Put The Gun Down
Warning for the reader: The stuff in this post is not exactly light morning reading and talks of PTSD, abuse, and its consequences. Consider watching a fox interact with a kitten, instead.
The struggle of anyone marked by abuse and trauma is to leave things that once served you well, things that were necessary to do, in the past. Often, especially if the trauma was constant, the frame induced by it and its reactions, its taught behaviours, become the frame in which your mind thinks. Not doing so gets you more trauma, so by the bare principle of the burnt hand, you learn quickly. But you also forget what came before, the frames and logic untainted by trauma, things that are now no longer useful and actively harmful.
Once the presence of trauma fades into the post-traumatic problems, discarding the frame that has been burned into your head is the largest part of recovery. Objectively knowing that nobody reasonable would yell at you for making a request is one thing, but daring to do so, ‘just in case’ somebody does yell at you for it, is a different process altogether. In this environment, a completely different frame, frighteningly new, you still have to function as a person, and seldomly will you have the grace or the energy to trace every single trauma-induced response, or the energy or extended grace to ask the person of whom you might suspect of starting to repeat the abuse any second now to disprove it. But you still have to function, on some level.
In the absence of another frame or worldview that enables you to keep functioning as required, it’s tempting to reconstruct the relationship that you were exposed to in the past, the very thing you just got out of, so you can keep fulfilling the requirements placed on you. You still have to go to work, make food, take care of your body, but now without any of the mechanisms that used to force you to do so. Previously, you had the threat of intense punishment of some variety hanging over you, and this indeed did make you go through life in a way more or less in a way people couldn’t see through. So… why not replicate the environment of abuse in you head, in a way ‘you can control’ and that is ‘tough love you need to hear’? There’s a million justifications, but now the threat is you deeming yourself a failure, rather than someone else. So you continue with that, because being self-critical and self-examining is a good thing that improves people.
But now you are abusing your own anxiety, panic and duress signal to perform basic acts of being alive, and this… works. Mostly. Running on what amounts to holding a gun to your own head to make yourself perform results in you continuously running on fumes, and you will start to break down. You will start to mess up more and more of your projects, and so you think you have become even more worthy of the abuse you are hurling at yourself. You yell at yourself harder. Your body and mind start to react to this with non-functioning instead of increased functioning. You yell at yourself harder to coerce this back into functioning. Something gives, you dissociate out. Nothing could be worth experiencing the inside of your own head, at this point. Your life deteriorates faster. This is the spiral that this dynamic engenders, and why it’s so dangerous.
The only sustainable resolution you have is to put the gun down1. You can’t yell at yourself to get things done and not hate yourself, you can’t yell at yourself and actually be happy. You need to put the gun down, to stop yelling at yourself, and to actually talk to yourself. Yes, life needs to continue to happen and you need to continue doing things to satisfy the requirements of life, but you also need to stop yelling at yourself. Whatever drops as the consequence of that is the lesser evil.
You need to take the step of making a friend of yourself. The angry, abused thing with trust issues that is prone to bursting into tears or staring into space. The first step has to be to talk to yourself and figure out what is helpful, what builds trust in yourself. Then you can look towards the things you want to achieve.
I say this because I dearly wish I recognised this earlier. I’ve spent years yelling at myself to perform to expectations placed on me, and it has done damage I’m only now discovering in areas I didn’t think were affected at all. It’s a seductive thing, because you’re in a position where you don’t think you are worthy of love and affection at all, and that makes recreating the previous environment more tempting.
Also, it never looks that straight-forwardly like recreating what came before. There’s always a million different ways to see and phrase it, but they all boil down to feeling like you are wrong and if you could just do things right, your life would finally right itself and you would stop suffering. Sadly, it’s never that easy and instead it’s nearly always a web of external requirements and pressures. But the best thing you can do there is to be able to trust yourself and to communicate with yourself. Not to turn it into a hostage situation, however good and pure the intentions. I wish I had seen that sooner.
It’s a phrase I nicked from Visa, who referred to ADHD and self-coercion in trying to get yourself to fit in with “normal society”. This, for me, is also the case, and it definitely did not help in this matter. It’s also not quite what I’m referring to here.. ↩