Monday, April 21, 2014. One of the most obvious and yet so easily overlooked aspects of being a severe early abuse, neglect and trauma survivor is that while we live INSIDE our world being trauma-altered in our development in nearly every way — which makes us and our experience of life so very different from that of people who did not experience what we did — those other people so thoroughly live OUTSIDE our world that they are not likely to ever really understand us. What limitations does this disparity of experience create on both sides of “the great divide?”
Who notices? What kind of balance can be built into important relationships we have with each other? How do both parties achieve “safe and secure attachment” in their relationship when the essential quality of true empathy is most likely missing? WE will never truly be able to understand the life experience of those NOT traumatized in their early life while the non-traumatized will never be able to know us on the levels that are most important in how we are in the world?
I wish I knew a simple way to denote these two kinds of extreme and often very different and even opposed realities. I guess this morning I will simply use “survivor” and “nonsurvivor.” Hardly anyone really makes it through a childhood without having experienced some kind of trauma. But I think we all know what I am saying. There is a great difference between someone like me and most others. That is a fact of existence.
Nobody makes it through a severely traumatic, abusive, neglectful infancy and childhood without being greatly changed on the “output” end.
I am thinking today about what happens when one of our primary attachment relationships suddenly changes shape and form. I suspect that often all the signs that the relationship is not what we accept that it is long before the full awareness of the meaning of these changes to the relationship becomes at all clear. Yet no matter how non-traumatized one person in a relationship is there are times when circumstances of life can simply change them. When this happens it is very possible that the dynamics of any relationships they have will change — sooner or later.
I am processing such a massive shift in what has been one of my most important attachment relationships for a long, long time. What I thought was real in this relationship is simply not real.
This is a family but not a partner-type relationship. I feel as if the ground shifted and a different world has appeared so that very little of what I thought I knew seems to remain. It seems the “family” part is left without what I thought was the “friendship.”
Picking friendships — not picking family — comes to mind, of course. And yet on some levels it seems that family members should know us more deeply than anyone on the planet. There can come a time, evidently, when “So what?” gets added into this equation. Knowing someone’s past, their weaknesses, vulnerabilities, hopes, conflicts, difficulties can mean that if circumstances change enough that person has an arsenal of weapons to use against us that can hardly be imagined until they are unleashed. When this happens the gulf between survivor and non-survivor can become so vast that nothing but the most tenuous threads of attachment remain.
What once was a mainstay safe and secure attachment relationship can become its opposite faster than the strike of a lightning bolt.
True, the signals were no doubt present. But who wants to see these kinds of changes coming? Can’t peace be maintained, peace be made – somehow – so that the friendship part of a close family relationship can remain intact?
I am suspecting that there is something particularly powerful about the ROLES that family members are conditioned to take in our culture. When a ROLE takes precedence over the very real person forced (one way or the other) into a role I question what is left. Suddenly, it seems to me, what was a rich and multidimensional relationship becomes flattened into a mere show of a 2-D puppet-like demonstration of connection.
It makes sense to me as I look around our culture to see that this must not be an unusual happening in families. People are not encouraged to be their full-range self, as I call it. Only some emotions, some thoughts, some beliefs, some whatevers are to be tolerated while the rest must be cut-off, cut-out, cast aside, buried, disowned-within, drugged into oblivion, criticized, rejected and denied. We can then all be puppet-livers together. We are defined by the roles we live out and NOT by the depth and breadth of who we are as unique, creative, emotional, thinking, questioning and often in-conflict individuals.
Who wants the MESS? Turn us all into BOX PEOPLE to match the boxes we live in, race around in, shop in and – if we are not turned into cinders at the end of our life – buried in.
One of the identifiers of trauma is the fact that those experiences are far outside the range of ordinary. They are extraordinary experiences that create extraordinary survivors. Severe early trauma survivors never “got” to live “in the box” of safety and security or of anything like ordinary experience. We came out of our early years being trauma changed into very fascinating and most often very-different-from-ordinary people. Of course our EXPERIENCE of being alive in our world is very different from non-survivors’. We are still in the minority so we – along with our experience – can be marginalized in our culture.
How do such interacting factors affect our relationships?
Those of us who tried as hard as we could not to pass onto our offspring what happened to us may well have ALSO created for ourselves a situation where our offspring will NEVER be able to truly understand or truly hear or truly relate to us because we made DAMN sure they did not grow up in a world like the one we grew up in.
So our children, for example, fit into the world differently than we do. They can have different roles in different ways — and escape the depths of inner experience that we live with. Other siblings in families who did not receive abuse in the same way that others of the siblings did will end up following these same kinds of patterns.
What’s to be made of all of this? I have always hoped I would never have to find out, never really have to face what this disparity means in my own family. I wanted to be safe from the kinds of conflicts that lie underneath the kinds of relationships we have with one another.
That bubble has burst.
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