I was feeling anxious this evening. My partner was not himself and I could feel that he was emotionally low. The situation was making me stressed and even when he had explained the way he was feeling, which had nothing to do with me or anything I had said or done, I still felt my anxiety slowly increasing. I realised that I needed some space to centre myself. In fact what I wanted to do was run a mile, but that wasn’t an option. In the end, I opted for a bath.
As I was about to get in the bath, I saw a notification that Gabor Maté was doing a live post and answering questions being posted, so I tuned in. There was a question about triggers and he discussed how if you are triggered by a situation, why this provides an opportunity to look at what the original trauma was that is causing you to have this response. It made me realise I was triggered and I wondered why this was.
For me it was about when I was growing up. If my mother was in a bad mood, whether angry, irritated, sulking, stressed or whatever else, the onus lay on the family to placate her and help her to feel better. This was done no matter what it took and irrespective of any personal cost to yourself. It was paramount that she felt better. It could be apologising for something you had or had not done, no matter how inconsequential; it could be taking a drink or tea or a meal into her room, assuming she would let you in. Sometimes you just had to stop whatever you were doing and sit with her, as she wanted company and wanted it now. I lost track of the number of apologies I gave for things I had not done, until I hit about 16 and swore I would never apologise for anything to anyone, ever again. (Teenagers – so dramatic! Of course I did….)
Then I got married and again was in a cycle of appeasing and placating and soothing the narcissistic brow. I would do anything to stop the verbal attacks. It took me a long time to learn that you couldn’t argue back. It was a futile exercise, as it led to gaslighting, confusion, manipulation and the nastiness that these type of people excel at. Eventually I adopted a strategy of putting a pillow over my head and trying not to listen, but I was so anxious that I was on high alert and couldn’t shut it out, no matter how hard I tried. I had to listen; I was in fight, flight or freeze and had to be aware of the danger, to know what to do next. I hadn’t been able to make the situation better by apologising, placating, pleading or anything else, so rather than make the situation worse, I chose silence. If you don’t say anything, you can’t say the wrong thing. Often these dressing downs took place late at night, after which I was unable to sleep for several hours. Only when I was certain that my ex was asleep, and had been so for at least an hour, did I start to calm down enough to get drowsy, knowing that I had to be up early with whichever child woke up first. If his sleep was disturbed after a “session”, then everything would flare up again.
My stress this evening was directly because of this previous trauma of always having to make sure my mother or ex-husband was okay. My partner wasn’t 100% and that surely spelled out trouble, or so was the message my body was telling my mind. The knot in my stomach was feedback that evoked the memory of previous situations.
The positive side of all of this is that I can see how far I have come along the road of recovery. It was not so long ago that I would have reverted to my old patterns of doing anything to help “fix” the situation. It was not so long ago that I would not have been able to identify a trigger, much less where it came from. Healing is possible.