“Why do I always think that I’m somehow responsible when I experience abuse? Why do I feel confused when I know I did nothing to deserve the abuse I’m receiving? Why do I stay in abusive situations?”
Her mother’s messages were, “Don’t do anything to embarrass me; don’t tell your truth.” And “If your truth embarrasses me, you will loose my love because you will have done something wrong.” Can you see the circular reasoning in this pattern? The child had the actual experience, but the value is placed on how the child manages the parent’s second-hand experience. The message is, “Your truth about your experience is a lie.”
Everything about this circle of thinking invalidated a) her experience and b) herself as a person worthy of dignity. And the cost was shameful rejection.
Is this just the experience of one female client? No, it is the experience of many clients, men and women.
The reason that a person feels confused, even foggy, when facing challenging situations years after the invalidation/abuse took place is because their early experience establish a psychological algebra that is still employed to solve contemporary issues. The theorem is basically this, “If something goes wrong, it must be my responsibility and it is shameful; I’ll loose any love and respect others have for me.”
False theorems like this are difficult to undo; but not impossible. They are difficult because they are encoded in our brains and have established significant emotional and cognitive protective systems to keep them in place. It is not just a way of “thinking” about one’s experiences, it is also encoded in our conditioned emotional responses. Said differently, the body gets used to a certain reactive pattern. It is a well known pattern of vigilance and over functioning. It is also exhausting, often resulting in a low grade persistent depression and social anxiety.
So, what to do? Of course, therapeutic support by someone well versed in trauma and able to empathically walk with a person on his/her journey of self-discovery, dismantling false theorems is very helpful. And in this relationship, I encourage my clients to practice mindfulness breathing — a training exercise so that they can begin to stay centered in themselves and notice their thinking without attaching to their thoughts; they can take a step back so that they cease to merge with their thoughts. It takes the development of a sort of “mental muscle” that is foundational to being able to take the steep hike that is the journey of healing.
If you’d like a copy of my mindfulness breathing protocol, as a way to quiet your anxiety and prepare for deeper work, write to me: email@example.com; I’ll be happy to send you a copy. And please be kind to yourself; see me or another trauma informed therapist.
Permission was received to share the above by the client whose story prompted this reflection. It is, as previously stated, a story told by women and men in therapy consultation rooms everyday.