This too shall pass.
At some point, whether we really want to or not, we usually end up going back to the source of a lot of grief, trauma, and deeply-engrained patterns that caused us a lifetime of habitually self-sabotaging: our childhood home.
At one point in my life, I felt so lost, so emotionally damaged, had a job that caused me so much misery, was one hiccup away from financial destitution, and had nothing to look forward to, that I left my home that I loved in a place that I loved, and went back to the abusive environment I came from. I had literally no one else in my life, and I just wanted a safe place to sleep (even though it was literally a closet) and keep my pets while I healed and re-invented my life.
It was a last resort and I really didn’t want to do it, but it was the best option I could come up with on short notice.
It turned out to be a 7 month learning experience and self-administered therapy session that no money could ever buy.
Whether you are stranded indefinitely or visiting for a weekend, how can you survive going to a place so stress-inducing and misery-making that all you can feel is panic, dread, and nausea?
How do you cope with going back to or being in an anti-home? Something opposite of the safe, nurturing, relaxed place it should be?
BECOME YOUR OWN PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR AND REGRESSION THERAPIST:
Like a naturalist going to darkest Africa or the heart of the Amazon jungle, or a gumshoe on the case, know that this trip isn’t about your personal comfort. It is a learning expedition.
You can learn from any experience, but “going back home” is the realest, most authentic and enlightening form of regression therapy that no psychologist or therapist could ever provide.
I had been working on changing my mindset, improving my relationships, controlling my emotions, not taking things personally, trying not to feel like a failure, eliminating apathy, and recovering from a borderline personality adaptation for over a year before I moved back “home”, but I made more progress and got rid of more self-blame and guilt in 3 or 4 months *there* than in all of that time (and trips to therapists) on my own.
Why? Now that I had at least some foundation of what is normal and not normal, healthy and unhealthy, self-aware and un-self-aware, games people play, cause and effect on childhood development and the personality…
I was able to see why I acted/thought/felt/done what I had done/had the relationships I had had. Which led to forgiving and understanding previous versions of myself and the situations they had got me (and especially people I care about) in.
Which meant I was able to make closure.
I was eventually able to catch myself in the act of imitating my abusers on a previously unconscious, un-self-aware level (physically, emotionally, mentally, and verbally) because, now I had contrast from studying psychology, relationships, self-love, getting away from “home”, and actually being in other relationships.
Now I could see for myself the constant extreme mood swings and shifting standards I had been subjected to as a child (to such an extensive and exclusive degree that it was "normal"and all I knew) that had also become my own personal, unconscious bad habits and emotional manifesto (based on the messages they conveyed to me that I believed a.k.a. learned):
I could see the disproportionately harsh punishments in response to breaking one of innumerable and arbitrary “rules”--anything from opening the kitchen blinds to what clothes I wore. These could take the form of screaming, a disapproving look, longwinded sanctimonious lectures on the importance of “living for others, not yourself”, being “grounded” from “privileges”, and even vague, ominous threats. (Messages sent: I shouldn’t exist because I am a burden that must be confined, constrained, closely monitored, and toyed with. I am inherently bad and “sinful” because everything is a moral issue and I can’t perform up to “par”. There is no room for me to be me, or have a preference that is not immediately quashed by some “rule” that must be obeyed without question or protest. The rule always has some ridiculously flimsy justification, but it is always vindicated and justified by an authority that perfunctorily investigates themself and “discovers” they do nothing wrong. I am pointless, life is pointless. I am made to be miserable every time I try to enjoy something or take some initiative. Therefore, life is misery or numbness. I am only as good and only as happy as how I can make my authoritarian abuser happy. I must live to people please. I must avoid others if I don’t wish to become their doormat. Avoidance is the best way to handle conflict. Partnership, respect, and mutuality are the gifts of fairy godmothers to other, more worthy people. I have no legitimate say. I can not trust feeling safe or secure. I can not trust happiness. I can not relax. I can not be me (or even be allowed to really discover who I really am). I am owned. I am not allowed normal, healthy human reactions (whatever those are), so I explode with emotion at random times, further “proof” that I “need” someone who can handle (control) me.)
I could see the love was conditional. (Messages sent: Do as you are told or suffer rejection and harassment. You have no inherent worth, only that which you earn by being a good enough chameleon and hoop-jumper-througher. Love is always a transaction, so always keep score and make sure you “get yours”.)
I could see the unbridled contempt, disrespect, and less-than-ing for my lifestyle, my limitations, my weaknesses, my views and beliefs, my hopes and dreams, what I was working on--and how none of it was ever good enough. For example, although I had to endure listening to my abuser’s religious beliefs as facts and be expected to conform to them as the standard for my life, my religious beliefs were dismissed as false (or as a phase...or as spiteful rebellion), degraded as “evil”, insulted, and not even given consideration of being heard.
The work I was doing with all my waking hours (building a business) was sneered at because I was not yet earning money. Although I had some savings and few expenses, I was CONSTANTLY shamed for not “earning income” and told to go spend my time being an exhausted wage slave instead, which wore down my morale and gave me intense anxiety. (Messages sent: Poverty and hard work for its own sake is more honorable and important than investing in my future and future happiness. Life should be tedium. Force yourself to go where you don’t find enjoyment or fulfillment, even when you don’t have to. Force yourself to do something when you aren’t ready because you are on the abuser’s schedule, not your own (you don’t really own yourself). I must look to this person as the authority to trust; I must not trust my own gut or experiences. My best is never enough, I will always be inadequate and unacceptable (the natural result of which is anxiety, paralysis, lack of desire, and defeatedness labelled and derided as “laziness”, depression, isolation, loss of a sense of self).)
I could see the environment that led to me constantly feeling completely helpless, inept, conflicted, not good enough, depressed (because I always felt like an unacceptable, unwanted, unlovable burden), and like a small child in a older body. (Messages sent: The world is too much for me. I am only guaranteed failure. I must not mature and individuate. I don’t matter because I only make a mess of things. Make decisions based only on fear and worst-case scenario. Have a completely negative view and little belief in self (other than for approved activities, like getting good grades in school). Rely solely on abuser as gatekeeper, confidante, provider, validator, and advice-giver. Can’t trust or rely on self. I am inferior and there is nothing I can do about it. Trying or demonstrating self-sufficiency is punished, so don’t.)
What stories are you allowing yourself to believe?
The examples of being infantilized, humiliated, belittled, and appropriate boundaries being crossed were so many:
At one point I was screamed at for *baking potatoes*--because I was “wasting electricity”.
Everything I did was “wasting” something, from how much toilet paper I used to taking a shower. Eventually I started only showering only twice a week. I stopped eating entirely--I didn’t eat for 2 weeks (there were a number of reasons: I did want to lose weight, but I also just wanted to be so tired and numb that it would be some escape; it made me feel in control; I was tired of the same 3 options to eat every day ("to make you uncomfortable in your poverty"); I was tired of being criticized and accused of eating too much of their food and “wasting electricity”).
I had to lock the bathroom door to keep someone from just coming in to “hang out” because even the most private moments were an invitation to intrusion.
My internet usage was constantly under scrutiny and I was constantly reminded of how sexuality is a “sin”, lest I be sending “inappropriate pictures” to someone I messaged. Everything I did or didn’t do was a moral issue used to intimidate me with threats of hell fire, shame & punishment on the family, and “loss of God’s protection”.
I was questioned constantly and expected to answer about things that were no one’s business but my own--not answering or lying were equally condemned and prohibited.
The door to the closet I was living in was removed at one point because I was “spending too much time alone” and didn’t want to entertain / be educated by / engage with my abuser.
Internet usage became something I could be “grounded from” at age 29, despite needing it for my business. This was in response to being screamed at for something...because my abuser didn’t realize I was on Skype and the other person heard them acting badly. So *I* was blamed and punished.
I was even screamed at (in the driveway, making a scene) for being about to take my dog to the veterinarian “without telling anyone”--an environment of having to answer endless questions and explain myself when I didn’t want to, and couldn’t even leave temporarily without permission.
Completely, LUDICROUSLY false accusations were repeated over and over with intense conviction as fact about people, causes, and things that I love. Often, these accusations were clear (to anyone else) projections of my abuser (who was in the very act of committing the mentioned allegations themselves) onto others.
I was constantly criticized then encouraged; deterred then assisted (then deterred again); treated with contempt then told “proud of me” platitudes; and put in double-binds (Catch 22s, where you are “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”). The mixed-signalling Merry-Go-Round never stopped, resulting in confusion, self-doubt, stifling, shame, more confusion, insecurity, paralysis, and pent-up, repressed, unaddressable hurt and anger. How do you get resolve when someone could always point to how they said how proud they were of you (as a get-out-of-the-conversation-free card)...while subtly and not-so-subtly berating your efforts and judgement, making everything about them, monopolizing your energy, and micromanaging everything you try to do? It would make anyone feel crazy.
I was constantly reminded of “family obligations” and felt both smothered and simultaneously ignored. I was expected to be an entertainer, entranced pupil, and personal assistant--with no interest in who I am and the uniqueness that myself has to offer. Shopping, conversations, and other activities were dominated; they felt like work because they weren’t meant to be fun or mutual. In conversations, I was constantly reduced to my most vulnerable state, with reminders of how much happier my parent was when I was little (and helpless); how, if I had only taken their (conflicting) advice, my life wouldn’t “suck”; how I needed to “get a real job” instead of working 12 hours a day on my dream; and so on.
I watched other loved ones be mislead and domineered in similar histrionic, degrading, ignorant, detrimental, ridiculous, dignity-stripping, and fear-mongering manners.
Future-faking with broken promises of going to restaurants, local attractions, doing activities that I wanted to do….that never happened. As is always the case, you have to make your own fun. But with some people (as in this case), you will always make your own fun entirely alone...regardless of what they say (but never act on).
Compliments and “positive” interactions always felt oily, disingenuous, and like they had an ulterior motive. Instead of coming from a place of real connection, I felt like we were reading scripts of what a “happy family” might say. I would check out, get irritable, or shut down...then feel guilty for ruining the (contrived) moment because my abuser was “trying” to be nice. Hint: If someone has to say they are *trying* to be nice...it’s usually a bad sign. Your intuition *knows*.
It was amazing to me to finally be able to clearly see what was happening as so bizarre, so outrageous, so obviously manipulative, controlling, and cheap….
That which had always been completely hidden as “normal” because it was all I knew and because it was layered in with lots of examples (intermittent reinforcement) that my abuser could point to to negate whatever complaints I might have. Sure, there were lovely presents, “I love you”s, “I’m proud of you”s, hugs, a few fun times, justifications (excuses) that on surface level seemed perfectly legitimate (“I care about you”, “I’m your parent, you’ll always be my child”, “Your eternal salvation is at stake”, “I don’t want you to get hurt/make a mistake”, “You *are* costing money”, “It’s for your own good/health”) but always contained contradictions, hypocrisy, and obvious cases of disingenuous trying-too-hard-or-not-at-all.
A friend had often accused me of frenetically vacillating from one extreme mood or position on something to the next in a highly destabilizing, completely unpredictable, out of control cycle that demanded the impossible (like mindreading). They pointed out that I was impossible to trust (I lied a lot—to protect myself or by meaning well but then not following through on promises), I was impossible to assuage (because I couldn’t soothe myself--I was too depressed, too confused, too conflicted, too helpless-feeling, too un-self-aware, too insecure, too self-hating, too quick to embrace feeling slighted and too slow to recognize good things while they were actively happening to me), and while I sort of knew it was true, I didn’t really *understand*.
Now, I was living it in real time. WOW. Yikes.
All this to say, if any of these experiences resonate with you in any way, or if you always find yourself inexplicably and uncontrollably morphing into someone you don’t like and don’t want to be--whether that is : a kow-towing, doormatted insecure appeaser, a powerless, weak, misunderstood, incompetent "crybaby", an avoidant recluse who feels hunted, faceless, and engulfed, a raging, furious, irritable harridan who is set off by anything and nothing, or something passive-aggressive, petulant, immature-despite-knowing-how-to-be-mature, and childish, as Gala Darling explained on her blog:
“I definitely used to regress when I went back home to stay with my parents, even though I have been living out of home for years. It was almost like as soon as I stepped over that familiar threshold, I turned back into that loathsome 16 year old that I thought I had left behind. I would become surly, uncooperative, selfish, grumpy & charmless — very teenage Gala at her worst moments! Not pretty! & I couldn’t understand it. Even the smallest request had me reacting completely churlishly. What was it that made me behave like that? What made me so short-tempered & unpleasant? Was it just the fact that my parents were completely insufferable, & I was brilliant, therefore they had no rights to ask me to do anything at all ever?!
Well, um, no, not exactly. The way I see it, it’s all about repeating patterns.
Most of us lived with at least one of our parents until we were about 18, which is a very long time. In that time, thousands of patterns & routines were established, & that’s the thing about a pattern: it can be hard to break, especially when you’re thrown back into the situation or environment in which you are used to acting (or reacting) a certain way.
I really don’t mind cleaning up after myself, rinsing my dishes, making my bed. In fact, I do those things of my own volition when I’m in my apartment. But for some reason, it used to be that when I came back home & my parents asked me to do one of those things, I would react badly. I would grumble, complain, pout. ‘Just a minute,’ I’d yell. Several minutes would pass. They would harass me to get off the internet. (Geek, you see.) I wouldn’t want to. Things got ugly.”
...if any of those feel familiar, or if others have tried to explain that you exhibit untoward behaviors…
this time at “home” can be the fact-finding, pattern-recognizing, eye-opener, and learned-healthy-behavior testing-ground you didn’t realize you needed.
What awareness, self-examination, and behavioral questions can you investigate for yourself while you are there?
What contradictions and manipulations do you notice from those around you?
What hypocrisies would need an entire team of trained professional religious apologists to try to construct the word-equivalent of circus-performer-style contortionism to even make the semblance of sense out of (and still fail)?
What behaviors have you been accused of (by people who have proven that they can be trusted and actually consistently care for you in a committed, freeing way that values you for YOU), that you notice in others, especially former role models, at “home”?
What excuses do you notice constantly given for inexcusable, abnormal, degrading behaviors towards you? What messages does that send to you? Should you continue to internalize them, build your self-image on them, and let them control your perception of yourself? (NOOOO). Should you take those messages personally? (NO). Are they sane, rational, or reliable estimations of your self-worth, acceptability, loveableness, and future success? (NO NO NO NO).
In what ways, overt and covert, is your value and competence constantly and destructively brought under scrutiny and negated?
What gauntlets are you constantly forced to run in order to prove yourself worthy of even the most basic levels of respect and trust?
How have you sabotaged healthy relationships that have been consistent and constructive with your own constant demands for similar “proof” from them?
For example, if all you’ve ever known is that nothing is acceptable, your input is not welcome, and “impossible to please” is the default human setting….is it any wonder that the non-toxic people closest to you (from the outside) will try to explain to you how awful of a situation you constantly put them in when you are:
never happy with anything (nothing fills the void of self-love in your heart and soul);
demand mind-reading (followed by rants, rages, and silent treatments when the impossible doesn’t happen);
and make demands that are really never satisfied (always a criticism or complaint—especially IN THE MOMENT, ruining it instead of embracing and enjoying it...just so that you can feel powerful, catered to, cared about, etc. watching the other person apologize, plead, and do backflips to “fix” it for you since love has been defined as conditional and earned through trial-by-doormatting-and-gratuitous-servitude)?
What do you feel? What triggers those feelings? How do you react in response to those feelings? How do those responses make you feel? Why?
Question EVERYTHING and the *whys* behind EVERYTHING.
This will take some time and space to process, and it may be painful and confusing at first, but it is so worth it.
What *constructive* coping and self-soothing do you know how to do, that you can practice?
This is how you change the most important relationship you will ever have, the one which determines how all other relationships will form, grow, and evolve: the relationship you have with yourself. Get to know yourself in a realer, deeper, more intimate, more genuine, more truly knowledgeable, compassionate, aware way.
Having pre-ordained purposes is how we can co-create with fate. Intention-setting is never over-rated because it is a way to steer events as much as possible in your favor with necessary preparation (most of which is mental conditioning).
In addition to using your observations to become self-aware and rocket-launch your own behavior modification, what else do you wish to accomplish when the proverbial rubber meets the road?
You can practice self-soothing, giving no f*cks (it’s all a big game anyway), and not taking things personally.
Have compassion for and patience with yourself (it’s the only way to have it for others). Until you die, you get another try.
Try to get lots of good sleep, drink lots of water, and avoid (tempting as they may be) any substance that will rob you of your inhibitions, discretion, and give others an excuse to vilify / dismiss / infantilize / criticize you. Stay guarded, stay safe.
Arm yourself with the ultimate dis-armers: laughter, humor, and indifference.
Be there for others who may need your supportiveness (but don’t try to “fix” them or rescue them or try to nag them into it if they aren't interested).
Lay low or skedaddle. No need to cause more (unproductive) trouble for yourself than absolutely necessary. Obviously, spend as much time as possible off & away from toxic people and situations, doing things you enjoy. Pull a Walter Mitty if you have to and go on all kinds of “dang fool adventures” that are all in your head. It doesn’t matter as long as you have a good time. I know YOU know this, but it can’t NOT be said. Setting this goal can give you time to do research and get creative with it. Start writing 10 ideas a day. Decide which memories YOU want to create.
When your boundaries enforce themselves (as they will do), don’t second-guess (a.k.a. feel guilty) or waste energy analyzing to death. Depending on your situation, you may be pleasantly surprised at how your abuser backs down (although undoubtedly you’ll be facing some passive-aggression later); but if things go worse than expected, you may have to do some sort of disingenuous song and dance for damage control. Choke down the crow if you must, do the lip service, ego-stroking, go through the motions if that is your best (or only feasible) option, but you don’t need to internalize it or start to believe it yourself. Do whatever is best for you at the moment. Sometimes it’s better to “ask for forgiveness” than permission (or validation, or respect, or reasonableness, or unconditional love that will never come). If it ultimately serves you best to pretend to backpedal, you’re beating the system (a horrible, stacked, unreasonable, illogical, ruthless system unworthy of respect), not selling out. Pick your battles—and be especially selective about what you allow yourself to be excommunicated for if you can’t afford it yet (for whatever reason).
I don’t like it either, but remember that your zeroth goal is to go home safe (even if that home is your distant dream of the future).
CREATE YOUR OWN CLOSURE (you have to):
Trust me when I say that nothing external that can be said or done will be the closure your heart feels it needs. It will always be incomplete because only you feel the pain the way you feel it, and only you can remedy it exactly.
I’m going to repeat Theramintrees’s quote: “Stop overvaluing the respect of your abuser.”
Even if someone told you exactly what you needed to hear, and did all they could do repairatively (which is highly improbable, so why wait around putting your life on hold, wasting time that you can never get back), it would still be YOU processing it, accepting it, deciding it is enough, and using it to create closure and move forward.
You can do that anyways because either way, YOU will have to do it all. Time to cut out the middle man, and to hell with formalities like apologies. They never feel as good as you think they will anyways, and they aren’t the one thing we all *really* wish they were (a time machine to the past for a do-over).
“We can get addicted to wanting to talk things over and over (and over), so that we can delay the inevitable and try one last time to see if we’re 'special enough' for them to want to change. This makes us look desperate and nuts.
We want to have 'talks' and explain to people why they hurt us, how they hurt us, and why what they did was wrong. The thing is, if these people were capable of respect in the first place, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. So, what’s the point of explaining to someone, that has consistently proven to you that they don’t understand respect, how they were disrespectful and hurtful?
Never ask someone why they rejected you. Rejection is not an investigation trigger. It’s an action initiator.” —Natasha Adamo
As Natasha Adamo would say, "Forgive them and flush" (and then she would put the little litter-in-bin clip art emoticon here).
Don’t dwell on Hell.
Living well and being happy truly are the best revenge. I love Esther Hick’s take on how to “get over” things that bother you—think about something better. Put your energy towards something that makes you happy. Make feeling good your number one priority.
You don’t have to live in the pain and frustration of the past or even the present any longer than it takes to think of a better feeling thought. The mind that alters, alters all.
The key to making this work is not to “run away” or try to “escape” from something negative (which keeps the focus on, you guessed it, the negative). The trick of the thing is to hold something wonderful in your mind and heart and put yourself towards that. Focus on that. Allow that to come to you through inspired (never forced) action.
When you commit to creating your bliss, the Universe conspires to help you, just as Goethe said. What can only be described as miracles will catalyze for you, one after another. You’ll read me say that, and lots of others say repeatedly, “You’re never alone”...and it’s really true, just as soon as you get out of your own way, surrender, and commit.
You are Divinely guided, protected, blessed, and provided for.
You are Divinely loved, cared about, understood, inspired, and seen.
Everything is working out for you. You got this.
All My Love (always!),