This post covers abusive relationships, co-dependency and CPTSD.
Please do not read if you feel this might not be helpful post, and be warned that it revisits those places
It is ultimately, about what we can do to recover from these places, however
Every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.
Susan Jeffers: Feel the fear and do it anyway.
I have found myself returning to this blog post to revisit it again today. It has been sitting in my drafts for nearly 4 years and the events that initially triggered it (and me) have long since passed. However sometimes the feelings it evoked, and the place those feelings came from, echo more loudly for me than at other times and I have to deal with it all over again. Because of my ongoing recovery these echoes are not so shattering as they once were but they do remind me that I need to take good care of myself out there. That is what I work hard to do these days. Sometimes it can just take a tweet or comment taken out of context that reminds me that seeking the approval of strangers is not a safe place for me. Other times it is witnessing this happening to others.
I will write further about how my co-dependency both feeds into D/s and also provides me with a place to open it up and explore it another time. For the moment this post is about co-dependency and abusive relationships and how they feed into CPTSD
I will also try to explain what it feels like when interactions trigger the CPTSD again.
Quite a while ago I was the subject of a bout of unpleasantness on Twitter which threatened to trigger a return of the CPTSD I developed during my long term relationship as a
result of my husband’s abusive behaviour and my co-dependency.
The nature of my husband’s abuse of me was based on emotional manipulation and destabilisation. He was volatile, cruel and capricious but also charming, mercurial and fascinating.
Of course he was. I am not a fool. I would not have stayed with someone openly hostile and unpleasant, but leaven your bad behaviour with just enough good, and like a frog slow boiled I will not recognise the heat of the water until it is too late to leap.
Once my internal locus of emotional balance was destabilised and dis-regulated by his tantrums and upset I responded as many empaths do. I became hyper-vigilant. My already remarkable sensitivity to other people’s moods and emotions became hyper, and became joined at the hip to my sense of stability being located in keeping him happy. I walked on eggshells, I taught my children to do the same. We all were co-opted into the everyday drama that was project “keep him happy at all costs”. This approach was lauded by many who saw me as ‘leaning in’ for the greater good.
The nature of my co-dependency was that I looked to him to tell me what to do in all aspects of my life. it didn’t start this way of course but slowly, slowly, by a process of undermining my confidence it became that. This dislocated my instincts to such an extent that I was not able to access my own opinions on matters. It meant that I had no clear boundaries with regard to him, and by the end of it, pretty much nearly anyone else at all. Their feelings would always be more important than my own, their opinions would take centre stage in my mind. I was a walking zombie, unable even to respond to a counsellor’s question about how I felt or what I thought without instantly modifying my responses to how I knew my husband would want me to answer. He had colonised my mind and sucked me dry of all my emotional energy and creativity. I was an empty husk.
As I attempted to recover a sense of myself his response was to erupt into violence (which I have documented previously), and then to blame me, shame me to my children and friends, and to spread rumours and half truths about me in the small town where I had a business and have lived for most of my adult life. It was devastating.
The justification for his behaviour was always his past, his hurt feelings, his unbearable sadness, and his personality. I felt I had always to extend myself to comfort him. When he returned, still drunk, from the hospital with a bandaged arm from putting it through our conservatory windows in the early hours of the morning, he wept on my shoulder in abject misery. Again his feelings took primacy. Again mine were numbed by shock, terror and fear.
The resulting trauma has taken me 7 years to recover from. My relationship with my eldest daughter has been a victim of this process and I no longer live with any of my four children. They see me differently now. They cannot un-hear what their father insisted I told them. This has been a terrible thing.
Given that I went through all of these things and survived enough to begin thriving, how did someone I don’t know and have no relationship with at all other than to be mutual followers on twitter manage to trigger the same kinds of feelings of shame, shock, betrayal, anxiety and fear in me? And how did it happen? How could I let it happen again?
To go back to the frog in a pot analogy – it heated up slowly. Over a period of at least a month I had become sensitised by a series of subtweets. The thing about subtweets is that you can’t be entirely sure that they are in fact aimed at you. You begin to question your judgement, wonder if you are just being paranoid, and in that moment begin to check constantly to see if you can make sense and understand it.
You become sensitised to their comments, to their presence and because of that begin to modify your own behaviour. You stop expressing opinions you might have, stop being your usual self because of how you might be being judged and because of that begin the process of losing yourself, losing your hard won self-hood again because of someone else’s behaviour.
Of course someone else’s opinion of me should not matter but remember I was trained so that it did. It takes a long time to retrain yourself to find your own internal compass and to learn to navigate stormy seas. I can be easily blown off course it seems.
Once the gloves were off and things spilt out onto my TimeLine for others to see and to comment on my defences were shot. I had no subtweet game, no witty one-liners, no one lining up alongside me, no one in front of me. I felt entirely alone with the jeers and sniggering. I was back in my kitchen where someone who constantly told me he loved me was throwing things at me. Back in that vulnerable, hateful place where I was ashamed of my inability to stand up for myself and simply stop it.
At that point. I retaliated. And that retaliatory tweet was there for all to see, it probably still is. My shame was re-established. I was discussed, dissected by people I don’t know, whose goodwill I could not count on and who seemed not to think this wasn’t OK because hurt feelings were involved and that justifies everything doesn’t it? It was not devastating but it was very hard.
I guess that ultimately what I have to take from this is that my recovery is ongoing. The ins and outs of this don’t really matter as no-one involved in a twitter spat comes out well. There are always justifications for behaviour based on ‘but she or he did that’.
And nobody is blameless, me included.
Ultimately though I do not ever want to go there again. Being polite and respectful is not dull but just that respectful. Taking responsibility for my own feelings is absolutely essential to me and policing my own boundaries in a healthier way is a necessary skill I need to develop, not just on twitter but in my personal life too.
Twitter and blogging is a positive in my life and I want to keep it that way, so I will put self care and compassion for myself above extending it to others if I need to. This goes against many years of doing exactly the opposite so I also have to accept that some days I will revert to my old behaviour. All I can do in those circumstances is to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.
So why am I posting this now? Because it happened, on a much smaller scale, again yesterday to me whilst Twitter itself engaged in some soul searching about the impact of pile-ons to celebrities. In our own small way what we do to each other we also do on a much larger scale because of the way social media works. I know that I cannot please everyone and I may offend or hurt people accidentally, but I do my best not too. If I slip up I will apologise, at the same time endeavouring to take good care of myself out there and I hope you do too.