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3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser

3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser
Holding a distorted view of one’s abuser is common amongst abuse victims

Do you feel highly triggered and insecure in relation to your abuser, even after having cut contact with them? In order to comprehend how your judgement is affected by your trauma, here are 3 signs you have a distorted perception of your abuser:

1- You forget your abuser’s vulnerabilities

Abusive individuals use their charisma and influence, as well as fear, shame and guilt to control and manipulate others. Their “strength” is dependent upon their ability to engage their victims and make them feel insecure. Without that control over the other, however, they lose their “confidence” and, above all, their power. As a result, they feel unsettled and lost. Feeling disconcerted by their own inadequacy, their lack of empathy and pent-up anger come to the surface exposing their vulnerability. When you create a habit of reminding yourself of such moments and of your abuser’s weaknesses, you humanise them while protecting and empowering yourself.

2- You lose yourself in your abuser’s subjective reality

If you your abuser’s biased views keep popping up and corrupting your own whenever you are in the process of making important decisions, self-reflecting or contemplating change, you are still living according to their version of reality and not yours. Catch yourself whenever you notice your abuser’s presence in your head and politely, humorously or even aggressively, dismiss such dysfunctional and unproductive thinking, immediately. Then, reconnect to your body and mind with love, appreciation and respect for yourself.

3- You forget how resilient you are

Abuse that comes in any shape or form, be it verbal, physical (domestic violence), sexual or emotional/psychological, is damaging to anyone who is exposed to it, be it through direct or indirect means (also known as vicarious abuse). As the effects of trauma caused by abuse are numerous, the fact that you are functioning and doing the best you can to heal and lead a balanced and fulfilling life shows how resilient you are. When you act passively while feeling less than your abuser, however, shame and guilt take hold and connection with your higher and stronger self is temporarily lost.

Despite having a distorted view of one’s abuser being a common experience amongst abuse victims, it is helpful to reiterate that it is one of the effects of complex trauma. If you find yourself not fully trusting your judgement about your abuser’s character and what you went through, it is time to declutter your mind and gain some distance from your feelings, so to make room, again, for your truth and healthy sense of inner guidance.

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings

3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings
How easy it is to trust your own feelings?

As an Attachment-Focused EMDR therapist who specialises in relational trauma, honouring my clients’ feelings and their right to believe in their emotional wisdom make for essential tools to help them heal. Not surprisingly, relational trauma victims tend to display a complex and often neglectful relationship with their own body, feelings and emotions, which has a negative impact on their physical and/or mental health. Here are 3 reasons why you feel you cannot trust your own feelings, so to clarify why that happens and help you break that habit:

1- You were raised in an environment of emotional neglect and/or abuse

When you grow up without feeling properly heard, seen and felt, you struggle to connect and honour your own self. To promote emotional wellbeing and healthy development, conscious caregivers are attentive and respectful of their children’s needs, feelings and wants. By validating their children’s experience, they help them honour their own. As a result, those who are raised by emotionally conscious and mature parents develop a good sense of identity which is guided, comfortably, by their own feelings. Conversely, those whose feelings were dismissed as unimportant or even shamed and rejected for having them learn, through those very processes, to repress or deny their own emotional wisdom.

2- Connecting with negative feelings makes you feel unsafe

Do you remember what happened when you expressed negative emotions and feelings such as anger, sadness, fear and grief as a child? How did the key people around you, namely caregivers, teachers, relatives and friends respond? If they reacted with antagonism, be it by ignoring your feelings completely, solely focusing on solving what they believed was a problem, openly shaming you for having them or making you believe they did not correspond to your true experience (also known as gaslighting or truth abuse), it is only natural that you feel vulnerable when feeling them and insecure about their veracity and purpose, even as an adult.

3- You are in denial or not ready to change

Not fully believing in how you feel – especially when times are tough and change is required to promote solid wellbeing – helps one remain motionless. If you are not ready to face reality or willing to put energy into making positive changes and dealing with their consequences, telling yourself that you cannot trust your own feelings keeps you in your comfort zone. Despite perpetuating discomfort in the long term, this dysfunctional coping strategy creates a temporary sense of safety which feeds your inertia.

In order to feel whole and, most importantly, lead an authentic and fulfilling life, I highly recommend you challenge beliefs that lead to thinking that you cannot trust what you feel proactively, every time they trigger inadequacy. Do that by practicing “feeling is believing” and tell yourself that that inadequacy is part of your conditioning and it is time you let that go. Then, focus on recreating a freer and more trusting relationship with your own true self by allowing your feelings to take the lead, unconditionally.

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary

130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary
Emotion concepts help you create a more empowering perception of reality

Emotions not only help you make sense of what is going on in your own body, but also influence your perception of what lies outside yourself, as the environment and others, in a creative and empowering way. Therefore, the more specialised your vocabulary for feelings and emotional states, the greater your understanding of your inner experience, as well as your ability to transform your perception of reality. To approach your emotional world from a more specialised, yet non-complicated perspective, here are 130 emotion concepts to refresh your vocabulary:

Acceptance, admiration, adoration, agitation, amazement amusement, anger, anguish, annoyance, anticipation, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, awe

Betrayed, bitterness

Certainty, concern, confidence, conflicted, confusion, connectedness, contempt, curiosity

Defeat, defensiveness, defiant, denial, depressed, desire, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, dread

Eagerness, elation, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, envy, euphoria, excitement

Fear, fearlessness, flustered, frustration

Gratitude, grief, guilt

Happiness, hatred, homesick, hopefulness, horror, humbled, humiliation, hurt, hysteria

Impatience, inadequate, indifference, insecurity, inspired, intimidated, irritation

Jealousy

Loneliness, longing, love, lust

Moody, moved

Neglected, nervousness, nostalgia

Obsessed, overwhelmed

Panic, paranoia, peacefulness, pity, pleased, powerlessness, pride

Rage, regret, relief, reluctance, remorse, resentment, resignation

Sadness, sappy, satisfaction, shadenfreude, scorn, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, scepticism smugness, somberness, stunned, surprise, suspicion, sympathy

Terror, tormented

Unappreciated, uncertainty, unease

Validated, valued, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability

Wanderlust, wariness, wistful, worry, worthlessness

To benefit from emotion concepts as the ones listed above, increase self-awareness and create a habit of monitoring and naming your emotional and feeling states. When sensing non-pleasantness and/or high arousal or stress, make a conscious effort to use as many emotion concepts as needed to explain what you are experiencing, but proactively and not – purely – reactively. When the same is applied simultaneously to pleasant feelings and emotional states, you learn how to tolerate ambiguity and connect with a more balanced self. With time, this practice also has a direct impact on negative bias, reducing its power, and what is more, enriching your perception of your own experience and validating your role as its creator. If the idea that our brains create reality and do not simply react to what lies outside ourselves appeals to you, I recommend reading the brilliant “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” by Lisa Feldman Barrett.

Assertiveness as self-validation in dysfunctional relationships

Assertiveness as self-validation in dysfunctional relationships
Adult children and loving partners of highly neglectful and even abusive individuals do not feel felt, heard or seen

As I explain in my blog article “What is a dysfunctional relationship?”, relationships are considered dysfunctional when they do not favour true intimacy, emotional health and personal growth. In practice, this is observed when needs, opinions, feelings and wants are not validated in a democratic manner. Controlling parents or spouses who lack self-awareness and emotional maturity and, therefore, focus almost exclusively on their own needs and feelings create relationship dynamics that are unhealthy for everyone involved. As a result of their (often unconscious) self-centred attitude, they neglect the wellbeing of their children and partners, which has a negative effect on their self-esteem, ability to honour their boundaries and feel confident in relational contexts.

For those who find themselves as the neglected ones, feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, powerlessness and abandonment are commonplace. As adult children and loving partners of highly neglectful and even abusive individuals do not feel felt, heard or seen, they might dedicate great time and effort in communicating their needs in order to make their voices heard in the hope that their assertive behaviour will lead to behavioural change. While some manage to achieve positive outcomes and affect their relationships favourably, others’ attempts tend to fall on deaf ears. For the latter, questioning the point of being assertive in such discouraging scenarios becomes worthy of consideration.

If cutting contact with difficult people or ending dysfunctional relationships that compromise your emotional wellbeing are not options you are willing to contemplate, I suggest sticking with assertiveness, but as your own personal “thing”.  If your father, mother or partner refuses to hear, see or feel you, that does not mean you cannot do all those things yourself and for yourself. As assertiveness is a gift you give to your true self, when you feel unimportant, invisible, incompetent and/or unlovable in their presence, continue to connect with your body and express how they make you feel, regardless of how you think they might respond. You can do that by saying the following, silently or out loud:

“When you _____ (behaviour), I feel _____ (feeling) and think _____ (thought)”.

Example: “When you ignore my opinion, I feel sad/angry and think I do not matter”.

Every time you repeat the above – even when it goes unnoticed by others – you validate your own feelings. By keeping the connection with your own body and reminding yourself of the impact others have on you, you become your own source of validation and empowerment, which also helps you break the cycle of dependency and dysfunction.

Common negative beliefs of C-PTSD sufferers

Common negative beliefs of C-PTSD sufferers
Complex PTSD sufferers struggle to think and feel positively

C-PTSD sufferers display a view of themselves, the world and others through the distorted lens of complex trauma. Complex trauma victims struggle to maintain an objective and neutral perspective due to the negative adverse experiences that shaped their neurobiology and ability to live in the present without an exaggerated need to protect themselves against further hurt. If you believe that to be your case, it is helpful to identify the beliefs that perpetuate a sense of unsafety, hopelessness, powerlessness, disconnection and isolation, such as the ones mentioned below:

I am damaged goods.

I have no control over my emotions.

I am alone in this world.

I cannot trust anyone.

When things seem to be working out for me, I should expect something bad to follow.

If anyone finds out who I truly am, they will leave me.

I am unable to feel okay with whom I am.

I am not safe.

Nobody understands me.

I am cursed.

Intimate relationships are sources of pain, therefore, they should be avoided.

My mental health problem is beyond healing.

I am unable to make relationships work.

I am crazy.

I will never be able to do well in life like other people.

I have no control over my own body.

A few people might like me, but they do not know the real me because if they did, they would not.

I am less than others.

Things are harder for me than for other people.

I must make sure to always avoid people, things and situations that trigger me.

I will never feel free from my abuser(s).

I am powerless against my abuser(s).

I will only overcome my trauma if I manage to distance it from my mind completely.

I will only overcome my trauma if I manage not to feel any emotions related to it completely.

All my dysfunctional behaviours are effects of my trauma.

I cannot manage the effects of my trauma.

I will only feel okay once my abuser(a) is(are) dead.

When things get tough, it is best to move away from the problem.

Others see me differently because of what I went through.

Things will never work out for me.

As rigid beliefs like the ones listed above fail to make justice to our complexity, as well as our ability to manage vulnerabilities and live a fulfilling life, I would highly recommend you to take time challenging the ones that resonate, somehow, with your own thinking. If you need help to understand why they are dysfunctional and how to refer to them as such, click here to access my list of cognitive errors.

Regulating fear of abandonment: a closer look at the role of shame

Regulating fear of abandonment, a closer look at the role of shame
Fear of abandonment is felt when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy

Developmental/childhood trauma victims often struggle with fear of abandonment.  Fear of abandonment is felt in relational contexts when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy. Genuine self-expression, on the other hand, is experienced when thinking, feelings and behaviours occur in a congruent manner. When one is in the process of grieving a recent loss, for instance, and feels sad, looks subdued and avoids social contact, there is consistency between how he or she thinks, feels and behaves. Emotionally neglectful and abusive parents, however, do not foster a healthy connection with emotions, especially when negative. This is observed when they consistently criticise, blame and even punish their children for having and expressing emotions such as anger and sadness. Children exposed to this maladaptive parental attitude towards negative emotions, then learn how to associate their expression to feelings of rejection, shame and loss of affection.

If parental love is conditional and, therefore, not available when children feel frustrated and sad, make a mistake, or fail to fulfil expectations, their shame triggers a sense of unsafety. This mechanism is not only at play when they are young, however, but also throughout their adult years. In practice, this tendency is easily observed in adults’ emotionally dependant behaviours such as people pleasing and denial of individual needs to secure a partnership. The urge to be liked by everyone through repression of negative emotions and wants is highly motivated by a fear of the drastic consequences that would supposedly follow their emotional freedom and acts of self-assertion, namely, loss of love and attachment.

Since the link between shame and fear of abandonment is so intimate and detrimental to mental health, it is vital to highlight its influence on people’s ability to create functional relationships that allow them to be themselves and build strong emotional connections. If you do not feel good enough to connect with your own body, understand and honour your needs because you are afraid of the effect that that might have on others, I highly recommend to challenge the dysfunctional beliefs that are feeding your fear of abandonment. First, it is not your duty to make others’ existence free of emotional discomfort. Secondly, would you like to keep a relationship with someone who only validates their own interests, needs and wants? And finally, do you not think yourself worthy of your own? If you do believe to be good enough for you, practice tolerating the shame that arises from acting in an authentic way until it becomes a trait from a much more confident, happier you.