The impossible nature of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”

A self portrait drawing I made in junior high (at the age of 14) to show my best friend Nanci how I felt about being bullied by some girls in our class. It’s basically saying that the bullies laughed at me if I didn’t speak up at their verbal abuse but also that they would laugh at me if I got mad and tried to stand up for myself.

I’ve made a very important discovery about the nature of a certain type of abuse, which I call “hate-abuse” (verbal and psychological abuse done by a person or a group of people who are bullying someone because they feel uncomfortable around that person and display hatred towards that person), and it is that it is not about a wrongdoing or a specific quality or feature in the victim – it’s the psychology of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” that creates the perfect foundation for a sense of power for the abuser – like “satisfaction guaranteed” because they will feel superior in any case.

These words were once meant for me: “you seem to like being treated like a pathetic and submissive creature”, meaning I did not stand up for myself to that person’s abuse. But I’ve also heard this: “you think you are so innocent but you get angry too and say hurtful things, you are to blame just as much as I am to blame”, meaning I finally exploded of anger after being bullied and abused. My abusive husband would even show me scratch marks on his hands which I had created in self defence during his violent attacks of abuse. He would pout his lips and made me kiss the wound. Like it was all my fault. And I bought it, felt guilty and ashamed.

There’s just something so completely impossible about this routine of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” – and the root of the impossibility is that the abuser or the bully has already made up their minds about the victim; whatever they’ll do they’ll be hated and punished. It’s all about getting a reaction – and the lack of it triggers a want to try even harder to get it. This is called narcissistic abuse and is meant as a tool to “play you”. And boy, have I been played!

The important thing here is that it’s not about you. It’s them. I’ve spent nearly two decades trying to figure out why they hated me or whatever I had done to deserve the abuse. But it’s not about me, I just can’t win anyway. It wouldn’t do any difference if I changed to whatever they would want me to be (for them) or if I would act differently. Because they will always find something, that is wrong, something worth punishing; if I’m happy they’d think I don’t deserve it, if I’m sad they’d say I’m only feeling sorry for myself and using it to get other people’s sympathies, if I’m successful they’d say I’m a fraud, if I’m failing they’d say I’m worthless and pathetic etc. There’s no way to win this game.

The only thing to do – is to withdraw from participating in their game. And it can be very hard to do. Nobody is ever allowed to play me again. I learned that lesson too late but better late than never.

Reclaiming my intelligence

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do   

–  Marianne Williamson

 

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An awakening is not only a pleasant experience. It can be brutal at times. I can see things so clearly now and it’s all painfully real. Suddenly I get these realizations – or like a spiritual ‘epiphany’ – and I start to look different to myself. It feels both liberating and scary at the same time – and can be very confusing at times. This week I made a strange realization.

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Throughout my whole life, I’ve heard that I’m different, special or an ‘odd bird’ – but I’ve never really defined what that means to me and what consequences those labels have had on me and my life.

I haven’t followed conventions and rules – so I am considered as ‘difficult’. I never understood superficial social interactions – so I was labeled ‘weird’. I have never wanted to belong to any group, any religion, political party or ideology – so I am a ‘misfit’. I have always expressed myself and who I am – so I have been considered to be ‘too much’ – and deserve to be punished. I have my own Universe inside me, I have a vivid imagination and a heightened emotionality – so I’ve been called  ‘crazy’ (mostly in a positive sense, whatever that means). I’m overcoming PTSD – so I must be ‘sick’. The right hemisphere of my brain is more dominant than the left therefore I use my imagination, empathy and creativity more than I use logic – so I must be ‘stupid’.

But that’s just it – I am none of those things. I just have a lot of integrity and won’t give up who I am in order to ‘fit the system’. I am not mentally ill because I have PTSD, I am simply fighting the traumas, caused by other people’s madness and manipulation. I am not crazy, just open-minded.

But, what I’ve discovered lately is how much and often I’ve belittled myself in order to make other people feel smarter and less insecure around me. So much so that I forgot about my own intelligence. I acted stupid, felt stupid and then believed in my own lie – I started to believe that I actually was stupid. It might be hard for you to understand why I would do this to myself – but it has an explanation, rooted in the PTSD (in psychology called “regression”). It’s a common survival strategy during a trauma; to endure unbearable long-term situations the victim takes on more childish mannerisms in order to escape the responsibility and emotions of an adult. There is often a bond between the abuser and the victim in which the victim is both terrified of the unreliable nature of the abuser and at the same time is seeking comfort and security in the same person (I call this destructive bond ” the dance of death “, this routine is why people stay in abusive or toxic relationships). To act oblivious, or more ” innocent ” can make the victim feel safer because the abuser (especially in domestic violence) is also the “caregiver” and authority figure as some sort of a parental substitute. It’s a complex phenomenon.

So I felt comforted in the way I acted stupid – and that allowed the abuser to seem smarter and more in control, so I wouldn’t question the situation. Sometimes abuse seem to make more sense than the thought of breaking free and having to deal with the aftermath – that’s what abuse does to your mind. After the trauma, this was just part of my twisted behavior and part of my PTSD. I didn’t even notice how I was belittling myself and acting stupid. It became part of my self image.

At one point I even thought about making a boyfriend my legal guardian. That’s how fucked up this self image was. I thought I was incompetent, talentless, worthless and such a victim of my own bad decisions that I couldn’t be trusted.

I can’t believe how I could ever think like that. It’s shocking. Gross. Bizarre. And embarrassing.

After my last break-up  in 2014 I started to change, drastically. I had overcome most of the PTSD symptoms through therapy and nothing made sense anymore – I was finally shedding skin and finding closure in all the destructive behavioral patterns.

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Now I am finally able to acknowledge my own intelligence, not only how smart I am but also HOW I am smart – in what way I am smart, what my resources are, my strength and my competencies. Basically it’s all about the qualities that I’ve been bullied for – the qualities that made people say I am difficult, weird, too much, a misfit and crazy. All that is what make me intelligent and amazing. I never want to act stupid again just to make other people feel better about themselves.

I know my intelligence is rare and beautiful – and when I combine it with my creativity and imagination I can be very powerful. I know it can make people uncomfortable but it’s just not my problem.

I’ve only just begun exploring my intelligence and where it can take me. I wish all people could experience this kind of enlightenment – even if it uncovers embarrassing and painful truths about who we have been forced to be while hiding our true selves. We all deserve to shine from within.

Shame

I am dealing with shame right now, in my self therapy. It’s a very painful subject to dissect. Perhaps it is the core of the darkness I’ve been carrying with me for almost all my life. Shame is something very private – and the most fascinating thing about it, is that we don’t feel shame in front of ourselves – it is always in front of other people. We are OK with our own flaws and ‘abnormalities’ when we are alone – but when we are confronted with them around other people – we want to escape them or hide them to whatever cost, because somewhere along our journey, other people pointed them out as flaws – and shamed us for it. We were taught to hate those sides of ourselves and the sad thing is that it’s the flaws that makes us unique and beautiful. Whatever makes us stand out is not a flaw or a weakness, it’s a definition of what makes us magical individuals. In the game of Tetris – the rule is ‘if you fit in you disappear’, think about that for a moment. Now that is a shame.

I am examining the shame I feel about my own flaws and ‘abnormalities, to be able to make peace or to remove the shame associated with them. It is difficult though, because the shame is a very powerful and overwhelming feeling and the easiest way would be to just to hold on to the shame and continue to escape and hide the source from myself. But I’m not gonna do that. And what the hell is “normal” anyway? Perfection? Conformity? Is it always the opposite of how we perceive ourselves, like an impossible illusion? Is it just an idea without a clear definition – an idea that works like a mirror with a blurred image of something that always feels out of reach?

Normal is whatever is natural for us to feel, to be. To deny what is a natural part of us creates a little black hole inside. A void. And we spend our whole life trying to fill that void with external things. But we can’t fill the void unless we search for whatever that was abandoned in ourselves and shamed by others – and set it free.

I hope I can do this. It is really, really difficult.