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.