Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Owning Our Words

Anyone who experiences post traumatic stress due to past abuse understands that being emotionally triggered by someone doesn't mean they have done something to hurt you or cause you pain. It means a certain interaction with them "flashes" you back internally and involuntarily to a painful and/or traumatic past.  

When this physical response happens to me, as it occasionally does, it's usually obvious to me what or who the trigger was. 

I don't always express what I'm feeling, but the physical response is something I have to deal with. I also still have occasional nightmares that connect back to abuse and trauma in my past, even though I have not suffered abuse in over a decade.

I don't make anyone else responsible for what happens inside me. But I do try to help others understand something they have never experienced. People with emotional triggers are not rare. You just may not realize how many people around you deal with them to varying degrees.

One of my emotional triggers is when someone is condescending to me or another person -- it doesn't have to happen to me. It can be a dismissive tone or a choice of words reminiscent of my past. But when an exchange like this occurs, it ignites a post traumatic stress response in my body physically. I feel my heart rate increase, my blood pressure rise, and/or anxiety/tightness in my chest. 

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS or PTSD when it is a full blown disorder) is a very real and lasting condition, even after a person has healed from past abuse and is living a good, healthy and productive life. When a survivor makes themselves vulnerable enough to share this and explain it, the worst thing you can do is tell the person they just take things too personally and they are too sensitive. That does nothing but intensify the relived emotion, breaking down communication even further.

You see, that's exactly what the abuser did to dismiss or invalidate whatever the victim said,  felt, or thought. 

An abuser always changes the subject by making every difference about the victim's sensitivity or proclivity toward taking things personally. And any real dialog or understanding shuts down when this happens because then the victim must either defend themselves, agree that they are the real problem, or just stop trying to express themselves. That's why this is a tool used by narcissistic abusers.

This article explains the trauma a victim experiences in this type of relationship...

I wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago after a post traumatic stress experience. But I wanted to sit on it a while before deciding if it was something I wanted to share. I actually forgot about it. Then a friend sent the above article to me yesterday. The article describes what I and others have endured in abusive relationships. It connected so well with the thoughts I had put on hold. I knew when I read it that I would finish and publish this post, including the link.

If we truly want someone to feel that we respect and care about them; if we want them to tell us how we impact them; we must own our words and our tone, even when we come across differently than we intend to.

Simply saying "I" could have said that better ... "I" am sorry for my unintended tone ... Those are words that will diffuse anxiety and tension. That will keep communication flowing. I've been on both sides of those words. I know. Just because I suffer from PTS when I'm spoken to a certain way, that doesn't mean I don't ever have to apologize for my words or tone! I apologize often. 

Telling someone they take things wrong, or too personally, or they are too sensitive, but then apologizing for causing pain diminishes the apology because you've already put the pain squarely on them and their sensitivity, disowning your contribution to the breakdown in communication. That's a cop out, not a sincere apology. You may not be a narcissist, but that's what narcissists do!

What leads to more effective communication and another person feeling heard, understood and respected is being able to own our part (specifically) in the communication breakdown, NOT offering an abstract, unspecific apology for pain we didn't cause... 
but also never really tried to understand.