.
So perhaps you realize that you might not be dealing with your problems effectively. Lets think about some blocks to dealing with problems effectively:
- Suffering in silence. Knowing you have a problem, not knowing how to deal with it and having been possibly told that no one will help you. Sometimes survivors will simply find a way to deal with stuff that they figure they have no agency to control because to control aspects of their life will bring them push back from the others in their life.
- Suffering and not knowing why–being unable to communicate our needs until they become glaringly necessary. This is a huge problem. I have a HUGE problem with this! I was trained so well to be upset all the time and not be able to address it that for me, realizing how upset I am about something can be glaringly difficult. I only knew there was a problem at one point in my life when I started having seriously suicidal thoughts and then had to backtrack to what was actually wrong whether it was a work, interpersonal thing or a school thing or just an Amie thing.
- Believing that your needs are not going to be met if you ask for them. The fear that once you state your needs, they can then be used against you is a thing. Its a thing for people who have had their needs used against them and that happens to more of us than we think. Believing that you need to phrase your needs just so in order to have them be unopposed. Excessive phrasing is one of the more common flawed techniques I have run into after realizing it was an issue for me. I used to figure out I needed something and then spend about a week needing it ever more so until I could figure out a way to state my need so that it could NOT be refused by anyone other than a terrible person. This isn’t healthy and completely ignores other peoples very valid needs and desires for your own. I was never that selfish. Just in a hyper aware state of hysteria in regard to my needs.
- Martyrdom. So that person that made you feel rotten for needing something they assured you was easy peasy for them to do? They’re probably a martyr. There are people on this planet who have an instilled fear of not pleasing others. Usually they’ve faced some unfortunate consequences for any attempts to stand up for themselves. These folks are hard to deal with. They don’t feel like they have the resources to help. But will never refuse a request for help. They often hurt themselves to do something for another person and only let the person know after nothing can be done for them. These people tend to hate asking for help themselves because they know how onerous it can be for others to provide help. And or they are just afraid of being treated how they treat others. Or they won’t ever be actively aware of how they treat others but will just be offended if anyone even remotely treats them the same way. Don’t be a martyr. Say when you can’t help so that when you can you can be authentic about it.
- There are more significant blocks to meeting our needs and general happiness but I’ll address those in a future post.
How many blog posts did I reference one day making? 4. Amie: 4…. Procrastination: 0
Dealing with survivors when you don’t consider yourself one, Boundaries, Blocks in coping, and why avoiding triggers can be rotten for your emotional well being. Not in that order.
** No one owes you anything… unless they want a close relationship with you. And then they might owe you some understanding, patience, empathy and maybe more. People don’t owe you anything. But some people might be more than willing to give these things to you.