Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

This is a pretty good list of downline effects. Regrettably it doesn't talk about solutions, only problems. So let's explore further...

(Obviously, warning for fallout from abuse, uncomfortable issues, and problems that are hard to solve.)

1. “Apologizing for other people’s behavior, making excuses for them or trying to build a logical reason for why they behave the way they do.

Often a bad sign, but not always. It's okay if you are backstopping for someone who is temporarily unable to respond or hasn't grown into it yet. Taking responsibility in that situation means that the mishap gets addressed instead of ignored, which helps maintain relationships. When it becomes a problem is if you do this for people who can and should take responsibility for their own fuckups.

2. “Overthinking.

Good if it leads to fewer problems. Bad if it wastes time and energy. The fault here is not the action (thinking) but the amount (over). There are ways to reduce overthinking.

3. “I put tons of pressure on myself then fall to pieces when I cannot handle the unbearable load.

Always a problem sooner or later. Everyone has a breaking point. Don't try to find yours face-first. Take little steps. You're not going to fix years of abuse all at once.

5. “Bottling up everything and never really asking for help because I feel like a liability. When I talk to somebody and they interrupt me to start talking and afterwards ask me what I was busy saying, I say, ‘I can’t remember’ in order to downplay how much it actually hurt me.

That's a trust-graph problem. If you are still surrounded by assholes, this does not mean you are a liability, it just means they don't care about you. Look for nicer people to be with who actually want to listen to what you say. Remaining silent around assholes is often prudent for safety reasons: correct distrust. However, if you are around nice people and still can't squeeze words out, that's under-trusting and shorts you on chances to socialize. There are ways to ask for help.

6. “Apologizing all the time. Being scared to do things because I feel like no matter how hard I try, I’ll get it wrong or disappoint someone.” — Laurie B.

Much like #1 and #5 above. Apologizing is a necessary skill, but overdoing can cause problems. Worrying that people will throw a fit if you're wrong is a credible threat in situations where they actually do so often, but not when people are tolerant of mistakes because everyone makes them sometimes.

7. “Now, as an adult, I realized a lot of my anger comes from having anger and abuse directed towards me as a child.” — Andrea V.

Traumatic rage is a serious issue that can fuck up your life. Most of the time people say that anger is the angry person's fault. This is incompletely true. People are responsible for choosing healthy ways to deal with their emotions. But if that learning process was broken by child abuse, that is not their fault, and they're not going to be any good at handling it until that damage is repaired and emotional regulation skills learned. Some folks work through it on their own, but most benefit from expert help. And never forget that anger is a sign of thwarted needs; it's there to keep you from being a doormat. Consider whether the things pissing you off need to be changed -- quit a job, move house, leave an irritating person, etc.

8. “Acting all big and tough, pretending like I don’t have a problem in the world.

This is among the riskiest symptoms. About a third of abuse survivors become abusers; about two-thirds do not. The more aggressive symptoms correlate with people learning "might makes right" and wanting a turn on top. People who try to present themselves as invulnerable are quite prone to attacking anyone who reveals their vulnerabilities.

9. “Flinching when people touch me or when they scream.

Dead giveaway, and important to shuck as soon as possible because it makes you look like easy meat and contributes to revictimization. Many human predators hunt for people who look like victims. (This doesn't make it the victim's fault, just means that abusers are lazy assholes. A decent person would either leave them in peace or ask if they're okay.) Fortunately these reflexes are among the most straightforward, if tedious, to repair. You need a safe situation and at least one friend to help you with it. Then you can practice safe touch, usually in very small amounts at first, expanding as you become more comfortable. Noises can be worked up to also. Just don't try to tone down these protective reflexes until you really are in a secure context. If you're in danger, they suck but you still need them. And for other folks: don't grab people without permission. An abuse survivor will flinch; a veteran might throw you down the stairs before he realizes you're not trying to kill him. Grabbing is always rude and occasionally risky.

10. “[I] make fun of my own emotions, call myself names when I’m acting emotional,

People who are mistreated learn to mistreat themselves and others. This can make anyone's life miserable. Again, it's straightforward though not easy to fix. Practice self-compassion. This will also make you more compassionate in general, which is typically good.

11. “I’m so afraid of my loved ones dying.

Big existential issues like this usually require a foundation of other intrapersonal skills. The best you can do early on is work on practical skills and try to build connections with people so that losing one person won't take out your entire support system. Even this much is difficult when you want to hide under a rock because your soul hurts. But later on, there are ways to make peace with death. One thing that may help at any stage is making friends with folks in death-friendly cultures. For instance, Mexicans picnic in cemeteries to spend time with their ancestors. Since friends influence each other, sometimes this helps.

12. “Always saying ‘yes,’ because if I say ‘no,’ I will feel like a bad girl.

Another way to ruin anyone's life. Everyone needs the skill of saying no. Here are some effective ways to say no. For other folks, sometimes you can help by prefacing a question or request with "It's okay to say no."

13. “If I make a decision, even a small decision [like] switching toothpaste brands, I panic because I don’t know if I’m making the right decision because I was conditioned to never trust myself.

This one you can fix with logic. It won't make the panic go away quickly -- that often takes time to wear off -- but it can get you unstuck in a reasonably short period. If you like therapy, ask for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on this topic. Use the engineering model for decision-making. It gives you a good chance at a workable first solution, and if not, you just loop back and try something else. Panic is for things you can't affect. Logic works on most situations because you can usually keep trying until you find a solution that works. Also as a general rule, have a Plan B. Failure is much less scary when you know a thing to do next. Meanwhile, there are other skills for coping with panic.

14. “When people raise their voice at me, I automatically shut down.

Very difficult to fix in yourself, especially without therapy. However, you can ask people who care about you to disagree quietly; if they really care, they will work on that. Other folks in general can try to avoid shouting at people, and especially watch for anyone who shuts down when yelled at. That really is a big trauma clue. You may not be able to get them back in their body quickly, but you can avoid making it worse by shutting your mouth.

15. “Being too careful and reserved when I meet new people, which makes them think I’m either not interested or even arrogant.

Different ways to handle this include:

* Study how to meet people and make friends. For any problem in the huge field of "I have no idea what normal looks like," great improvement can be made fairly fast by deliberately researching and practicing those skills. You can do it on your own or seek a support group or therapist for this.

* Look for extroverts who love to talk and do things, and will carry more of the weight for you. Some of them love to spill to anyone who will listen.

* Or look for other folks who are reserved for various reasons. You both may have a devil of a time getting connected, but at least you understand each other.

* Seek situations that give you lots of opportunities to interact with people, but not too much pressure. Hobbies and volunteering are often good. As long as the opportunities keep coming, it's okay if you flub them, there will be more.

But don't lose your alertness to danger signals. Not everyone is someone you want to be with.

16. “I immediately cave in any confrontation.

See above #12 and #14. You need to be able to stand up for yourself. This is hard to learn, and you can't until you're in a safe place. Until then, avoiding confrontation is a survival skill. Once you're safe, then you can practice assertiveness.

17. “Over-explain myself and talk really fast because I was always talked over and ridiculed for everything I said.

Not dangerous, but uncomfortable and bad for your relationships. However, conversational skills are straightforward to learn, can be acquired in reasonable time, and give you a lot of bang for your buck. Choose from articles or books for self-help, or take a class. This is also one of the things that can be taught in therapy modules usually running just a few weeks or months, which is nice if you're afraid of unending therapy. This also combines really well with #15 above.

18. “Living my life being nearly unbearably lonely because I’ve found acceptance from so few and ridicule and betrayal from so many.

Sadly, a lot of people are dicks. If you want to be with nice people, that can take a while, but it is usually better to be alone than to be mistreated. Among the best solutions for this particular issue is to look for a support group. As abuse is common, there are many with this theme, and any good support group will give you acceptance and company as well as helping you cope with the issue itself.

19. “Silence. As a kid, I learned that speaking up about how I was feeling would only lead to more pain. As an adult, I struggle to communicate my feelings because I’m always afraid I will be dismissed, attacked or ignored.

Almost all abuse survivors have difficulty identifying and expressing their feelings. You can start on communication skills as with #17 above. One nice thing about this issue is that, while you can practice it with other people, you don't have to. You can work on feelings by yourself. That makes this a fantastic topic at the beginning of your journey if you're too scared to interact with others. Sometimes it helps to get a big list of feelings (now available in text) and study them or try to find them in yourself. The more words you have, the easier it is to name what you feel. This is another topic that has short to medium term therapy modules, if you like having help.

20. “I’m terrified of authority figures.

This can be impossible to fix in a barbaric society. If you're black in America, fearing the police is a valid survival technique. However, if you want to work on it, there are some fantastic authority figures and some of them make a practice of helping people overcome these fears. Also in any organization, there's usually at least one person that everybody looks up to and turns to for help. Try them, they're a good bet for this. For authority figures: watch for this clue because it's very common in survivors. Since about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted, you are guaranteed to be interacting with some -- and that's just one type of trauma. Watch for folks who seem scared or withdrawn, and try to be extra gentle. If you don't know how, get trauma-informed training, which will save you many headaches.
Tags: #1, #12, #14, #15, #17, #5, how to, safety
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