If you’ve suffered through abusive relationships at any time in your life, you know they leave scars on your soul because they break you down and make you feel helpless and afraid of everything. This is because if you’ve been tramatized, and have unresolved memories of that experience which are deeply emotional, your mind will have a tendency to cross over into going from a specific fear to generalizing it to more reasons to fear. Living with an abuser or a traumatic memory is like being strapped to a time bomb. You never quite know when it’s going to explode and when it does it makes a big mess.
Strategies for defense: Playing it safe
Put up walls Experience has taught you that you can never be too careful, and you are incapable of protecting yourself so you should always be on guard because people can’t be trusted.
Keeping secrets Abuse thrives in shame. People who are victims of abuse feel that it’s their fault, and by admitting the details of the abuse, it will bring shame on them. It’s natural to feel guilty or shameful if you’ve been abused, but it’s not your fault that someone hurt and took advantage of you. You may think that by keeping the secret locked up, you’ll be okay, but it only intensifies the pressure that you feel.
Thinking words don’t hurt In many instances as with verbal abusers, although the person has hurt or is hurting you with verbal assaults, shouting, cursing or making intimidating or sarcastic remarks, you feel conflicted about confronting them and telling them to stop because you don’t believe that you are strong enough and a part of you believes that you deserve the abuse and you’re making a big deal out of nothing. Many times as part of the manipulation process, the abuser will tell you that you’re oversensitive and imagining things.
Being put down or criticized by a verbally abusive person you get used to doubting yourself and your abilities. You walk through life as if on eggshells, choosing your words carefully and avoiding confrontations or rocking the boat because your brain has learned to associate being visible and heard with reasons to fear.
In your fear-filled mind any wrong move could lead to danger. You learn to say and do things that will appease people and keep you safe from harm. In the process of trying so hard to stay safe, you lose yourself in fear and self-doubt.
The traumatic memories that ensue from dysfunctional relationships can follow you wherever you go because they cloud your thinking and make you believe that you’re always in danger, but unless you’re actually in physical danger and living with someone who is abusing or hurting you, the source of your fear is most likely old memories that are getting constantly triggered in your body by your environment.
Here’s a neuroscientist’s explanation of how it works from your body’s perspective.
Dr. Joe Dispenza is a neuroscientist, lecturer, & best-selling author of the books, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself and Evolve Your Brain.” He was also one of the featured scientists in the movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know!?
In the movie he explains that our emotions are chemicals and we can easily become addicted to feeling the same negative emotion over and over again automatically beyond our conscious awareness, because “nerve cells that fire together, wire together.
For example he says,”if you get angry on a daily basis, if you get frustrated on a daily basis, if you suffer on a daily basis, or look for reasons why you’re a victim in your own life, your body remembers those emotions and they become part of your identity.”
If you’ve experienced abuse in your past, you carry those same emotional responses into your future.
Here’s how your body works
Scientists have discovered that our bodies are made up of 50-100 trillion cells. And every one of those cells has up to a million cell receptor sites on the end of it. It’s the job of your cell receptors to absorb nutrients, proteins, vitamins and minerals to maintain a healthy balance for your body.
So if you’ve lived in an abusive atmosphere, every cell of your body is wired to react and respond to any possible threat by consistently activating the emotion of fear.
But because our brains can’t tell the difference between what’s really happening and what you’re thinking about, you end up always experiencing the same emotion whenever you’re reminded of your abuse. Abuse is one example known as an event.
An event could be something that happens to you, or someone close to you, you may hear about it, or see it. It could also manifest itself as a thought, a trauma, a surgical procedure or injury. All these situations are jarring to your body.
When these types of events occur it causes a part of your brain called the hypothalmus to release a cascade of chemicals called peptides. These peptides are short chain amino acids that our bodies experience as emotions or sensations. There are 32 different combinations of chemical emotions.
These peptides dock onto cell receptors inhibiting the natural absorbtion of nutrients and lifegiving vitamins, minerals and proteins. If the emotional chemical is not processed out of the cell receptors, this causes the cells to shrink up and die and they will eventually divide.
The body then manufactures more cell receptor sites for that particular peptide or emotion.
The emotional chemicals send an electromagnetic signal to the brain to let us know that the emotional chemical is still sitting in the cell receptors and needs to be released. That’s when you can’t seem to get out of your emotional rut no matter what you do. That’s not your imagination. It’s almost like your cell receptors are acting the part of drug addicts and they are needing their fix of emotion.
Perhaps you’ve done your best to forget them, drive them away or tried traditional therapy to psychoanalyze them, but the thoughts and memories continue to haunt you, making it difficult to relate to people in your life who remind you of your past. You’ll notice that the triggers are everywhere. Anything that reminds you of those experiences will stimulate those same fear responses in your body. Your senses will be on high alert and overload, making it seem like danger is everywhere. Everytime you taste, smell, touch, hear or see anything that remotely reminds you of your abusive experience, your brain plays tricks on you making you think that you’re back there, reliving it all over again.
How I found relief from an abusive past and you can too
Following my parents divorce, I grew up in a very dysfunctional household with my very sweet passive, yet chronically depressed mother and Jorge, my step father who was an alcoholic. He was a raging, abusive sexual predator who would fly off the handle at the least provocation. Night after night my mother and I stood by and watched helplessly as he beat my baby brother to a pulp. I was terrified of this man.
All the years I lived with he and my mother, he sexually violated me every time her back was turned. When I was 16, I finally got the courage to tell my mother. She refused to believe me and continued to live with this man until he passed away in 2011. For years I was estranged from my mother because I blamed her for everything.
Fear became my most familiar emotion and I worked for years in therapy attempting to reconcile those memories and put them away in a box that I would never see.
If you’re familiar with this type of past, you know that life has a way of reminding you where you come from and who you are because every day is like a battle with you fighting desperately seeking peace.
I found my solace with food. Others choose drugs or alcohol. No matter what substance you choose, it won’t work for long, because it’s only a temporary fix.
For years I lived under a cloud of shame, and fear wanting nothing more than to be invisible believing that was the only thing that I could do to feel safe.
In 2004 my life transformed when a friend came to my aid during a panic attack that had gotten triggered by a memory of abuse from my past. In that moment she showed me how to use a simple stress relief method Emotional Freedom Technique, best known as tapping .
In minutes after tapping gently on parts of my face, hands and under my arms, I went from sobbing uncontrollably and feeling helpless and victimized by Jorge and all his perverted friends to finally feeling my first glimpse of peace. That moment changed my life and I vowed to pay it forward by sharing this technique with other women who had also been abused.
Despite growing up in an abusive atmosphere, you may or not be living with an abusive person now. But it’s likely that you’re incapable of determining that for yourself because in your mind you’re always feeling like you’re in danger. That’s become the filter through which you see your world.