+STUCK IN THE STARTLE RESPONSE – THE STATE OF FRANTIC PANIC

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Monday, September 16, 2013.  My nervous system (including my brain) was formed by abusive trauma not with the state of peaceful calm at its center through safe and secure attachment but rather with the state of frantic panic at its center.  The older I get the more I know about what this means to me – and I suspect also to other severe early trauma survivors.

Given enough pressure over time – no matter how well we survivors put ourselves together so we could endure, survive and continue to function as we moved forward through our lives – if we had no safe and secure early attachment with anyone as infants/children our trauma altered physiology will appear eventually in such clear ways that we cannot avoid being forced to cope not only with the stresses of our adult life but also moment to moment in our conscious felt experience with what happened to us through an early life of trauma.

Whew!  That was one long sentence!  Our state of frantic terror that we knew as infants and young children has never left us!

Call it Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), anxiety, depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – whatever labels and “diagnosis” we use – we know what the disorientation, disorganization, and dysregulation of our entire being FEELS like – frantic panic.  Yes, when these states appear our experience of being alive is not one of well-being.  The worse our current distress/stress is in life the more our body and our entire nervous system will restore itself to this natural state for us.

Infants, young toddlers and very young children rely upon their adult caregivers to help not harm them.  I know that every time I was attacked (frequently) by my psychotically vicious mother when I was little (from birth) my entire reality shattered at that instant as I was forced into frantic panic.  I had no comprehension of what was happening to me and I had no options to prevent, escape or stop these attacks.  My entire physiology followed this trauma survival track.

Nobody protected or soothed me.  Nobody cared how I felt or about the harm being done to me and to my physiological development that has lasted my lifetime.

I did stay alive and I was able to fool everyone including myself for nearly 50 years that “It wasn’t really THAT bad.  I am strong.  I could take it.  Now those 18 years of horrendous abuse are over and I came through it OK.”

I am NOT OK!  I have never been OK!  At 62 I no longer have any inner resources in reserve to convince anyone, certainly not myself, that the lie of OK that formed with me at its center was/is true.  I live at that edge of frantic panic and I always have.  I was not born this way.  Early severe abusive trauma MADE me this way.

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Perhaps it is because of “my condition” that I might need more than most others can comprehend of helpful, soothing, calming, competent, patient, wise people who TRULY love me in a circle around me.  I can no longer pretend or fool anyone that I am OK.  People who love me are willing to listen to me and to learn right along with me how my experience of being alive is sometimes quite difficult to deal with.  People who love me — love me anyway.

These safe and secure attachment relationships are able to externally support, nurture and reinforce me, and even create substitutes for what my own body did not ever have a chance to create within itself as I grew up:  An alternative to my deepest, oldest, truest inner state of frantic frenetic panic.

I was left from birth and throughout my childhood in vast periods where that is all I felt.  This kind of chronic terror eroded me from the inside.  While my essential self was able to endure intact the body my self has to live this life within has nearly reached the end of its coping rope.

It’s really hard to create and sustain a beautiful life under these conditions but I refuse to think it is impossible yet I MUST have an attachment family/village to interact with.  I say “family” but I do not mean these people have to be our genetic relations though I am so fortunate to be able to include my own family as the core of my village.  I must, however, go through this major move to be physically close to at least some of them – my daughters and my little grandsons.

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Frantic panic, the horrible unending result of an over-stressed natural startle response while a young one’s nervous system is developing, is the antithesis of well-being.  These days it is often my overriding chore to hold it at bay – in some way – or I become paralyzed.  When frantic frenetic panic has my body in its grip I cannot think, choose, decide or act.  Being so frozen in hell will not get me where I want to go or be.

Courage, determination, patience, hope and willingness.  I must believe in GOOD possibilities in spite of what my body tells me.  But I cannot create the sense of safety and security I need — alone. 

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6 thoughts on “+STUCK IN THE STARTLE RESPONSE – THE STATE OF FRANTIC PANIC

  1. Hi, I amHappy to have found post also. I am 55, mom was unable to be a good mother to me… She seemed better at mothering my younger brother. Anyway, I’ve spent my whole life wondering and searching for what is wring with me. Bingo! I had never heard of reactive attachment disorder until this summer. My 83 yr old father died this fall… Talk about rock my boat! Mom was killed 33 yes ago by a drunk catholic priest, killed himself too. I was relieved! My brother was devastated. Anyway, I am relieved to have found your blog, and commentor, feeling like I’ve finally found my support group! And, though I hate our experience, I love US… We truly are survivors. It’s harder to love me by myself, I eek so isolated. Connecting with you and the commentator above, kind of validates me, thank you!!!! You both sound like intelligent, loving, beneficial human beings… Which I’m going to use/remember to validate myself with. Other people see me how I see you… Yet I’m often unable to accept their vision of me because I’m often stuck in judging myself as ‘the problem.’
    Great affection and happiness to have found you,
    Joan

    • Hi Joan! I have just made a 2000 mile move north – MAJOR move for me – and speaking of a rocking boat!! WHEW – nearly more to adjust to than I feel possible but with my family’s help and all our combined love I will get thru this!

      So I am not feeling very organized in my thoughts but did want to confirm I found your comments and am reading them! Great to hear from you! This is a super stressful time for me – so please bear with me until I can climb back into my blog/writing saddle again!!!

  2. I absolutely disagree that you’re not OK. By whose standards? Set your own. By my standards, you are the most OK person I know. From what you have endured to where you are now & the help you have given me, I just can’t tell you what tremendous change your insights have brought to my life. Now, with that said…
    I can imagine that you, like me, HATE to have someone come up behind you and intentionally startle you. To friends of mine, it is a constant game in their household. For me, absolute panic. Because we can’t self-regulate our responses, ALL of our reactions are to the extreme. You have helped me to see that in myself and I can’t tell you how much just understanding it has helped me. I have not, nor have most folks even who read your blog, been through, or can even pretend to understand, what you have endured your entire life. No, it is not “over” at 18 when you escape your tormenter, because they changed who you are.
    But you, more than anyone I know, are OK. I have lots of friends who have suffered no abuse nor neglect in their lifetimes, but believe me, they are some of the most neurotic people I know. They are just delusional about being OK. Because we actually are OK, and we seem OK, but we think we’re NOT OK, we are far more sensitive than those folks.
    I truly believe this puts us on another plane altogether from where they are and believe it or not, a lot of them are envious. Imagine that, people envious of you.
    Your mind is so amazing and your sense of humor so wonderful BECAUSE of what you have endured. Remember what you say about our “diffabilities” and try to think in those terms. You are quite special to me and I think about you often & talk to my psychologist about you and what you have done for me. She has even looked at your blog and loved it.
    Don’t ever sell yourself short. I believe your mother spent 18 years attempting to short change you and sell you short. It did NOT work. Too bad for her.
    Thank you for all that you are and continue to be.
    And I’ve mentioned before that on occasion, when needed, (panic mode setting in), I take Klonopin. You don’t feel as if you’ve taken anything, but what it does is keep that sense of panic from ever even rising. You may find it more useful right now than ever before, during this transition.
    Take care of yourself, please.
    Lisa

    • Thank you so much for your wise, caring, supportive words, Lisa. I cannot write the reply to you that I would like to at this time, but I will say this. There is NOTHING OK about infant and child abuse, about the lifelong legacy of difficulties and suffering the consequences of that abuse brings to survivors of it. I am OK as a human being, true – but I am NOT OK in my life. I do not have the life I could have had, should have had, deserved to have had someone ever helped me when I needed it most. I suffer in many ways as do most severe early abuse survivors and it is at that level of recognition that I wrote that post.

      You are making very important points, Lisa! When this move is all done and I have a home again and things settle down I will feel better – and will be able to write more!! xo, Linda – alchemynow

      • Linda,
        Please don’t, not for even a moment, think that my words were intended to say that ANYTHING you went through was OK. It was NOT and never will be. You survived more than anyone else I know. It is your perseverance and persistence to insist on a life you know you want that makes you OK in my book.
        You talk about the Indigo Children & I agree with you about you and many others who have suffered at the hands of abusers, that they are a bit more evolved. Unfortunately, that does set a whole new standard.
        I have never been happy in my life until now, with the help of your blog, counseling and medication. Not to mention my own healthy (maybe?) dose of perseverance and persistence.
        But even with what I have survived, I can’t even guess at what you live with every single day of your life.
        I am very sorry if my words hurt you in ANY way. I would never do that intentionally. So please accept my apology if that is the case. I can’t help but really admire you and that’s rare in my life. I can count the people I truly admire on one hand.
        When I had breast cancer my only prayer was to get through it with grace and dignity. Nothing else, no specific outcome. It helped me.
        Take care of yourself, please.
        XO
        Lisa

        • No hurt at all, Lisa!!! I can’t write too clearly right now – ’cause I can’t think too clearly!! I am very happy to hear that my blog has helped you! Your words help me!! I am glad you are feeling better than ever! Takes a LOT of perseverance and persistence!! Nobody can do this work for us – that’s for sure, but knowing we are in the company of other good people helps so much!! Thanks!!!!!! xoxo!

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