Verbal punches and brain changes

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When someone delivers a physical blow, no one questions whether or not damage has been done to the victim, and no one tries to deflect the blame from the perpetrator. The bruises, scratches and broken bones are there for all to see.

Until relatively recently, abusers have been able to hide behind the smokescreen provided by the societal perception that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. Of course, verbal, psychological and emotional abuses go well beyond name-calling, and yet, victims of this most insidious and devastating form of abuse face an uphill battle when it comes to being taken seriously. Already in a depleted emotional and cognitive state, with energy levels at a lifetime low, they rarely have the wherewithal to pursue understanding, let alone deliverance, from their personal hell.

Legislation however, is beginning to catch up with the truth. There’s a long way to go yet but the first seeds have been sown, at least in my own county – Australia. Most other nations are lagging a long way behind.

But I’ll save the legislative changes for another post. Today, I want to shed a little light on what emotional/verbal abuse victims have known for millenia, and which is only now being backed up by the latest research from neuroscience. To put it in very plain English, recent studies have proved that the brain changes that occur as a result of physical abuse are exactly the same as the changes that occur as a result of emotional, verbal and psychological abuse. In other words, the source of the abuse doesn’t matter. The brain encodes it the same way, regardless. The bottom line is that all abuse is physical.

That means the long term effects are identical. Well … almost. It has also been established that only one form of abuse consistently leads to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(CPTSD). Surprisingly, it’s not sexual or physical abuse. It’s our old foe – emotional, psychological and verbal abuse. Although physical and sexual abuse are usually accompanied by emotional control and abuse, on their own they don’t lead to long term CPTSD. Emotional/verbal/psychological abuse however, is a reliable predictor of CPTSD without any other form of abuse being present. It’s a sobering thought, and something few therapists or authorities are aware of.

Knowledge is empowering. Spread the word.

 

Sources:

http://www.narcissismaddictionsabuse.com

https://www.psychologytoday.com

http://www.blueknot.org.au

More on Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in a future post.

 

 

 

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There Once Was a Little Girl

I’ve been quiet for the past couple of months, dealing with health issues and wondering exactly what the next stage in life will bring. Then along came this beautiful and moving blog post from Secret Angel. She touches at the very root of the pain and brings it into the light. Whatever you do … read this today … and listen to the song, ‘Broken Girl’. It could just as easily be ‘Broken Boy.’

The Abuse Expose' with Secret Angel

There once was a little girl…
who felt so all alone.
And even though she was loved…
affection was rarely ever shown.
So she grew up lonely…
feeling isolated and without worth…
even though she had a big family…
and the middle child in order of birth.

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Using vulnerability against you; aka throwing your past in your face

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Sad face, masque

Image courtesy of FreeDigitaalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles

So you’ve put your past behind you? You’ve been to therapy and turned yourself inside out in order to deal with your demons and find the silver lining on your clouded past. Life’s been tough but you’re an overcomer. Good for you! Most people don’t have the courage. Well done. You’re going from strength to strength, right?

Hang on a minute! There’s someone in your life who thinks differently; someone you love, or someone who is an unavoidable part of your life who’s not letting you move on; who doesn’t recognize your growth. Each and every time you’re discussing an issue; trying to make your point heard; simply baring your soul, or building a bridge – what happens?

‘Oh … but you’ve had three failed relationships.’ ‘Oh … but you never finished your education.’ Or how about my personal favourite – ‘You’re sick in the head because of your past childhood sexual abuse. Everything you do and say is coloured by it. That’s why your so angry all the time.’

The implication? You failure, you! You hopeless case. You value-less human being. Why should anyone EVER listen to what you say? Or believe you? Who cares about the circumstances you’ve struggled through and healed from? You will forever be a disappointment in their eyes – the subject of derision and devaluation. Why? Because it makes them feel better to believe that. Because if they look fairly and squarely at what you’ve been through … what you’ve conquered … they’ll have to admit they couldn’t do what  you did. They’re not strong enough.

And so they throw it in your face – time and time again.

You’ll find yourself endlessly wanting to have rational discussions about the issues and difficulties of life; of your relationship … but you’ll find yourself dragged back down to one point … one and only point. Your shortcomings … your vulnerabilities … your past. You’ve dealt with it … but they haven’t. So they use it against you – to WIN. To silence you. To win the power struggle that is their sole goal. Abusers view every interaction as a win/lose situation and they’re determined that they’ll win and you’ll lose. Psychologically healthy individuals realize that, where relationships are concerned, when one person loses, the whole relationship loses. The ‘winner’ gains power but never intimacy.

If you find yourself bringing up the same grievances time and time again, look for the bait you’re being thrown to distract you from the issue at hand. Distraction is one of the most manipulative tools a controlling person can use against you. It confuses you; throws you off the trail and makes you instantly the bad guy, no matter what the other party has done to harm you. It just one more ugly game in their repertoire. Don’t fall for it. And remember, mud sticks best to the cleanest wall.

 

 

 

 

Unleash the Flying Monkeys!

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So what on earth is a flying monkey?

image of flying monkey

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/

saphatthachat

The term ‘flying monkeys’ is derived from that all-time movie classic, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, in which the wicked witch of the west sends out her nasty little troupe of flying monkeys to inflict torment on Dorothy and her trusty trio.

In popular psychology it is used to describe the people an abuser enlists to back her up, join in with blaming the victim, name-calling, put-downs, the silent treatment and other crazy-making behaviour. Once groomed and recruited, flying monkeys invariably perceive the narcissistic abuser as the innocent party and are outraged at what they believe the real victim has done. They have it ass backwards.

Why it works so well

Narcissists carefully construct a false public image while projecting their real self, with all its ugly traits, onto their chosen target. Because an abuser never attacks in public, people find it extremely difficult to believe she’s anything but the lovely, caring person she pretends to be when she has an audience. Frankly, it’s disturbing to witness how fast she can switch from raging virago to Mrs Happy-Go-Lucky in less than a heartbeat. If you’re unlucky enough to be in a relationship with someone like this, you’ve already seen how fast she can go from sweet to psycho in private. Trust me when I say she is equally able to switch back the other way should a witness come close to walking in on one of her rages.

The narcissist chooses her flying monkeys carefully. She’ll only enlist those she knows will take her side and carry out her bidding, whether she has expressly told them what she wants them to do or whether the process is achieved in more subtle ways. Sadly, the most vulnerable potential monkeys are the abusers own children or other family members and, of course, her best friends. It’s likely they’ll even mimic her behaviour as a matter of course, since she has already portrayed you (consistently) to the be the crazy one, the one at fault, the one who deserves to wear all the guilt and shame. Because they’ve rarely, if ever, been privy to her craziness, they simply accept her version of the truth and go after you with all the self-righteous indignance they can muster, adding a lot of heated fuel to her attack  on you.

As the more responsible parent (or sibling, or child), you have most likely consciously avoided embroiling your children (or siblings or other family members) in your spousal troubles, trying to protect them from the ugly reality that you face on a daily basis. You have been set up like a row of bowling pins. If the first bowler doesn’t knock you out, subsequent bowlers – the flying monkeys – will. The group attack was carefully planned by your abuser.

It’s imperative to trust your own reality – to know who you are, how you operate, and what your values are. An onslaught from your abuser and her hoard of flying monkeys is akin to all-out psychological warfare, and will leave you with all the post-traumatic stress that accompanies battle.

 

 

 

Shoud’ve could’ve would’ve

Every now and then, I come across a piece of writing so beautiful it speaks directly to my heart. I found this post on a fellow blogger’s site – The Warrior’s Guide – and wanted to share it for its poignancy. It makes me wish I’d written it myself.

The Warrior's Guide

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I once read that the saddest word ever is “almost”.

She almost loved him.
They were almost together.
He almost survived.

So many times we are scared by our own greatness, afraid of what we are capable of in our full capacity. Our successes scare the heck out of ourselves sometimes.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Even scarier, what would you do if you knew you would not fail? We as people rarely know how strong we are. In the life I left behind I learnt many things that should always be remembered…

When you think you can go no further, only then are you half way.

You only know how strong you are when being strong is the only option. And when you hit your lowest point, you have the greatest capacity to change.

People in an old age home were asked what they regretted of…

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Retraumatization – what happens when you’re triggered.

The greatest gift you are ever going to give someone – the permission to feel safe in their own skin. To feel worthy. To feel like they are enough.

Hannah Brencher

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com/Chrisroll

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com/Chrisroll

Of the hundreds of people with whom I’ve interacted via this blog and on facebook, not one who has been on the receiving end of relentless emotional abuse feels ‘safe’ – not in their own skin, not in the company of others nor in contact with their outer or inner worlds.

I have been there. Sometimes I still am. One word, one look, one innuendo can jettison me back through time so fast that I become that child, that spouse; you know, the one who will never be good enough, all over again. In less than a heartbeat I am metaphorically tossed onto the cold hard tiles I was once brutally thrown on in a physical sense. The emotional pain though, runs deeper, right to the arteries, until I feel I’ll surely bleed to death without the slightest scratch to evidence my injury. I find myself fighting the urge to curl into the tiniest, tiniest ball – like some deformed foetus – and crawl into the farthest corner of the darkest cupboard – until the end of time. It is an agony to just ‘be’.

When I am ‘triggered’ like this, I am fighting the urge to ‘not be’ … that is, to not exist. I want desperately to flee to the arms of the Great I Am. There is no solace on this earth. But I stay. I breathe through it. I think of my children and my grandchildren … and I resist the compulsion to run into the night and take the path to the cliff edge a short walk from here. Once there, I know I would fall … because I would want to fall.

This woundedness is something I will probably never completely recover from. Such things are embedded too deep in the psyche and surrounded by a dense network of pain, and nightmarish fears that have been reinforced over and over again.

A  Jungian psychologist would refer to this phenomenon, I believe, as a complex. The existence of complexes is almost universally agreed upon in the field of depth psychology. The underlying assumption is that the most important influences on your personality are deep in the unconscious (Dewey, 2007). Because they are buried so deep they are often unavailable to our consciousness, making mediation of the intense emotions evoked by activation of a complex extraordinarily difficult. Many psychologists hold that, indeed, complexes are impossible to cure and can, at best, be managed.

Unlike the other aspects of consciousness, complexes are peculiarly autonomous. They either force themselves on our awareness, breaking through the inhibitory processes of consciousness, or will hide from us, refusing to be brought to awareness at will. They can be both obsessive and possessive. When they break through, believe me, they are in charge of you. That makes them both scary and destructive.

So there I was … recently. Triggered. Wanting to die. Wanting to disappear. And having no idea how to handle the situation.

This story has a happy ending, however … and I believe such happy endings are rare. There is one ingredient … one unique and rare ingredient … that brings about healing. I have found it. I have been gifted with it. My next post will elaborate. Love and light to all who read this.

 

 

 

 

Do Emotional Abusers Know What They’re Doing?

 

Vampire girl

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The short answer is, it depends. A true narcissistic personality is utterly conscious of the ways in which they are manipulating and hurting you. And they simply don’t care. More than that, it gives them pleasure, a sense of superiority and control. It is a big part of their psychopathology. Other abusers, who don’t score highly enough on narcissistic traits to be labelled with full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder, may simply be repeating patterns they learned in childhood and in subsequent relationships. I say ‘simply’, but the process via which it happens is far from simple, nor is it simple to unravel and to heal.

Mostly though, people don’t fit neatly into two separate categories – pathological abuser and ‘ordinary’ abuser, for instance. Personality traits aren’t ‘either/or’, but exist on a bipolar continuum, meaning they range from mild to severe, depending on the person, and also on the circumstances or environment in which that person acts. So…looking again at whether or not abusers do what they do purposefully…I can’t make that assessment for you, but may be able to help you fathom the answer as it relates to your personal situation.

On blogs and discussion groups you’ll find professionals and lay-people alike debating this question and coming out in favour of one side or the other. So how do you tell the difference?

  1. Look for the lies

If your partner consistently lies, chances are they are fully aware of what they’re doing. There is one school of thought that suggests narcissistic personalities are so adept at deceiving themselves, they actually believe their own lies. I have rarely witnessed this to be the case. There’s a reliable way of finding out, however.

If you catch them in a lie, bring it to their attention in a non-accusatory way. Simply state the truth and that you are aware you’ve been lied to. Then wait for the reaction.

The abuser who is aware she is lying will immediately go for the jugular – yours! It will be swift and brutal. (If you don’t keep your wits about you, you’ll be the one who ends up apologizing.) The response you get will likely have absolutely nothing to do with the point you’ve just made but will be something pulled out of thin air to deflect from their own guilt. They will, instead, hark back to the past and throw some perceived, and entirely irrelevant misdemeanor of yours in your face. And because you care about how they feel, you will likely take the bait. It’s a trip to hell.

2. Their body language and facial expression will reveal the truth.

Image from Springbrook - showing an ancient beech tree with twisted roots.

The cold, soulless eyes tell you all you need to know

There’s a phenomenon I have come across countless times during my discussions with targets of emotional abuse. There is something soulless about the eyes and expression of an abuser who clearly has sadistic tendencies. Their eyes will go black. Their facial expressions will be incredibly cold. There is something ‘frozen’ and reptilian about the face that looks back at you. You’ll feel chilled to the bone and very frightened, even if he/she has never laid a hand on you. Trust this instinct.

 

3. Your tears and genuine emotional pain will not move them.

This hardly needs explanation. If you find yourself genuinely in pain and trying to reason with your abuser, tears in your eyes, your heart breaking … and it fails to move them … they are very aware of what they’re doing. In the words of my own abuser, ‘I knew what I was saying and doing was wrong, and it wasn’t true … but I just wanted to stick it to you.’ He felt that was a perfectly reasonable explanation. I’ll go out on a limb here and disagree with numerous ‘experts’, many of whom have never experienced this first hand, and say it’s utterly inappropriate to excuse these people on the grounds that the poor things don’t have the capacity for empathy. Oh dear, isn’t it sad? They don’t have the capacity for intimacy. They’ll never really experience real love. While that may be true, abusers in this category don’t value things like intimacy – so they aren’t suffering at all. You are. And they don’t give a hoot.

 

The Bottom Line

Does it really matter if they’re aware of their effect on you, or not? You can’t change them. In fact, from the point of view of ‘tough love’, leaving them to it may give them the only chance they have of facing their demons and becoming better people. It’s not your job. Not your circus. Not your monkeys. The harder you try, the more you will fail. Narcissists already think you are in their lives for one reason only, and that is to make them the centre of your universe. The harder you try, the more you are feeding them what they want – the popular terminology for what you are to them is ‘narcissistic supply’. You are being sucked dry by an emotional vampire and therapists and researchers agree that the chances of positive change are very, very small.

Do you want to waste years of your life hoping for the unattainable?

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Nanowrimo participation

Well, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, right? After only one week of participating in the NaNoWriMo writing challenge, my mother was carted – unexpectedly – off to hospital. After a five and a half hour drive to be with her, I found out the news was anything but good.

Fast forward to today, and we see my lovely mum ensconced in a nursing home; a very sad day for the whole family, especially my mother. Naturally, I’ve had little else on my mind and have been lurching from day to day, just surviving the demands and the worry of the past few weeks, while saddled with chronic and disabling health issues.

Nano – I bid you adieu until next year.

 

 

Silence Has A Sound

There is no better method of letting someone know they mean nothing to you, than to ignore their existence. The silent treatment is both cruel and cowardly. My fellow blogger and abuse survivor, The Narcissist’s Wife, describes the turmoil and pain so eloquently, I need to put a trigger warning here. I thank her for her courageous effort.

The Narcissist's Wife

It’s been almost a full 24 hours since I last saw, or heard from, my husband.

Where is he?

I couldn’t tell you. He doesn’t call, and all the friends that he could be with, don’t respond to my texts inquiring as to his whereabouts. Super awesome.

I guess we’re in full blown Silent Treatment, now.

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Don’t you dare! (criticize your abuser)

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“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Voltaire

Image of man covering his ears

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As soon as I came across the above quote by Voltaire, notable French enlightenment writer and philosopher, I knew it would form the basis of my next post. With his own experiences of imprisonment for his outspoken stance against the Church, he ought to know a little about who rules whom, and the consequences of overstepping the mark.

As do you and I, fellow abuse survivors. Remember what happened the last time you leveled a rational and well-deserved criticism at your tormentor?

I’ll bet the whole of Hades came crashing in upon your head, raining verbal pitchforks at your heart and your sanity. No matter how constructively or how mildly you phrased your complaint; no matter how reasonable your request for change; no matter how you sugared the pill to prepare him, your punishment was assured; served swiftly and with devastating cruelty. Am I right?

Abusers perceive as an attack, virtually everything you say that doesn’t line up with their world view, or their view of themselves. As we have already discussed in previous posts, an abuser’s view of him or herself is way off beam. Abusers can’t face what they see in the metaphorical mirror, and they certainly can’t tolerate you pointing out the truth, even when it should be clear that your aim is conflict resolution and family harmony. I made the ‘mistake’ of taking my marriage vows too seriously. Included in our ceremony were a number of special vows in which we promised to support each other in becoming everything the Creator meant us to be. To me, it seemed obvious that to uphold that vow, we needed to confront each other, albeit gently, about actions and words that were not moving us in a positive direction.

But it’s the ‘truth’ that unhinges them and sends them into defensive mode. You get to sit back and listen to them trot out all the Freudian defense mechanisms in an attempt to make you into the bad guy, and reassert themselves as the righteous and perfect one. Or, in the words of my particular abuser, ‘the well-calibrated one.’ (While I, of course, was the ‘nutjob.’)

In fact, you don’t even need to criticize. All you need to do is hold a differing opinion or express an emotion they don’t understand or agree with. Such is their disordered thinking and sense of entitlement.

This process is explained in detail in Patricia Evans series of books:
‘The Verbally Abusive Man’, ‘The Verbally Abusive Relationship’, and ‘Controlling People’.

(Please bear with me while I work on fixing the links to these books. In the meantime they can be found at the bottom of this page … An Abuser Hides His True Self.

I devoured her writing, turning page after page, while uncovering an increasingly vivid picture of my abuser. I can’t recommend her work enough.

An abuser doesn’t see you for the unique individual you are. You are simply an extension of him or herself, and are therefore expected to conform to the needs and expectations of that fragile, unrealistic self. If you don’t, you are instantly perceived as a threat … a very real threat to the meticulously constructed false self your abuser so desperately clings to. Every time you open your mouth and express your individuality, your abuser loses his cool. In his eyes, he is protecting himself from an attack … an attack that is not actually happening.

Most of us, when confronted by our loved ones with complaints about our behaviour, look within ourselves, consider the feelings of the complainant, and seek to address the issues. Naturally, the complaints will sting, but beyond an initial discomfort, we are still capable of acting and reacting in ‘adult mode’. On the other hand, an abuser is ever a child; prone to tantrums, lies, denials, projection and blame … in fact, anything that works to keep them at the top of the power struggle. Their sole purpose is to win. Too bad if you are crushed or your children suffer from the collateral damage. They don’t care.

So think carefully. Are you afraid to speak your mind? Have you read all the articles advising you to use ‘I messages’ and to time your criticisms wisely, yet when you do, you still find yourself on the receiving end of an abusive tirade? Do you spend hours rehearsing in your mind, the best way to approach even the slightest grievance? Do you find yourself feeling physically sick and full of anxiety at the very thought of bringing up an issue?

If you can answer yes to any of the above, my heart goes out to you. It will take nothing short of a miracle to effect change. I wish it were otherwise.

In truth, you are in an emotional straight-jacket. The person who is responsible for putting you there is the person you cannot, under any circumstances, criticize.