Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hyperawareness | Defense Mechanism then Survivors Perception

From as far back as I can remember, I have been in-tune with other people's body language. I can read a person from a mile away, and  person's body language says more to me than what they are actually saying. I am also very aware of eye contact, which eye contact or lack-thereof is very telling about a person. And in regard to what others are saying, I listen intently to what is being related and place significance on tone-of-voice. And depending on with whom I am speaking and what we are speaking about, I may assess / analyze statements.

So, are any of you like this? Do you sense things before others or when others don't, such as:
  • Specifics of body language
  • When and how eye contact is made
  • The speaker's tone of voice 
  • What verbiage is utilized
  • Analyze the meaning behind words / statements
  • Detect faint sounds or sounds in the distance / background before others or when others don't (ie: quiet sounds from a room in the other end of the house). 
  • Feel sensitive, irritated, uneasy, or uncomfortable in crowds
  • Smell things before others or when others don't (ie: stinky smells; something burning)
  • Taste the nuances that others can't or don't (ie: detect when a food has started to turn; find flavors of various spices)
Since a child, I have seemed to have an acute awareness of my surroundings and have always been particularly sensitive to it. I just figured that I am simply more perceptive or observant that others. After talking with some of my friends who also have BPD mothers, we all have the same antidotes pertaining to this very subject. Each one of us assesses situations similarly: analyzing body language, the environment around, words spoken, and more. We all seem to be highly perceptive about the same types of input around us. Our common denominator is a BPD parent with confusing interactions, unstable sense of self, emotional instability, inappropriate / intense anger, and transient / paranoid thoughts which add-up to very confusing behavior for a child to interpret. Compound these confusing behaviors with an environment where the child is constantly walking on eggshells in order to not ignite the BPD.The result is a child who becomes hyperaware of the BPD's moods, behaviors, and idiosyncrasies.

With the survivors of trauma and abuse, this hyperawareness is a defense mechanism. "A nearly universal characteristic of survivors is excessive emotional hypersensitivity... hyperawareness of body language, moods, and 'the meanings behind the words' is a highly functional defense mechanism" p 166 Evans / Sullivan. In regard to the BPD parent:
  • One must be on defense for the next attack, so keeping a vigilant eye on her behavior is vital: She has that look in her eye again; I need to stay away. Her body language is saying she's in a 'witch' mood, I better hide. She is becoming more and more aggressive with her language today; she is probably going to verbally attack me today.  
  • Trying to sort-out the confusing and twisted behavior creates a need to collect as much information as possible to try to figure out her behavior (past, present, future). Seemingly, every action or word spoken is another piece of the puzzle.
With these observations of body language, eye contact, verbal communication, many times the child of the BPD questions their own perception of that is transpiring. Is the BPD really that bad? Perhaps the meaning behind the actions / words is being misread? Maybe the BPD doesn't really mean to act or say those things, and maybe I am the one who has the problem? "Children of borderlines may spend their entire lives trying to understand their mother and themselves. They are preoccupied with sorting out the meanings of interactions, studying their own perceptions, and questioning the intentions of others" Lawson p 302

Not only are the children of BPD parents trying to figure out what makes their parent tick and why, but they are 'walking on eggshells' in the process. The children feel as if their behavior is provoking the abuse or cause the BPD to get upset so they tip-toe around the BPD as not to provoke. This 'walking on eggshells' can be very stressful, and in combination with being hyperaware of the BPD's mood, behavior, body language, eye contact, and more, the child is on a constant state of heightened alert. This hyperawareness and state of alertness can continue into adulthood if the relationship dynamics with the BPD remain the same.

The children of BPD view the world around through these same glasses: being very aware of body language, eye contact, small nuances, being sensitive to changes and actions around self, etc. Additionally, since the child of the BPD tries to understand why the  parent behaves the way she does, the child also tries to constantly unscramble mixed messages from the BPD. Since the BPD isn't direct or candid with her emotions, actions, or needs, the child must uncode. After lifetime of unscrambling and decoding, the child of the BPD may apply this same methodology to other relationships (friends, work colleagues, school colleagues, general interactions with public).  "The borderline's children become experts at deciphering emotional messages that often have hidden significance. As adults, these children may become preoccupied with discovering hidden motives behind actions of others" Lawson p 157

With hyperawareness continuing into adulthood, children of BPD often seem 'psychic' or aware of minor details that no one else does. With this observation of details, hypersensitivity enables many to write vivid and descriptive stories and develop artwork in amazing detail. Further, children of BPD often can sense when someone is angry or in a bad mood. Alternately, they may also become agitated with people over small incidents - don't look at me like that; I get nervous when you breathe like that.

Trying to simply 'turn off' a defense mechanism so deeply engrained is challenging. Being wired to notice slight changes, behaviors, and verbiage about one's own BPD parent for an entire childhood and onward is a learned process. Using the hyperawareness in a positive, perceptive, and intuitive manner is a healthy alternative rather than creating unease and staying on-guard. Being able to 'read' people is a valuable trait, and being able to notice intricate details is also a favorable attribute. Enjoy the ability to sense beyond what others may and take enjoyment of the heightened senses-- stop and smell the roses.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fight or Flight with Parental Confrontation and Contact

Whew. I am generally a calm, cool, and collected person BUT whenever I have a potential confrontation, actual confrontation, or cause of concern related to my parents, my body immediately reacts. I get shaky, I feel sick to my stomach, I get out-of-breath, and my mind runs a million miles an hour. After decades of ...
  • wondering when the next blow-up is going to happen or 
  • what I am going to be falsely accused of next or 
  • what is being fabricated about me now or
  • having my parent(s) confront me with the next "we have to sit down an talk" scenario
... my body is sent into a tail-spin when my parents are discussed relative to me. This 'tail-spin' is fight-or-flight which is defined as the set of processes that occur in the body when it is confronted with some form of physical or mental stress. The nervous system signals for adrenaline and other hormones to be released into the blood which prepare the body either to confront or flee (thus, “fight or flight”). Changes in the body include increased heart rate, dilated pupils of the eye (to improve vision), and increased supply of blood to the muscles (to prepare the body for action).

I can carry on with life for a year (or more) without any situation causing fight-or-flight.  Even as time has passed and even though I am at peace with my past, present, and future, whenever I get a phone call or email from a family member or friend regarding my parents relative to me, my body reacts. With daily life, I am not stressed. I don't have anxiety. I don't panic about situations. I am a very confident, happy, level headed individual. Then, without warning, one of those calls / emails occurs, and I am shaky and nauseated. 

Why would my body react in such a way? In short, my body has been conditioned to respond to this specific stimuli due to lack confidence, trust, and unconditional love from my parent. Note that:
  • If one has confidence in a relationship, fight-or-flight would not occur with confrontation or contact.
  • A relationship based on trust and unconditional love would not elicit the reactions of fight-or-flight when a confrontation arises. 
So, when a relationship is abused by years dysfunction, toxicity, carelessness, and selfishness, trust in the relationship is damaged. Respectively, lack of confidence in the relationship is a result and the  reaction to confrontation is fight-or-flight. Trust is directly correlated with confidence, and when confidence is broken, confrontations and simple contacts are interpreted by the body as immediate danger.

I have had one too many shocking situations with my parents that body's natural reaction to their contacts is fight-or-flight. I don't trust their intentions or even each of them as individuals. Additionally, I don't have confidence that their intentions are unconditional or unselfish. Due to the erosion of this confidence and trust, my body immediately jumps to fight-or-flight with confrontations and simple contacts. For me, the fight-or-flight response resulted from:
  • Years of 'deep sixing' what I witnessed and experienced as a child
  • Years of emotional and verbal abuse including Parental Alienation Syndrome
  • Decades of situations blowing-up in my face at the hands of my parent(s)
  • Decades of stepping on land mines and going through traumatic situations with my parent(s)
  • Decades of walking on eggshells and trying to keep peace with my parents(s)
What's interesting is my MIND (psychological) knows that everything is fine-- that I am safe, my child is safe, my husband is safe. I KNOW that nothing horrible is going to happen to us. However, my BODY (behavior) is set off, like an alarm, and automatically sends adrenaline surging. Our body cannot always tell the difference between real and imagined threat. Therefore, when we interpret a situation as threatening, our body responds as though the situation is dangerous even if it really isn't in reality. Once my body calms down, I have a chuckle as I realize how my body just takes off without me as a result of all I've endured in the past. My body interprets my parents as an immediate danger.

 Does anyone else have this response? How do you cope when these situations arise?

I don't experience this heightened response often, so training myself to not react is challenging. I practice the following in order to eliminate / reduce the fight-or-flight response:
  1. Practicing visualization and having my body not react stress-fully to these random contacts about my parent(s)
  2. Talking out the scenarios with my husband.
  3. Manipulating my breathing by changing the rate at which I breathe, whether I breathe shallowly or deeply, and whether I breathe through my mouth or nose. By manipulating how I breathe, it is possible to slow down and even reverse the fight-or-flight response.
  4. Controlling the level of tension in my muscles. For example, by creating a fist, make the muscles in my arms tighter. What is more difficult, but not impossible, is to make my muscles more relaxed. With practice, I relax not only the muscles in my arms, but muscles in my shoulders, back, jaw, face, and other areas. 

Searching for Answers to WHYs in a Relationship

Searching for answers when a relationship is fractured or broken or has ended is natural. Being hurt or disillusioned, disappointed or rejected are not easy on one's soul or mind, especially when the culprit is your very own parent(s). However, you may never get the answers you are seeking directly from the other person. But I will tell you how you can find the answers to your whys-- read on.

If you are a victim of a a personality disordered individual, is the explanation he/she provides truly the answer? This person has misled you for years--even decades-- down a toxic road of dysfunction and confusion. You are seeking truthful and insightful answers from this person when therapists aren't even successful.

Reading comments such as, "The verbal abuse from my mother has lasted through all the lifetimes. It's still there, tucked away deep inside, it comes out from time to time and haunts me, it still has the ability to make me cry, and although I won't let it rule who I am anymore, I will never get over it and I will always wonder why" is heart-wrenching especially the always wondering WHY.
Sadly, often the abuse (whether physical, verbal, emotional) that occurred during childhood via our parent(s) continues into adulthood when the culprit hasn't sought therapy or had consistent therapy. How I was treated as a child was no different when I became a teenager or young adult or adult. My parents are the same people who have not attempted to take accountability for their actions or seek professional help. So although I had questions regarding my child / teen years, I also had just as many into my adulthood since the dysfunction continued. And boy oh boy, thank goodness for the wonderful friends that I have had through the decades who would listen for hours on end about MANY whys and questions. They are partly responsible for keeping me grounded and focused.

Besides finding answers through my friends, I read books like crazy. And when the Internet became more and more of a comprehensive tool, I used it to connect with others like me and to research even further. Then, I started to blog, which allowed me to take all of this information out of my head and put it somewhere else... AND most importantly, help others like me to sort out all of the jumbled mess that happened in the past and create an understanding of it all.

So, I am at peace with the estrangement knowing that no-contact is the healthiest alternative for not only myself but my child and husband too. Part of my being at peace is due to the research that I conducted about personality disorders, communicating with others who have experienced mirror situations, support from friends / family, writing down all my history with accompanying analysis, and more. If you notice, none of my answers have come from my parents.

I count on myself for my happiness, peace of mind, and understanding of this world. If I allowed my parents to dictate each of these elements, I would have been completely misled at a very young age. Consider their actions and how they conducted themselves as not only parents but citizens in their community, I am truly thankful that I developed into the person I am today and very saddened the toll it took on my brother. Also, my parents have never been ones to be transparent and allow for open communication. Both being highly narcissistic, communication is one-sided and all about their perspective. My parents won't even talk about neutral topics such as a simple memory from the past-- my Dad says that he doesn't want to remember the past and my mother distorts and twists the facts.

What I find amusing is that my mother hasn't made one attempt to reach out to me since our estrangement started in July 2004; however, she has not stopped talking to my brother about me. She claims that I am "ignoring" her.  To be ignored, one must create an action to be disregarded. She has not tried to contact me since 2004; therefore, again she's positioning herself as the victim. If I were to try to find answers as to why our relationship is broken by asking her, what type of response do you think I'd get? The answer would be that I am responsible for the estrangement and everything in between.

My mother also says that I am **keeping away** my child from her. Again, she would have to reach out and then I would have to refuse in order to keep away. My mother and I became estranged three (3) years BEFORE my child was born (before I was even married). She has never contacted me about the birth of my child or any time thereafter, and thus, I have never had the opportunity to 'keep away' my child from her. If I were to try to find answers as to why our relationship is broken by asking her, what type of response do you think I'd get? Again, the answer would be that I am responsible for the estrangement and everything in between.

My Dad and I became estranged after he became upset that my husband's family was coming down for Christmas (Last Straw), thus "ruining" his traditional holiday get-together. He also claimed that my husband and I conspired to keep the in-law visit a secret, which we most certainly hadn't. The in-law trip was planned last minute to due a birth and then, very sadly, a death in the family. He cancelled coming over to our house via email and never contact me since. How very narcissistic (heartless and baseless as well) for him to only think of himself as well as to concoct a scenario to solicit sympathy towards himself when others are hurting from a death in the family. Again, if I were to seek any truth into our relationship, my Dad would not be able to provide it. Heck, he can't even talk to me about my childhood without scolding me that it's the past and he wants to forget about it.

But you CAN have your questions answered...

The answers you can get from your abuser are already in front of you:
  1. Actions speak louder than words-- and the years of mistreatment, abuse, and more speak volumes in regard to answers as those actions are reprehensible and inexcusable. The patterns of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional) are very similar case-by-case. So finding others who have been through what you have is very cathartic and healing. You can find many answers through researching and communicating. 
  2. Find that validity through your enlightened witness, friends, and family who understand what you've gone through. Speak to them regarding their insight, what they witnessed, about the background / history of your parent(s).  
  3.  Most importantly, you hold the answers in your heart. You KNOW why the relationship is broken or has ended. The reason for wanting **answers** is to give validity to your feelings and to ease your conscious. Believe in yourself and what you know.
The point with the examples is that when you are in a dysfunctional / abusive /  toxic relationship, finding answers from the origin of the problem is not likely going to happen. And if you do venture to find answers from the other party, you will most likely not find the honest and earnest truth you are seeking. In fact, you will probably feel more disillusioned, confused, and hurt. You are the only person you can control and who can control what you feel-- find the answers within yourself and find peace.