Things We Don’t Talk About About Abuse

Discussion of something I have no good words for, about abuse and dealing with people who have been subjected to abuse, after the fold. I recommend you skip this one.

One of the aftereffects of abuse, the long-term protracted kind that leaves scars on your mind, is that it changes the way you interact with anyone who fits the same role in your life as that abuser. You don’t have to be bullied the same way to perceive anyone else who bullies you to trip your brain into treating them that way. If a teacher belittles you enough, you’ll assume every teacher is belittling you.

There’s this thing, hypersensitivity, which is used as an offhanded complaint about people being easily bothered, or about a computer device responding to input you don’t mean to give. It’s also a symptom of long-term abuse. When you experience long-term harm, you become more sensitive to the things that you perceive as predicates of the harm, or causally make the harm happen. Then you become more sensitive. And more sensitive.

Sometimes you will get hit for no good reason and you will become convinced that you missed a detail. You will slowly slide into the idea that there is an order, a practiced, reasonable, standard set of rules, and if you just stick to the rules, you will be okay. If the abuse is random, that just makes you more likely to try and find the pattern, because humans are pattern-seekers.

You start to search for ghosts.

Then you get out. You’re free. You’re not in that experience any more. Nobody is going to hit you for telling the truth. You can breathe. Except you still have those rules, those ideas, internalised, as to how people should react, about how you have to do things right or the problem happens. You read people as being capable of flying off the handle at a moment’s notice because you know they can, and that means you interpret conflict differently. You interpret safety differently.

And so you go start making friends. And they think you’re okay, until there’s a conflict, and then they watch as you either crumple like a house of cards or fight like a leopard over what brand of taco shells you’re going to buy. Because you still have that hypersensitivity. You still have that feeling inside you that you need to have the pattern, the rules.

This is not news, not news to anyone who’s been in this, I know.

Thing is, if you’re not one of the people inside this experience, if you’re not one of the people pushing back against ghosts, then you might be confused by this. What’s more, you might not realise that your attempts to stabilise things may lead to you stepping into the position of the abuser. You don’t even realise you’re doing it – but you do the thing, and the person struggling with the pain settles down. Maybe they go quiet, or they respond politely and the fight’s over. That’s not to say what you do is right. Sometimes, taking control or command of a situation – especially when you take it upon yourself to do this often – creates that pattern anew. You become part of the structure, and you pick up the power the abuser had over the person struggling.

You don’t even realise you’re doing it. You didn’t put the leash there. But you’re holding it. And every time you tug on it, you might be making it harder to solve the problems.

I don’t really have a solution, but I figure if I gotta explain this to people four times in one week I should probably write it down.

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