Something almost all survivors experience is difficulty in communicating, especially when we're upset or talking about our abuse. The human brain has a few very specific functions when we're upset: shut down all non-life-essential functions, re-route blood to the vital organs and muscles, and do whatever's possible to lower stress.
Shutting down all non-life-essential bodily functions means that our brains shut down our centers of higher learning: our complex logic, our long-term memory, and most importantly? Our centers of speech! Our brains literally shut down when we're under stress, making the formation of even basic sentences under stress very difficult.
For survivors, this means that often when we most need to communicate, to our therapists, to our friends, or to our family, we can't. When we're most upset and want or need to explain why, our brains just can't come up with the words. Not being able to communicate at these crucial times is frustrating, and often leads to some pretty negative feelings about ourselves. When we're not in crisis, we find it just as difficult to explain about that stressful situation - as thinking about that moment when you couldn't talk can sometimes trigger that same speech-center shutdown, starting the cycle all over again.
So this week we'll focus on keywords and their use.
A keyword is something you set up in advance with someone with whom communication is important in stressful times. Say for example that you have a trigger that makes you absolutely terrified. If you tell your partner, your friends, etc. in advance that when you're triggered, you often can't let them know what's wrong. Let them know that you're upset enough that you can't explain it, or answer questions well. Then, give them a specific word, or words that will be your keyword. With the trigger example I used, let's say you choose "Trigger-scared" as your keyword. Saying that word indicates to those close to you *exactly* what is going through your mind.
When you set up a keyword, you are giving your circle of supporters a key to knowing what to do. Often, our supporters want to help, but just don't know what to do and when to do it. By setting up a keyword with them, you can tell them *exactly* what to do with each keyword. Yes - it's okay to have more than one (if you have more than a few, it's okay to write them down). You're giving them the power to help you, how you need it and when you need it. It helps you get the support you need, and it helps them feel less helpless to support you
So this week's questions:
- When do you most often find yourself unable to communicate?
- Is there a keyword you could use to indicate you've reached that place?
- If you've used keywords already, how have they been most helpful?
So my therapist made me cry today. That's a first. She also asked me to write down my thoughts about today, so I thought I'd use this as a place to do that. Hope no one minds the length. Shouldn't ne anything triggering.
We were discussing my difficulty handling my survivor partner's total shut down sexually. I do not handle it well some times, becoming quite clingy. If I am in a weak place I cry and ask my girlfriend for reassurance, like I'm reaching out to her to fix my emptiness and fear. I have known deep down that only I can help myself and only she can begin her healing process. We can support eachother, but we can't really do it for the other person. They are two individual battles. Knowing something deep down and acknowledging it consciously are two different things though.
My therapist linked my reactions to my own emotionally abusive and "enmeshed" childhood in a way that I understood and kind of agreed with. It made sense and was terrifying too. She made me stare down that both of us are broken in our own ways. We are very similarly wounded, our issues appear different, but they are more alike than it seems. She says that we have the possibility to help eachother a great deal, but only after we take care of our own issues.
Vicki (my girlfriend) and I have a reoccuring pattern that we both dislike. I am usually okay with her distance and lack of interest, I can usually understand where it is coming from. But sometimes I miss her affection so much and I get into a very bad place. I need to cry. I need to talk to her, but talking makes her shut down more. She then feels guilty that I am hurting. She calls herself a "frigid asshole". I do not think she is that. WHen I break down she dissociates more. So we have a lovely cycle of her distance triggering my fear of abandonment and rejection, which feeds her distance. We dont fight. I can't say we have ever had a fight. But we've had many nights where we've gone back and forth like this.
In fact, we had a similar conversation a few days ago as I was leaving her at a music festival for the week. She got very drunk the night before that and said some things she didnt mean. The next day I was packing up to leave (I have to work this week but she got the week off for the festival) and had a hangover and was depressed. She asked what was wrong and I started crying and going over the stuff from the previous night, along with my old issues. She didnt shut down as much and reassured me she will be going to therapy soon. I calmed down, we joked a bit, I hung out for another half hour or so then hit the road. We talked briefly when I arrived home just to tell her I was home safe.
So, she hasnt answered any text messages for the past few days. This is a 10 day festival with camping and no electricity, so she is shutting her phone off to save the battery, plus it is her vacation and she probably doesnt want any phone calls. I logically know this, but the paranoid side is worried she is mad or I upset her too much.
Anyway, to sum up the rambling, my therapist pointed out that when I get overwhelmed by my fear I turn to Vicki and I act like a child begging for reassurance. I'm sure Vicki has enough to hande, processing her own shit, and it's probably so stressful to deal with me too. I reach out to Vicki to fix what is not her responsibility nor in her ability. I need to grow up and just sit with my emotions when I have the urge to cry and cling.
I feel bad that I do this to Vicki. I feel guilty that I did this right before I left the festival and I hope it doesnt put a damper on her vacation. Its taking me too long to understand some things about myself and my motivations, and its so overwhelming when I feel it. I'm the partner but she is just as patient with me as I am with her. I'm glad she's put up with me and been as supportive as she can. I'm going to try to change this behavior, because it never really helps us. We've been together for three years and we've both said we arent going anywhere any time soon. We're looking at the long haul. Still, after our discussions that go no where I get paranoid that she will get sick of it and leave. I'm sure she's afraid I'll get sick of no intimacy and leave.
I want to be on good terms with myself and my own feelings so that I can do the best things for her when she starts delving deep into herself...she doesnt remember the abuse or why it affects her so much yet...she has a long road ahead of her.
Why is it so hard to talk?
Am I the only one who has trouble talking to people?
I mean, I can be sociable; I can carry on a conversation about things that aren't all that important, like cars or sewing projects or cooking or whatever the hell. But I have the worst time talking to anyone about how I feel.
My boyfriend gets kind of aggravated at me sometimes because I have trouble talking to him (or anyone) when I'm really upset. He gets annoyed because he wants to help but he can't help if he doesn't know what's wrong, and I can't expect him to know what's wrong if I don't say something.
And even though he has proven on numerous occasions that if I come to him with a problem, he will do his damnedest to help me find a workable solution, I still have trouble telling him when I'm feeling bad.
It's like there's a blockage in my throat, and I just can't get words out. Sometimes I can write when I can't talk, but sometimes I can't even write.
Sometimes it's because it's hard to describe how I'm feeling in words; sometimes words just don't fit. But sometimes I have the words in my head, and I just can't get them out.
Does anyone else ever feel this way?