I have found over time that a direct result of abuse is the visceral response that I have to the words being said and / or shouted at me. And it doesn’t just have to be my usual perpetrators. It is both the tone and the language employed by the other party that can set me off. (One of the teachers at my child’s school set me off when she was arguing with another parent, for example.)
What typically happens is I first start to become very sensitive to noise – people chattering in the background, a TV, laughter – anything. It becomes so loud to me, that I can’t hear clearly what the other party is saying. This is usually accompanied by shallower breathing, an increased heart rate and a feeling of going emotionally numb. The more the abuse continues, the more my hearing recedes until it takes all my effort to try and focus on what is being said. It sounds like I am in a tunnel with echoes bouncing off the walls, making it extremely difficult to distinguish the words from each other. I can feel parts of my brain closing down. It feels like it just stops working and that it is rapidly being replaced by something that can’t quite fit inside my skull and is trying to break out. If the abuse still continues, my peripheral vision starts to recede and I feel like I have blinkers on. By this point, I can barely form words. I cannot process what is being said to me, although I can take it in to some degree to think about later. My flight response is screaming at me, but usually I cannot move. My brain is so out of it, that I don’t know where to go to escape the situation and cannot rationally assess my options to make a decision. I can’t even register what options I may have. I certainly cannot make any decisions.
These episodes happen a lot less now that I don’t live with an abuser any longer. Interestingly for me though, is that listening to other people describe these same sensations, as well as me just talking about a situation that can induce this response, is enough to start me down the trauma reaction path. Even in a safe environment, I cannot stop it from happening. I can sometimes manage it better though.
I have been listening to an audio book called Educated by Tara Westover. She mentions having to lie to herself to believe that she is strong and not allowing weakness to show. How if people saw that she wasn’t strong, she would resent them. How she was prone to temper to release all the resentment – mostly directed at those who loved her and helped her. She also states how people being kind to her felt cruel. How she would prefer them yelling at her as this made her angry and the anger made her feel powerful and therefore able to talk and function. How she liked to try and control people and situations, as there was so much out of control in her life.
All of this that Tara has written about, I can identify with and it both saddens me and shocks me. Between these distortions that I have – I say distortion as quite often it is not a reflection of what is really going on around me, just my perception – I am becoming more acutely aware of the impact that the prominent people in my life have had on my behaviour. I have had to acknowledge in the last ten days or so, that I have a very long way to go still in healing all of this. It feels hard and heavy and onerous. But there is a part of my soul that knows it has to be done. Fuck it. I have to fix myself because of what was inflicted on me and because of what I tolerated because I didn’t know better then.