Abuse Leaves a Mark on More People Than We Realize

abuse leaves a mark on more people than you knowI recently read an article called “What It’s Like to Witness Domestic Abuse as a Child” by Claudya Martinez, and all I could think about afterwards was how abuse leaves a mark on more people than we realize. And I don’t mean more people get abused than we realize (although that’s probably true, too).  I mean that each instance affects more people than we think.

Because not being hit doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt.

Here’s an excerpt from Claudya’s article that gives an idea of what I mean.

Over and over, I would hear her scream my name between blows. I was 5, maybe 6, years old the first time I remember it happening. He was hitting her. There was no doubt about it; he was hitting her hard because I could hear the sound of his closed fist as it pounded into my mother’s body.

My beautiful mother was being beaten and screaming my name, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to help her, but I knew I couldn’t call the police. I can’t explain to you how I knew this, but I KNEW that calling the police was not an option because in my family, we didn’t call the police. We just didn’t. (read more)

How could that not affect a child? How could that not affect anyone who heard it or saw it?

Helplessness. Confusion. Guilt. Fear. A need to obey. Even after reading her article, I can barely imagine the horrible storm of conflicting emotions she must have been experiencing as she listened to those blows and those screams. What damage did it cause inside her mind? How would it influence and shape her reactions to every life experience afterwards?

Because that’s how the mind works. Emotions, behaviors, and thought processes get ground into it with repeated experiences. And the stronger the experience, the stronger the impression.

But with no visible marks, the cause isn’t visible.

Teachers might notice that she jumps as certain sounds. Loud sounds. So that’s understandable. Dates might catch a wary expression on her face when they get angry or yell about something. But it goes away quickly. Classmates might notice that she doesn’t talk about her home life much. Still, she’s new to town. She’s probably shy.

All little things. All easily explained away.

For some, unknown reason, humans are amazing good at hiding their pains and problems – even from themselves. Which is why in all types of abuse (physical and emotional) can be hard enough to recognize its affects on the direct victim – the person directly abused. Let alone their friends, family, coworkers, doctors, etc.

No wonder we don’t realize how widespread the repercussions can be!

Except, even though it makes sense for us not to realize it, we need to. We need to recognize that people who see others being abused are also being affected. And we need to spread the word. So that when women are beaten in front of their children, they know that the children are being hurt even if no hand is raised against them. That waiting for that visible show of abuse isn’t needed before taking action.

We need to spread the word so that people who struggle with the issues that witnessing abuse can cause know that it’s all right to acknowledge that damage. That they don’t have to feel guilt or self-blame because they weren’t the ones who were hit or belittled.

Abuse may only cause visible damage to one person, but that damage sends a shockwave through everyone it touches. “No man is an island” and no abuse is so isolated that it affects no other living soul. No matter what type of abuse. No matter that the person isn’t the direct victim. It’s not faking, and it’s not a ploy. Not all damage is visible, and not all abuse is direct or deliberate.

Who do you know who needs to hear that?


The Cause of All My Biggest Mistakes

Always? I don’t know about that.

I had a who’s-more-successful competition with a friend today. Only, being women, we each argued that the other person was more successful. To win the argument, I started thinking of all the stupidest things I’ve ever done, and I realized that all my biggest mistakes were caused by lacking self-confidence.

It’s messing with me. For most of my life, I’ve had little-to-no self-confidence. In a lot of areas, anyway. And for most of those mistakes, I actually had a better choice. If I’d done what I thought was best, I wouldn’t have made those mistakes. But could I do that? No. I listened to other people over my own logic and instincts. Not as a kind of peer pressure – because I thought they must be right, and I must be wrong. Because I thought their opinions or ideas had to be better than mine. Because I didn’t have confidence in my own thoughts compared to theirs.

On second thought, maybe it’s more of an inferiority complex than a lack of confidence. Because it’s not that I don’t think my idea is right – it’s that I think someone else’s idea must be better or more right. Not everyone. But I know a lot of really smart, really talented people. And with some of them especially, I have a really hard time believing myself over them because I feel like they’re smarter than me.

I can make all the logical arguments I want about having talents or skills, but emotions don’t listen to logic, do they? It feels right to put their opinions above my own. To think I must be wrong because they disagree. It feels like I shouldn’t have any self-confidence because I don’t deserve to – I’m not as good at those things as other people are. They’re smarter than I am. They make better choices. They must be right, not me

And the saddest part is that I still feel that way. Even knowing that they were wrong. Even knowing that the option I thought of would’ve been better. In a situation where I think one thing, and they think another, I’ll end up going with what they say because I think they must be right. Because the idea that I could be right over them is boggling.

I’d like to blame it on societal brainwashing of women (who knows? it could be true), but there doesn’t seem to be any point right now. That doesn’t tell me how to fix it. It’s not like waving a magic wand: “Oh, you gave me a false impression of my own abilities. I actually can do stuff!” *ping self-confidence appears*. Yeah right.

Want to know the biggest reason I still question my own judgment?

It’s because as often as I was right, and the other people were wrong, I also know how often I end up being wrong (soooo often). Times when they were right. Just because my logic didn’t cause those major mistakes in the past doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. How am I supposed to know if I’m ignoring my better judgment because of self-confidence issues or if they’re right this time?

That’s what scares me most about this idea. As long as I can cast some doubt on my own judgment, I’ll have to pick theirs. I’m trained to pick theirs. So how do I change that? Should I even try to change that?

How self-confident do I need to be to avoid big mistakes? How self-confident do I need to be to cause more?

Apparently, I Have High-Functioning Depression

I saw an article recently on upworthy called “The danger of high-functioning depression as told by a college student.” It’s about how having high-functioning depression may be more dangerous than non-functioning depression because the people around you don’t know you have it. Since you’re good at pushing on and putting on a cheerful face, you can be on the verge of suicide without giving off any of the signs most people go by to tell if someone is at risk. And my brain went, “ah, there’s a name for it,” and “I have high-functioning depression.”

Before I go further, let me say: Don’t worry. I am not at risk of suicide. Honestly, it’s not a path I can take.

But I am very good at hiding my depression. I imagine that if I told any of my coworkers or over half of my relatives that I regularly struggle with depression, they would laugh and say, “Yeah, right.” I joke a lot, I smile a lot, and I am always running somewhere and doing something. Depressed people don’t act like that.

Wrong. Some depressed people don’t act like that. Some depressed people act even more like that the more depressed they are. They crack jokes because it’s a habit. Because if they don’t laugh, they’ll cry. Because it’s easier to hide the pain behind a distracting joke than when talking about something serious. They keep busy because when they stop, they crumble. Because if they keep busy, they don’t have to think about everything that scares them or depresses them.

I read the article and the lack of symptoms, and I understood why the psychiatrist would be afraid because the 16 year old was horribly depressed but had a 4.0 and was very active (AKA she had high-functioning depression). It’s because those are the suicides that no one sees coming.

It made me start thinking about everyone I’ve lost to suicide. What they were like before and whether we had any warning. The result was frightening. Of the 6 friends and acquaintances I’ve lost to suicide in the last few years, over half of them were always smiling and joking. And when I got the news, I was surprised. They always seemed so happy. For some, their lives were improving or headed in a good direction at the time.

That’s why I know how people around me would react to finding out I’m depressed. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve seen the happy exteriors. I can’t blame them for sneering at the idea of someone who’s always moving and smiling being depressed or suicidal.

I don’t know if there’s a point to this article except to warn you to look deeper. Even if someone’s always joking or busy, don’t automatically assume they’re happy. They might have high-functioning depression and feel worse than you could ever have realized. Ask them if they’re ok. Ask them how they’re feeling. Ask how things are going really.

It’s not about hounding them. It’s about being kind and showing them that you care. Showing them that they matter to you. You’d be amazed at the difference that can make. It’s also about letting them know that they can talk to you and trust you. You see, all depression tends to be secretive. High-functioning depression is even worse about hiding itself. You can’t force anyone to tell you, but letting them know that you’re there to listen and that they can trust you goes a long way to encouraging people to talk to you and share their troubles.

Even though I have high functioning depression, that’s all I can think of. Can anyone else think of a way to know that someone has high-functioning depression? Or some way to help them?

Life Is Watching Everyone You Love Die

I struggle with this idea a lot. That life is watching everyone you love die. I can’t keep it out of my head. Ever since it occurred to me, it’s like a constant panic and depression lurking inside. A feeling of absolute helplessness or insecurity. Like ignorance and naivety were my shield, my security blanket, and now they’ve been ruthlessly stripped away so that safety and happiness feel like illusions. Like self-deception.

I didn’t use to think that way. Then, over the past few years, I lost more and more of the people I care about. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances. As a kid, I’d only lost one or two, and they were spaced out by years. Now, it was like Death had a monthly quota to fill, and only people I knew would do. People died of cancer and heart failure. They died of old age. They died in stupid, senseless accidents. And far too many of them died by choice.

I couldn’t deal with it. Can’t. Even now, sitting here writing this, my throat is closing up, and my eyes are filling. When deaths hit you one after the other, you don’t have time to adjust, to deal with the grief and anger. And after a while it hits you that this is your future: watching everyone you love die one after the other unless you’re lucky enough to go first.

That’s when the fear wraps around your heart. Any illusion of control disappears. There’s nothing to shield you from the helplessness any more, nothing to hold it at bay or defeat it because you know, without a doubt, that every single person you love is going to die and that no matter what you do, there’s no way to change that. Not one. Our future deaths are the only truly certain things in life.

As if that weren’t dark and depressing enough, the onslaught of deaths emphasized the fact that not only is everyone you love going to die, but you also have no idea when it’s going to happen. That epiphany has a great effect on the nerves. It maintains a constant level of anxiety, like an abused person flinching from a raised hand, expecting a blow.

Sometimes, you can hide it for a while. Push it down where it’s not as obvious or cover it with cushions to muffle the screaming. But it always comes back. You hear a song about loss. You watch a character die in a movie. Your grandparents talk about all the people they knew who are gone.

That’s when I really choke up. When I talk to the elderly, people have already lost their grandparents, parents, siblings, and most of their friends. Even thinking about losing my grandparents and parents is emotionally crippling to me. If I was an actress, I’d never have to worry about crying onstage. All I would have to do was picture my life after losing my family, and the tear faucet would be on.

It’s a problem. It’s a serious problem because I can’t fix the cause. It’s not something that’s going to go away or change. In fact, it’s only going to get worse the older I get. So what do I do? How do you deal with knowing that life is watching everyone you love die without getting so depressed and anxious that you ruin your own life?

My Desire to Be Well-informed Is Losing

My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.

What part of this year’s election isn’t terrifying? No, don’t answer that. No matter what you say, which side you’re on, it’ll leave me wanting to curl up in the corner and cry. That’s what happens my desire to be well-informed gets the better of me. Every political update makes me feel helpless and hopeless. Add in current events around the world, and I want to build a bomb shelter. And never leave it.

Afraid of Trying: Do Emotional Issues Ever Die?

Imagine that those feet belong to someone who’s never used a skateboard. That’s the feeling.

You might’ve gotten a hint that I have some issues (Why else would someone be afraid of trying?). It’s been a few years since the worst ones started, and I thought I’d gotten a lot better about dealing with them. Fate must’ve laughed pretty hard when I thought that.  Now, I’m wondering if emotional issues ever die or if they just go into hiding until you run into another situation that brings them up.

My main issues are depression and anxiety, and both are firmly tied to a lack of self-confidence and self-worth (see “They Call Them the Depths of Despair for a Reason” for more details). That’s what caused the fear of trying – a few years ago, I believed, no, I knew, that I would fail. That there was no other option. That no matter how hard I worked or what I tried, there was no possible way to succeed. Add that to a need for people’s approval, and you have a recipe for a hideous mix of depression and anxiety.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked on rebuilding my confidence and trying to develop some self-worth. I thought I was doing pretty well. I thought I was getting stronger and confident enough to deal with, well, life. Notice the past tense. After this week, I have to face the fact that either I was wrong, or I still have a long way to go. Or both.

This week, I found myself facing change. New challenges. New responsibility. New possibilities. And are they bad things? No. They’re probably very, very good things. Things that I’ve wanted for a long time. Things that I still want. Things that would be wonderful and amazing if I could make them real. And even the idea of trying to make them happen gives me enough panic that I can’t sleep at night.

Because I’m still afraid of trying. Like all the things I’ve tried over the past few years didn’t count. I can try new things in very specific areas – new angles on things I’ve already tried. But new stuff? Trying things in other areas? Oh, no. No. That’s no good. Run away, my insides say. Get out now.

That’s when I realized that I’ve carefully formed a bubble around myself. I have layered myself in a comfort zone that gave me a sense of security and false confidence. Within those parameters, I can be confident. I can have worth. But outside of that? Outside of that, I’m not sure if anything has changed. Even thinking about trying something outside of those bounds makes my stomach knot and my chest feel shaky.

Somewhere, somehow, my subconscious has labeled the inside of that bubble safe, and the outside as dangerous. As risky. And risks are scary, especially if they’re risks that rely on me. And all these changes I’m facing rely on me. I have to make them succeed. No one else can. And because I don’t believe that I can, because it is easier to believe that I can’t, I find excuses not to try. I put it off and put it off because then I can tell myself that I’ll do it someday, that the timing’s wrong.

Hurrah for new insights to my problem, but how does this help? Knowing that I’m afraid to try these things doesn’t help me overcome the anxiety. I can throw logic and deep breathing at the anxiety all night – it still doesn’t lower enough for me to sleep. Running numbers, showing evidence that, yes, I can do these new things, that I can make them successful doesn’t lower the conviction that, no, no, I can’t.

All I can do is hope that if I force myself to do it, force myself to try, and I succeed – despite the panic and the anxiety and the doubts – then, maybe, maybe, the anxiety will fade. Maybe, the panic will stop. Maybe, the bubble will grow. And just maybe, the next time I find myself facing a change, I will be less afraid of trying.

Wish me luck.