I'm safe and happy and loved! Why is that so hard?
March 30, 2013 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm finally in a safe place for the first time since my early childhood. And I feel like I'm… emotionally detoxing? Please help me understand what's going on.

Most of my life has been great; I've had opportunities for education and travel, great friends, access to books and nature and music. However, some things have been…not great. I'm going to share here the sad things to hopefully illustrate what I think I'm reacting to.

* When I was 12 my mother moved out to go to college far away. My father - explicitly, he told me this many times - told me that it was now my job to "replace" her and take care of everything she had done. I quit activities to be home in time for my younger brother, and a normal day would be: me making breakfast, walking him to school after getting his backpack together ect, going to my school, running home to make him a snack and check over his homework, then doing my own, making dinner, reading or talking to a friend, then getting him and myself ready for bed. I had a chore schedule and learned how to cook some basic things. I think I did a pretty good job of taking care of him, although I was kinda crap at house stuff (I still don't know how to hang a picture frame or fix the garbage disposal).

I did not do a good job of taking care of my father (he told me once he felt closer to me than he did his wife, while we were alone in the car, and while that seems like nothing it remains one of the most deeply disturbing and creeped-out moments I've had in my life).

He ended up becoming a pretty bad alcoholic and stopped providing the things I needed to take care of us, like groceries or lunch money. He was still going to work but we were deeply in debt and things weren't being paid, because I had no idea of the finances. Things were going okay until I was 16 and then got pretty terrible with his drinking - I ended up sleeping with some of my male 'friends' for money to get us both lunch money for awhile. My mom had no idea anything was going on because she wasn't there. The one time she noticed a lot of alcohol gone my father blamed me and my friends for having a party and drinking it. I was physically sick a lot in those days (mono, strep, ect) but managed to still do fine in school, so I got into a good college and left as soon as I could. When I was 18 my mother moved back so, since I knew my brother was safe, I immediately moved out.

*I had no job or car so I couldn't really take care of myself; I ended up in a relationship with a guy because he let me stay there and it felt better than at home. But that relationship became… abusive, let's leave it at that. I got out of that when it became physical but not too much later, because I am a total idiot, ended up in another relationship that would become much, much worse.

* I was still with guy2 when I graduated college, also graduating very pregnant. For that first little bit of parenting he was actually really helpful and I thought everything would be fine for once. My father was furious at me for not getting an abortion but he still helped out financially a little bit, which was very nice, and my mother let us live with her so that she could keep the house (she couldn't pay it herself).

Then things got bad with him. Really, really, really bad. Emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, some… really icky sexual things… Let's just flag this 'bad' and move on.

With the help of my very good friend I escaped that and she and I have been happily living together ever since. I knew that it might be hard when I got out with my child, but….I felt totally fine. Genuinely. (He's disappeared entirely since then, so I'm hoping after enough no-contact time goes by (which will be soon!) she can adopt him and we'll be safe forever.)

And for a long time since then I felt supremely happy with my life. I'd done very well academically at a demanding college so I now have a career I love, we have a lovely home and big family (and more on the way! So some of this below might be pregnancy hormones.) I have hobbies and friends and books and just generally stuff is awesome. Now: some of that family includes our mutual husband. We are all completely content with each other. And I know I am completely, utterly safe with him, as I am with them both.

But apparently this is causing a problem.

During this entire bad stretch of life, I managed things emotionally fine. I mean, I kept a good face of cheer for everyone. I worked, did well in school, volunteered. I wasn't even that sad, just sort of…numb at times. A few times in my adolescence I contemplated suicide and injured myself, but never in a way that'd actually threaten any damage (my scars are from other people). But once I was past all those hormones I stopped that entirely.

So you would think that now that I feel safe and completely happy for the first time, I'd be doing great! But I'm not!

I'm wonderful most of the time. But then sometimes… I just lose it. And I feel awful about it, because it is so supremely irrational. One accidental touch (eg once she elbowed me in the neck because we were both bending over, TOTAL accident and I am a klutz) or phrase that reminds me of something (eg he says, as we're joking around (and had just threatened to smack him upside the head like three times for awful puns) "we'll have to beat that out of her") and I just FREAK OUT. My body… I don't know, it feels like it is shutting down while at the same time there's this huge amount of adrenaline. I can't think logically and will often burst into tears (which I haaaate). It's like this really wimpy girl takes over me and won't shake off. It takes time and comfort and hugs to calm back down. They say there's no expression on my face, that I look very stiff and not even there. Inside I feel like I'm breaking down. Sometimes it's just for a few minutes, and after a hug I'm back to coping (especially if the kids are around to distract me). Other times I have to hide alone and cry for a long time.

It bothers me that I'm doing this, that I'm so out of control over it and bothering them with it (especially since it seems so unpredictable). I also just don't get it because if I was going to break down surely… I would have when things were bad? Not now that they are good?

I realize this is a very open ended question, and apologize for that. But I'm trying to figure out:
* Why this is happening
* What it even is
* What I can do to cut it the heck out

Any advice, anecdotes, reading material, and internet diagnoses are welcome. Thank you so much.
posted by blue_and_bronze to Human Relations (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
No, no, no. When you are in survival mode, you are only worried about surviving. I think it makes perfect sense that you are freaking out because you feel safe now. It's ok. It's totally normal and appropriate for this stuff to come back up now. You need to get a good therapist - make sure it's one you really like and trust - and start seeing them as often as you can. It might seem like it's a ton of money for something for just you or that you can put it off but don't. Really. You've still got a lot of work to do but it'll be worth it. You are so strong but this stuff can feel really scary and that's ok. You're going to be ok.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:42 AM on March 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes, this makes total sense. I think this is one of those times where the best thing to do is not to turn to yourself with a stern attitude ("cut it out") but with love and compassion.
posted by salvia at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

because I am a total idiot

This line, more than others, made me want to cry. You are not an idiot. You are a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence.

It's like this really wimpy girl takes over me and won't shake off.

To me, it's not a wimpy girl. It's the sad, scared child and young woman that you could not be then because you had to keep going and make it through each day. You are now in a place where it is safe for her to come out. Let her. This might sound stupid, but ask her what she wants to say. You were numb growing up - but those feeling were inside somewhere. It would be such a good idea for you to find a therapist you feel totally safe with, and begin to work through the awful things which were inflicted on you. In a way that you can manage, so that they don't have to spill out in day to day life, when some word or touch triggers an underlying emotion.

More than anything, please be gentle with yourself. Do not be angry or irritated or embarassed that this is happening. Until you met the people you are with now, every important adult in your life failed you. I am extending that to those that must have known you were managing a household at 12 and did not step in to help. Please do not be another adult who berates you and expects you to shoulder the weight of the world without complaining. You deserve patience and kindness and I'm glad you sound like you have found a family that gives you that, but offer it to yourself also. I wish you every happiness. Many hugs.
posted by billiebee at 9:55 AM on March 30, 2013 [15 favorites]

You have grown up in a very hard situation. You have had to do some very difficult things in your life in order to survive, and to accomplish those things, it seems to me that you would have had to exercise a high degree of self-discipline and control over yourself. It sounds like you are very strong and have a lot to be proud of about yourself. So start with that. You are an amazing person because you have survived all the shit that they have thrown at you so far.

But now, you are in a different situation from the one you grew up in, and you don't need to have the same degree of self-discipline and you don't have to draw on the same reserves of strength. Maybe, growing up, you know it would not be safe for you to freak out when someone threatened you, so you've conditioned yourself to not freak out.

But now it sounds like you are in a safe place, where it's okay for you to freak out, so when something happens that reminds you of all of those times when you wanted to freak out but couldn't, your conditioning isn't kicking in (because you know it's safe for you to freak out). And you've got all this pent-up energy around freaking out, a whole lifetime's worth. And also, maybe you're not especially practiced at freaking out, so when you do it it's hard to manage and it feels like you are out of control.

You're not out of control. You're okay. What you can do to cut it out is to find a way to start letting some of that freaking-out energy out in a way that feels safe to you. That will probably be easier with the help of a good therapist.

This stuff is in you, the crying and the shutting down and the feeling overwhelmed and the having to make a quick exit sometimes for reasons you can't really understand. It's all coming up because, after a lifetime, now you can give it some space to breathe. And it's okay to let some of it breathe. It's healthy, especially if you can do it in a way that is safe for you and for others.

I definitely don't recommend this, but if you don't want to start letting this stuff come up and letting some of it out, if you just want to cut this stuff out because it's scaring you, it seems to me that the most effective way to do that would be to put yourself back into the kind of situation where you don't have a choice but to keep it under wraps. I say this not as a recommendation but kind of as a warning. How you decide what to do with your responses is very important: if you define success as "cutting this stuff out" you will be looking, consciously or not, for situations where you know you can do that. Situations where your self-control mechanisms know they have to be rock-solid strong to keep you alive. It sounds to me like those situations are not healthy situations for you. So I encourage you to define success as "coming to peace with this stuff" instead.

Because it's okay. It's not weakness. It's you, knowing at an unconscious level that it's safe to bring some of this stuff up and start making peace with it.
posted by gauche at 10:00 AM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

You've grown up with a knife in your gut. You were able to recognize that this wasn't really right, and you felt a lot of pain because of it. It hurts to have a knife in one's gut. But you survived it. In fact, you more than just survived it: you figured out how to thrive with that knife in your side. It made you limp a little, sure, and you would sometimes scream out because you hated it being there... But you'd always had it, and you adapted to it.

Now the knife has come out. In the long run, this is a good thing. But in the short term, the wound is still there, and the knife being removed made it fresh again, and the blood is gushing out. You had lived for years with the knife because you had adapted to it, but now it is gone. Now you have a fresh wound that needs to heal, and you've got to figure out what life is like, without that knife there.

I've got a wound like that, too. I do really well when the world is crashing down around me. That's what I adapted to as a child, that's what I'm used to. It's when things are good, when I'm safe and secure, that I feel completely out of sorts. Because that's the knife being removed, that's the wound's presence really making itself known, that's when it starts to bleed afresh. It sucks. But it can get better.

If you had a literal knife wound, you'd go to a doctor. Of course, this isn't a literal knife wound but instead a metaphorical one. Your wound is psychological. You still should go to the doctor. Find a good therapist who can work you through healing this wound. Be compassionate with yourself about it all. Realize how this is a sign of strength: you survived for YEARS with a knife in your gut! And allow yourself to take time to heal: that knife was there a long time, and you can't expect the wound to heal overnight.
posted by meese at 10:01 AM on March 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

IANAP (psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or psychoanalyst, nor anything related). I have been through a similar childhood, however, as far as too-early responsibilities, inappropriate intimate boundary-crossing, and parental neglect are concerned. I managed it so well that many people who knew only me, not my parents, have a hard time believing that my childhood was traumatizing – they knew me as happy (because I was not with family, but with friends), caring, and very successful in school (top of my class, all I can do is thank my lucky stars there, though I did work hard too).

I've been in therapy for quite a while, so can answer the questions at least from that viewpoint, but you'll get much more from seeing a therapist regularly yourself! It does take time and money, but I can say after several years of it, it is absolutely worth everything you put in.

Why it's happening: you were surviving. What is it: succinctly, and this is far too short a response but therapy will delve into it if you choose that: repression. You repressed the trauma and traumatic responses, because experiencing it adequately would have been very damaging at the time. Now you are safe, which means you can experience it, belatedly. It does suck, I know, I went through a similar phase.

How to "cut it out": you don't. You need to experience it. If you try to cut it off, you will be cutting off a part of yourself. You experienced trauma. That's reality. That reality must be integrated – which therapy helps you do – in order to function as a whole, unamputated individual. I'm not being blunt here out of "tough love"! More from the necessity of summarizing something that has innumerable facets, many which will be specific to what you lived, and you'll have your own specific questions that, again, would best be handled by a therapist experienced in handling trauma (pretty much all are!).

Recently here I made a comment in another AskMe about how shit piles up in abusive relationships; that was actually a metaphor taken from one of my own dreams about my childhood, in which my parents used my bedroom (unheated in reality, they built the house, added on my room, three walls to the exterior in a cold, damp state, without heating), as "the place they put all their shit" (in my dream). In that dream, I shrugged, pinched my nose, and went outside, saying, "well, at least shit makes good fertilizer!"

Your parents bequeathed you a deal of that stinky stuff, but there are positive things that were buried in it. Possibly, for instance, creativity; spontaneity; joy; security. You'll best be able to more fully discover them with the help of a professional. Take care, it's doable, and you feel SO much more yourself in time.
posted by fraula at 10:02 AM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

This seems like classic, totally understandable, PTSD to me. I think therapy with someone who specializes in treating PTSD could potentially be very helpful.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:38 AM on March 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

Small children in happy, loving families save their worst behavior for the parents because they know their parents will still love them after they express terrible emotions, behave badly, scream for 20 minutes about a toothbrush, whatever. You are falling apart now because you are SAFE and loved and around people who will not reject you or hurt you if you show vulnerability.

You sound really, really resilient to me -- and optimistic and happy. I'm impressed because you really went through a lot. I think you should find a therapist to talk to, just for a while, so you can think through and process some of this stuff now that you're in a safe place to do so.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:46 AM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

This sounds like how I was after I took care of my mom while she was dying and then she died. During the taking-care period, I really didn't have room for anything else inside me - I did all the things that needed doing. Afterwards....I fell apart. My extremely helpful therapist said I was not a useless weakling; I was suffering a (mild) case of PTSD. It was situational, and it would pass, and she would help me. She did.

You have been strong and super-functional in situations that might have collapsed other people. You're not an idiot and you're not weak. You just need some help, and there are people who can help you. You will be okay.
posted by rtha at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding PTSD which I have had after some bad experiences growing up. It's freaky and weird so I sympathise with your situation esp since I also had the nuts childhood and subsequent abusive relationships.

I think finding a therapist would be helpful for you to unravel what you're feeling. FWIW, I absolutely didn't want a therapist who was going to be all fluffy bunnies and tell me what a terrible time I'd had, because I knew that already. What I really wanted someone who'd constructively help me get out of the mess because it was a pain in the arse and I was done with feeling that way. I'd suggest shopping around and find a therapist that's a good fit for you. I wish you the best.
posted by poissonrouge at 10:55 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

From what I understand, this is normal. Before, you were in survival mode, so you just did what you had to do to survive. Now, you are safe and comfortable, so the feelings you had to bracket and set aside during survival mode are bubbling up, because now you have the emotional space to feel them.

This is understandable, and you shouldn't beat yourself up over this, at all. This is also a great time to try out therapy, which might give you some tools you can use to handle the bubbling feelings.

In the meantime, do something nice for yourself. Take yourself out on he town, or do something you've always wanted to try out.
posted by vivid postcard at 11:07 AM on March 30, 2013

Yep, this is CLASSIC, classic PTSD. The numbing, the startle reactions, the anxiety, the whole thing.

I've been there. Things are going to be okay. Get some therapy.

Also, not sure if this is relevant for your question, but I was unclear on your circumstances. You are married? To a man or a woman (or both)? Can you tell your partner(s) about your past? Will they learn about PTSD and how they can help?
posted by 3491again at 11:09 AM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

"we'll have to beat that out of her"

I just wanted to say something about this. I totally believe you that you are not being mistreated now. BUT this is a shockingly tone-deaf joke to make about you coming from someone who knows your history and how traumatized you were.

That joke would push my biggest buttons if it were made about me. See it was actually said about me many times by people who then proceeded to do just that. It wouldn't give me a panic attack, but it would make me furious. If I were in a relationship with someone who made a joke like that about me I would need to tell them immediately that I wasn't okay with it at all. If they persisted I can't even describe how quickly I would be turned off by them. It would be impossible for me to continue in the relationship.

This is my way of saying, in addition to everything else that has been said, that the people in your life now may need to be quite a bit more mindful of their jokes, given your background. Again, I'm just really kind of shocked they would say something like that to you, knowing your background.
posted by cairdeas at 11:18 AM on March 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

As others have said, this is completely normal. It is kind of a compliment to your two SOs. I would just focus on making sure you don't wind up taking it out on them. Keep a journal. In the journal, I would note triggers and try to explore why I reacted that way. Seek therapy if you want more support.

Try really hard to communicate to them that you feel safe enough to fall apart around them, that you cherish being that safe but you don't know what is appropriate for expressing those negative feelings and you would like help to learn how to do so. Otherwise, the tendency is to inadvertently start behaving abusively because that is the only way you have ever seen bad stuff expressed.

I can be very understanding, compassionate and patient with certain things. It often attracts people who have been through hell and very much want and need acceptance. I am okay with giving them what they need. The problem is that it frequently gets me walked on, disrespected, etc. When I have had enough, the people pissing on me wind up feeling betrayed because they thought I should "accept them totally and completely" or something. Please don't make that mistake, for your sake and theirs.

Here is a rule of thumb: Acceptance is about who you are and forgiveness is about past bad acts. Acceptance and forgiveness are NOT carte blanche to keep hurting people and expect them to stay anyway. Once a bad behavior is recognized as bad, you and they need to work on finding a better solution. Saying "I love you and forgive you" does not mean "You can keep doing this bad thing." Accepting the person does not mean accepting the bad behavior. (Abusive people often frame "acceptance" and "forgiveness" as carte blanche to be abusive assholes forevermore. Given your history, I think you might need it explicitly pointed out that it doesn't work like that.)

Some rubrics:

If you are pregnant, ill, short of sleep, whatever, people should cut you some slack and chalk up some portion of grumpy/negative behavior to situational stress. You should do the same for them. If that street runs both ways, it is a very healthy basis for a relationship.

If there is a persistent pattern of behavior that is not working, focus on finding a solution rather than on finding someone to blame. A lot of "problem behaviors" are a problem in a 2+2=5 kind of way. Example (referencing your last question): It isn't bad that you are cold and logical. It isn't bad that your female SO is more emotional. But the two things together can create friction and require some accommodating from both sides. Blaming either person for the dynamic is basically abusive. Most relationship problems have some element of that. Try hard to find a non-blaming resolution. Things will go better if you can.

When you start trying to express what is going on, focus on so called "I messages." In other words, say "In response to X, I feel Y." It can be a kind of crude tool and doesn't always work as intended, but it is a place to start for expressing "I feel THIS and it isn't simply all your fault, even though your action served as a trigger." It is a means to start working on better boundaries and more clearly distinguishing your internal stuff from their behavior. It sounds like your family had super poor boundaries. You likely will need to work a lot on sorting out boundary issues, which can be complicated under the best of circumstances. So have some patience with the process.
posted by Michele in California at 12:26 PM on March 30, 2013

I started having episodes of panic and anger and anxiety once I moved away to college. My moods would shift, I had a lot of trouble articulating my feelings (or understanding them), and I got in arguments with people over almost anything. I thought this was just me - I thought it was Who I Was. About a year and a half ago, things really fell apart. I suddenly found myself dealing with the wreckage of years of horrible relationships and bad decisions.

I won't go into detail (however, I will go into more detail over MeMail if you want), but when I started counselling, a lot of stuff came out that I had disassociated/repressed from the first seven years of my life. Suddenly, all the weird personality stuff and the feeling of brokenness I thought was just Who I Was made sense.

Your childhood was undoubtably as bad or worse than mine. And for me, so much has been stripped away during counselling that I am now a completely different person and my life is a million times better. But I spent nearly two decades not dealing with it, and feeling like I was just a horrible person. Apparently, "stupid" is the most common description I use for myself...and it looks like "idiot" is your word. Between my amazing counselor and my equally amazing BFF, I have finally figured out what it looks like to actually be in a caring, respectful and transparent relationship. And it's so much better this way.

If you want to talk, MeMail me. And find a good counsellor (and/or an emotionally-healthy BFF) who will listen and help you dig through all this stuff. I'm thinking and praying you get the help you need to get healthy - in every possible way.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

"we'll have to beat that out of her"

This is really not cool. I get that it was a response to you saying you'd smack someone upside the head. Is joking around about violence really a good idea, for any of you? I would not feel safe around a person who made this kind of joke. I'm not surprised that you reacted the way you did. I grew up around some degree of domestic violence and one of the holdovers was that for years after moving out I totally thought joking around about all kinds of horrific and violent things was no big deal, because I used dark humor to cope. And I also was very very harsh on myself and others for showing emotions because it was wimpy, and I was supposed to be tough and logical 24/7. I had to be that way to get by, at the time. But.. I would really urge you to reconsider that approach; having a healthy range of emotions is important, it's fine to get upset, irrational, to cry about stuff that upsets you.. try not to beat yourself up for being a normal human.
posted by citron at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, MiC said something I forgot to - my counselor and BFF - when things are falling apart, they see me through it. It's safe to be completely emotionally raw with them. It's not safe with anyone else. So if I'm going to fall apart, they're the closest people and they get to see it. It's part of being in real relationships: people are messy. Life is messy. That's why we need each other.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:53 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sweet Jesus in a log-jam girl! You need to stand up on a hill and shout how great you are.

Not the greatest metaphor, but think of a pressure cooker--you managed to tamp things down without a major explosion, now if you want to live a "normal" life, you have to let the pressure down to get the lid off and dump out all the garbage.

Let yourself go with this. It's OK to have moments where you release what's inside in a safe and relatively positive manner. Crying jags and shaking aren't fun, but you aren't hurting yourself, you aren't drinking to excess, doping, or doing anything that would threaten yourself, your child, the relationships you value, and your future (positive and fulfilling) life.

Sometimes AskMe is a bit quick off the mark with the therapy button, but given the shitstorm of your previous life, I think you need to find someone to work with. This is a 'definitely indicated' use of therapy. Make sure you're comfortable with this person, and you feel they are helping! You are allowed to fire a therapist you aren't comfortable with or you feel isn't listening. Your therapist may question whether a poly relationship is for you (or at least at this point) and I have some question about that, also, but they should NEVER be judgmental about this, and totally be supportive with your choices, although they may ask you to examine where you are in your relationships. Zeus knows, I think that if you can have a positive female relationship, you absolutely need that nurturing.

I'm not suggesting you are in a dubious relationship with your male partner, but many times women who are in abusive relationships become sucked in again or pass that horror on to their own children, simply because they don't recognize what's happening. Many return to abuse because it's the only life they know. They continually fall into and out of bad relationships because they can't see warning flags on the horizon. You don't have to continually question yourself, just please be aware this can happen.

If you're not comfortable with the idea of therapy at this point, that's OK, just make sure you and your child are safe. One reason I'd strongly suggest therapy is for your child's sake. We learn to parent from our parents--you have absolutely no positive example of parenting to follow. My mother died when I was twelve, after that I was raised in an abusive and negative situation. I was pretty good with my kids when they were young--I enjoyed my babies and young children. As pre-teens and teens, I was lost. My husband deserves the Medal of Honor for giving them a normal teen-hood.

I wish you the best. You are a strong woman creating a positive new life for yourself and your daughter. I admire you.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:00 PM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re the jokes about violence: I don't think such things are always bad, but it might be good to institute a moratorium for, say, at least a year. Jokes are often a means to express things that are serious but socially unacceptable to express. So threatening jokes only really work in a setting where everyone is confident that we wouldn't really do something like that. Otherwise they tend to read as veiled threats, which are really common in abusive relationships. It is hard to really move on if you are still wondering about mixed signals of that sort.
posted by Michele in California at 1:11 PM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I did not do a good job of taking care of my father

Hold on now -- it wasn't your job to take care of your father, it was his job to take care of you. And you're 100% right about that 'ick' moment in the car. That stuff IS ick, and you're not the only person to have experienced it.

My body… I don't know, it feels like it is shutting down while at the same time there's this huge amount of adrenaline.

IMO your body is finally letting to surface all its physiological reactions to the threat-based moments you've experienced in your life. Those switches are still turned on, waiting for permission to fire up the adrenaline and GTFO of those moments where you unconsciously understood you were in danger, and consciously had to play along because that was the best strategy for surviving what you were up against. Your body, with all its underlying instinctive circuitry, knows the truth of what you survived and how wounding it was when you had push through it. Your body did you the favour of playing along, and now that you've made it, it needs you to do it the favour of letting it process and heal.

It's like this really wimpy girl takes over me and won't shake off.

That "really wimpy girl" comes from all the moments when you needed to be "really wimpy" in your real life -- all the moments when, instead of being shamed over your vulnerabilities, you would have really benefited from having a caring adult acknowledge that you were sad because the situation was horrifyingly unfair for you. If you had had healthy, emotionally available parents, that "really wimpy girl" would have been grown up a long time ago because she would have had the nurturing she needed to continue developing along an ideal trajectory. Instead, your parents' neglect wounded you in that it did not give you the emotional stimulation/reassurance/attentiveness you needed to get through that phase of growth and development unhindered.

Other times I have to hide alone and cry for a long time.

As another survivor of a poor quality childhood and adult PTSD symptoms, I can assure you, this seems to be pretty "normal" and par for the course. Not trying to be preachy, but it's like you were born with a "whole" soul which got fractured by abusive/neglectful childhood experiences, and now as an adult, it's like all those emotions and feelings your soul was born with an innate knowledge for are slowly coming back. It does seems to be a process that has an isolating component.

The way I see it, you can't pick and choose the emotions you feel most comfortable managing anymore than you can pick and choose the organs of your body that feel the most comfortable having based on their aesthetics. In raising you your parents "should have" been able to teach you how to manage the full spectrum of your emotions, just as you've learned to manage the full spectrum of physical needs your body has.

What can I do to cut it the heck out

IME, and as others have said, you don't cut it out; you practice self-care and compassion by honoring these experiences, or 'episodes', through journalling, art, sharing with a friend -- through whatever medium in which YOU are comfortable allowing these emotions to be conscious. Most importantly, be the compassionate adult to these fragile child-like feelings as they surface. Have patience with yourself and be VERY gentle with yourself, as you learn to self-manage these underdeveloped stocks of emotions that have been waiting to circulate freely in you as parts of a whole.

Contrary to what you might feel your post reflects, you sound like you have actually done very well for yourself so far. Become your own expert on PTSD as it relates to your life experience, and you'll see that this "breakdown" is only evidence of the triumph of your survival for a life journey on which you only need to keep trekking forward. Best of luck, and feel free to message me if you want any reading suggestions.
posted by human ecologist at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

because I am a total idiot

This line, more than others, made me want to cry. You are not an idiot. You are a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence.

Nth nth nthing.
After I left my own nasty childhood and was trying to get my head better, I had an epiphany one day when I realised that me hating on me was just more of the same... that I was perpetuating the cycle of "no one loves me" because even *I* didn't love me.
I spent a night just... well, hard to explain, but letting the sad and frightened little girl in me cry, and holding her, and telling her I loved her and it was going to be ok now. That night was a real turning point.

It's safe to be vulnerable now, which means your inner sad and scared little girl is peeking around the corner of the door she's been hiding behind. Be kind to her and let her cry and know she's loved and safe now.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

First off, so much love for you. You got dealt a tough hand, to say the least.

I'm so glad to see all the advice and info already posted. Lots of great advice and info.

A few thoughts for you:

because I am a total idiot,

No, you are NOT an idiot.

So you would think that now that I feel safe and completely happy for the first time, I'd be doing great! But I'm not!

Many, many years of trauma from development in a dysfunctional family take A LOT of work and time to undo. Being in a safe environment is the beginning of your journey toward health, not the end. I don't mean for this to sound daunting, but your work toward to health and "normal" has just begun.

It's like this really wimpy girl takes over me and won't shake off. It takes time and comfort and hugs to calm back down.

This is due to your past trauma. You won't shake it off. You didn't receive unconditional love as a child. This is exceptionally detrimental. Comfort, hugs, unconditional love and understanding are among the things you need most; This helps you "calm back down" because it is exactly what you lacked (and desperately needed & deserved) most of you life.

I also just don't get it because if I was going to break down surely… I would have when things were bad? Not now that they are good?

You are strong. You went into survival mode, did what you had to do, and now you are still alive and relatively safe. Now is when you can safely fall apart. This is how it works. You don't go through trauma like you did and escape without adverse affects. You will heal because you are strong. It will likely take time, effort, love, compassion and competent professional help.

I realize this is a very open ended question, and apologize for that. But I'm trying to figure out: * Why this is happening * What it even is * What I can do to cut it the heck out

Do not apologize. It is not your fault- not the open ended question, and none of the shit you've been subjected to. You've been though hell. And you were not well equipped for life by your parents. (Just as they weren't by their parents, I strongly suspect.) It breaks my heart when kids have to "be the parent". It is not supposed to work this way.

Books that my be helpful: Read up on co-dependency and being the product of an alcoholic family system. This one was helpful for me: Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet G. Woititz.

Be sure to get professional help. Keep in mind it may take a few tries to find a good counselor. They are just like any other profession- there's good ones, bad ones, and everything in between.

Definitely contact me if I can help you in any way.

posted by fueling depth at 1:09 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: You people have such beautiful souls. Thank you so, so much.

I've honestly never even considered PTSD but...yeah. Maybe I deserve getting that looked at.
posted by blue_and_bronze at 7:56 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

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