Note: Blog post subject matter is discussed in more detail on the Athalonz Podcast.
As a child being sexually and physically abused, I developed survival skills. I became adept at disassociation, internalizing, disappearing, isolating, and taking it if all else failed. These survival skills were my defenses. They allowed me to stay alive and, more importantly, they protected something within me that wanted to be a good person, that wanted to be a good father, and that wanted to be someone that mattered.
While these defenses were essential to survive my childhood, they carried over into my adult life long after the abuse stopped. In many ways my defenses have been limitations for me as an adult. I’ll discuss how my defenses have affected me as an adult and what I’ve done to mitigate them in subsequent blogs. For this blog, I want to discuss my defenses and how they present themselves for me as an adult.
I don’t recall any conscious choice to disassociate; it just happened and it happened in two ways. The first is that, when being abused or when being abused seemed imminent, my mind would leave my body; almost becoming two beings. With my mind separate from my body, what happened to my body seemed like it was happening to someone else making the abuse seem less real.
More often than not, I simple would forget the abuse. Forgetting was my second disassociate defense. With forgetting, I forgot more than just the abuse, I forgot most of my childhood.
As an adult, any intense situation could trigger an auto-response of disassociation. It could be an argument, someone being mad at me, or a threat of physical harm and my mind would leave my body.
I internalized everything that happened to me by stuffing my feelings and hating myself. I learned early in my childhood that if I expressed anger, it would be met with magnitudes more anger. So, I turned the anger inward, which would lead to depression, and then to hopelessness. To combat the inward anger, depression, and hopelessness, I used sweets: cookies, candies, cakes, basically anything I could get. It worked momentarily, but never lasted.
I hated myself for being less than perfect. Somewhere in my mind it was my fault that I was abused because I wasn’t perfect. I felt that if I were perfect, maybe I would be loved and not abused.
For me, self-hate is the worst part of the after effects of being abused. Self-hate ties in with self-blame and makes living a challenge. At times, the pain of self-hate and self-blame was so great that I often hoped my life would end. During these times, I had help to get me through and now I feel much better about myself, but I still have work to do to feel good about being me.
I also internalized that I had to do everything perfectly or else I’m useless. This created an all or nothing approach for me. I could accept not being perfect if I put no effort into something. If, however, I put effort into something, I had to do it perfectly and produce extraordinary results. Perfection rarely happened and when it didn’t, it fed my self-hate.
As I child, I often ran away. Never for more than a day. I had no place to go. So, I would eventually go home. I was not missed.
I would also hide. My favorite hiding spot was at the top of a tall tree. I would climb to the top and sit there for hours; no one could reach me there.
I also did not want to stand out. I wanted to blend into the woodwork and go unnoticed. If I were invisible, no one could hurt me. This defense carried on into adulthood and it’s still something I deal with today.
I was abused at school and at home. The two places a child spends most of their time and places that are supposed to be safe, were not safe for me. I adapted by not trusting anyone. I also didn’t trust my own senses. I couldn’t reconcile what was happening to me with what TV portrayed as family and as a parent-child relationship. As a result, I avoided all people, including people my own age.
I had teammates in baseball and football, but I had no real friends. I didn’t know how and I didn’t want people too close to me, because people close to me, hurt me.
I have worked hard on trusting some people and letting them get close to me, but it is a challenge and I often feel awkward.
If I felt a beating was inevitable, I learned that it was better to not run or fight it, just to take it because the beatings would be less intense. I learned the same technique for a verbal berating. Don’t argue, don’t respond, just stand there and take it.
Taking it often triggered disassociation. While these worked to mitigate the intensity of being abused as a child, they didn’t serve me well as an adult. For the most part, any confrontation would trigger these responses and would make me fearful. So, I would avoid confrontation whenever possible. When it was not possible, I would be silent, not defend my position, and would agree to something unfavorable to me. I have gotten much better with confrontation over the years, but it takes a good bit of energy to overcome these auto-triggered defenses.
What I’ve learned over the years is that my defenses were essential for me to survive my childhood. I’m working on being grateful for them; it’s a new perspective for me. I have fought them for decades, trying to completely eradicate them from my life. I have not yet succeeded at this and am learning to be ok not being perfect. That’s a tough one for me.
I am the CEO and Founder of Athalonz, LLC., I am a founding partner of the patent boutique law firm of Garlick & Markison, I am a survivor of child abuse, and I am an inventor on over 300 patents.
Athalonz is a technology company based on Mesa, AZ. It develops and sells athletic footwear, which incorporates its patented technology that leverages the laws of physics to improve athletic performance. Website: athalonz.com
Garlick & Markison is a patent law boutique firm that assists clients in building a patent business within their business using proprietary tools and techniques. Website: texaspatents.com
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