Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Survivor

I read something online recently and it got me thinking. The quote was about abuse survivors, but I think it can be extended to victims of other types of (complex) trauma, too.

The author states that to them, there is no difference between someone being “not obviously pleased” and someone being “obviously displeased”.

Similarly, they note that there is no difference between someone showing “signs of being angry” and someone showing “no signs of not being angry”.

This is something I relate to undoubtedly: If there is no strong and overt evidence to the contrary, I automatically believe the worst case in any situation or scenario.

If someone isn’t directly expressing positivity or warmth towards me, I will jump straight to assuming that there is only something negative and threatening going on. Even if they are being totally neutral in reality, this is what my entire brain and body will believe.

It is not just a cognitive process. It is a visceral, bodily, all-encompassing trauma response – felt on all levels.

So why does this happen? Why is my internal smoke detector set to the absolute highest sensitivity level? Why does it ring constantly in response to even the most negligible of stimuli? (To the point that it often cannot differentiate reality from fiction.)

In line with what the author touched on, I think it goes back to childhood trauma. Some children grow up not knowing when people are going to switch on you and when; not knowing who’s safe or trustworthy; not knowing who the good guys and the bad guys are; not knowing when the good guy is about to become bad again; not knowing who’s going to protect and who’s going to harm.

Some of these children will go on to develop an understanding that the world cannot be trusted; that it is better to fear than to risk trusting; that it is wiser to be safe than sorry; that a lack of overt goodness is a warning sign of inherent badness; and that these beliefs are ones which extend to all manner of relationships.

And whilst once upon a time those beliefs used to serve you and kept you safe from the world, they also kept you far away from it.

Now these beliefs are maladaptive. You have few friends. You spend most of your time alone. Everything triggers you and you’re in a constant state of paranoia and hypervigilance. You feel chronically alone in the world. You struggle immensely with intimacy. You trust no one.

And you are working on it daily, but it is a really tricky place to come back from. When it is all you have ever known, and your brain wiring is all messed up because of what you lived through and how you experienced it. And now with this messed up brain wiring, you have to try reverse the damage. You have to use your faulty brain to repair your faulty brain and it is so very challenging… and also slightly ironic.

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12 thoughts on “Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Survivor

  1. thank you for sharing this! you explain this in the exact words I struggle to find for myself. the hardest part is explaining something to someone when ya don’t even understand yourself. THIS is where we all need each other for support! much love to youπŸ’ž
    I also will share this with my husband! πŸ˜‰

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  2. this explains the constant stream of ‘Are you angry with me?’ questions from my daughter! Where I’m struggling to join the dots is how she got to this state without childhood trauma. I can see there’s a mismatch between our emotional styles but how was that enough to cause such a lack of trust? It’s a painful question as a parent 😒

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    • What may have felt emotionally traumatising to her may not seem like it could to you? You may be unaware of how she experienced certain things in her childhood or later on and the extent to which they impacted her? I’m sure it must be an extremely painful thing to deal with as a parent, I know mine find it very hard. But I’ve told them time again, I know they were only doing their best through everything. They are not bad parents, this isn’t their fault etc. They just weren’t able to give me what I needed, and as a child, some of the experiences I went through felt highly traumatising indeed – not that they ever knew it. It’s a really complicated thing. Have you read “The Highly Sensitive Person?”. It helped my Mum understand me a little more….. Take care

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      • No I haven’t read that one … I’ve read a couple on BPD which were really helpful and I’ve heard of it…I’ll give it a go, thanks. It’s a horrible feeling as a parent to find that you haven’t provided the support your child needed, when all you ever wanted was to give them the best. It’s interesting that your parents didn’t know about what traumatised you …we had no idea that our lass was highly sensitive or emotional as she kept it all hidden.

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      • I can only imagine what’s it’s like as a parent to be in that position when you try so hard to provide all the love and support you have. Not everyone with BPD has the same sort of trauma so please don’t take my word for it – it is just a common and typical experience to have had an “early invalidating environment”. The experience of feeling invalidated is again, subjective. A highly sensitive person could find something traumatising which another person might not think twice about. Also, I’m sure there are a lot of traumatised individuals who don’t necessarily realise it even within themselves. I wonder if it would be worth talking to your daughter about her experiences of her childhood – not sure how that would go though! So much luck to all of you…… Take care

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  3. Wow, this really resonated with me. It tends to happen to me all the time, and I’ve never really understood why I always ask people whether they’re angry with me, or whether I maybe did or said something wrong. Thanks for the post. πŸ™‚

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