Author Topic: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God  (Read 247 times)

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Offline Asche

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Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« on: September 17, 2018, 10:17:58 pm »
(A sequel to my previous posts “Fragments of PTSD” and “Fragments of PTSD II”)

(This post is a little rough.  My excuse is that it's a particularly hot topic for me, so it's hard to think straight about it.)

One of the things I've been spending a lot of time trying to explain or even describe, even to myself, is a certain feeling that comes up that I am, for lack of a better way to say it, so awful I belong in Hell, or maybe that I've already gone over the edge of the cliff and am falling into Hell. Or maybe that, without knowing it or being able to know it, I'm on the edge of that cliff and won't realize I've gone over the edge until I land in the pits of fire.  Or something.  It's a terror or dread of something unnamed and unimaginable that is far, far worse than dying.  In fact, when this hits me, I wish someone would kill me so I wouldn't have to feel this any more.

It seems to hit me when I'm criticized, especially if the criticism seems to be judgemental.  When they imply or say that I've broken some rule that everyone knows about and so I should have known and there's no excuse for my crime.  But sometimes I seem to supply the judgement myself.  And sometimes I supply the criticism, too.  And sometimes it just hits me out of the blue, like the ghost of Alexander's stepfather at the end of Ingmar Bergman's film Fanny and Alexander.

It would make sense for me to feel this way if I'd grown up in a stern, fundamentalist religion, but we were members of an Episcopal church which was more of a social club than a religion.  I was mostly ignored, like sparrows in Times Square, which was better treatment than I go most places.  It's just that the sense of insecurity and dread I feel is most like the sort of terror Jonathan Edwards was trying to evoke in his famous sermon.

To the extent I can remember how people reacted when I did something wrong (and it seemed like I was always doing something wrong), I remember feeling devastated.  It always felt like they thought that I did know better but, for some perverse reason that I presumably was refusing to explain, was doing it on purpose, and after a while I got to believe it.  Frequently I was asked, "don't you know better than to ...?"  Sometimes I did, afterwards anyway, and sometimes I didn't, but I knew better than to say anything in response.  My father had this way of being stiff with anger and expressing his corrections as "don't you ever ...."  My mother would act hurt and disappointed.  The headmaster at That Awful School always sounded like the voice of God at Judgement day.  Sometimes people would say sympathetic words, but always in an attempt to get me to say why I was so bad or see how bad I was, so I soon came to see "sympathy" as simply another way to stick the knife in.  I don't recall anyone having compassion on me or seriously try to understand what it was like to be me; it seemed like I didn't deserve anything but punishment and condemnation.  It was always just "stop being difficult, do what we expect you to do (and don't do what we expect you not to."

One thing that happened a number of times was when I would be among adults outside the family, enjoying myself with them, and then when my parents took me away from them, they'd explain to me how I had really offended the adults or behaved in a terrible way, implying that they thought I was a bad kid.  So I learned that my own judgement in social situations was never to be relied upon.  Not that anyone ever tried to help me figure out what the "right thing" might be.  It has taken me decades of therapy, not to mention hard experience, to discover that my intuitions about things are actually pretty reliable; at least, with people who aren't my family.

Nowadays I ask myself why I took all this to heart so much.  After all, a lot of children in my position become defiant and even take pride in being told off so much.  My best guess is that it comes from the early experience of abandonment, reinforced by the times throughout my life when my parents weren't there for me when I needed them or even did something to make me feel stupid for having wanted them to help me.  I imagine that the nameless terror I feel is the terror an infant feels when their only source of security disappears, and that terror never went away because it kept getting triggered.  I learned that no one could be relied upon to keep me safe, not even me.  And, with time, that terror morphed into a sense of being bad or defective (and intense pain.)  Because obviously there was something wrong with me (and plenty of people rhetorically asked me, "what's wrong with you?") and I deserved to feel awful.

Even now, when someone comes on judgemental to me, I get triggered and freeze up, unable to do or say much of anything.  I need time to myself, with no one around, to build my self back up enough to be able to function again.  But the judgemental types often won't give you that space.

"...  I think I'm great just the way I am, and so are you." -- Jazz Jennings



CPTSD

Offline Virginia

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2018, 09:44:26 am »
a certain feeling that comes up that I am, for lack of a better way to say it, so awful I belong in Hell…It seems to hit me when I'm criticized, especially if the criticism seems to be judgemental.  When they imply or say that I've broken some rule that everyone knows about and so I should have known and there's no excuse for my crime. 

I experience different reactions to the things I perceive as criticism depending on whether or not I am in some way at fault. If I believe I have done something wrong, it triggers either my female alter or young boy alter. She makes herself vomit. He curls up like a small animal crying, his mouth open to scream but no sound comes out. Other times his jaw locks closed and he is unable to speak. I am not far enough along in recovery to know what specifically triggers each of these reactions. My Protector is triggered when I perceive no wrong doing. His rage is terrifying. The key point here is things "I" perceive to be criticism. My understanding of other people's intentions and expectations has been badly distorted by the way my parents raised me. Learning to understand and control my triggered responses is the primary focus of therapy at this point in my recovery.

sometimes I seem to supply the judgement myself.  And sometimes I supply the criticism, too.

This self reinforcement is common to survivors of childhood psychological trauma. Leading trauma psychologist Leonard Shengold talks about this at great length in his book “Soul Murder; The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation." It's well worth a read:
https://www.amazon.com/Soul-Murder-Effects-Childhood-Deprivation/dp/0449905497

Nowadays I ask myself why I took all this to heart so much.  After all, a lot of children in my position become defiant and even take pride in being told off so much.

I would offer it is because all those other children were not in your "position.” They were NOT traumatized.

I imagine that the nameless terror I feel is the terror an infant feels when their only source of security disappears, and that terror never went away because it kept getting triggered.  I learned that no one could be relied upon to keep me safe, not even me.

I responded a bit differently; the only one I trust to keep me safe is God. My nameless terror is vulnerability. It has only been very recently that I have begun to recognize the monster who haunts my night terrors. IT IS I.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2018, 12:26:12 pm by Virginia »
~VA (pronounced Vee- Aye, the abbreviation for the State of Virginia where I live)

Offline Sno

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2018, 05:31:22 am »
Oh, I am slow on the pick up at the moment.

Asche, it’s the weight of a lifetime of uncertainty felt in an instant. Heavy, dense, dragging, destination unknown. It’s also the product of parenting - specifically inconsistent parenting, where one day something would be ok, and the following day you’d be admonished for it. Those who were defiant and proud knew that they were making a deliberate choice to contravene a clearly defined boundary, and still be ok... something that we never had. It feels literally like being torn apart, being the worst and most terrible, and repugnant all at the same time - a crime against our own soul.

For us, we suspect that self is in exile, but when criticism comes in from ourself, or those around, the feeling is overwhelming, through a rabbit warren of self imposed rules to avoid criticism when we are small.

For us, that wound is ancient and devastating - early abandonment.

We understand, and stand by with you, hearts pounding for daring to speak.

You are not alone.

(Hugs)


Rowan

Offline Asche

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2018, 08:03:50 pm »
I was rereading Trans Like Me (by CN Lester), and I hit a paragraph that made things clear to me:
Quote
When you've suffered from the impact of other people's hatred, ignorance, callousness, it isn't just those instances that cause the damage: it's the long-term effect of each individual action, stacked up against each other.  It's the cumulative effect of loss after loss.... You lose the ability to trust in others, to trust in the future, to trust your own judgement.  The walls close in; where do you find the strength to push back against them? ...

When I read this paragraph, I went, "oh, now I understand why I was so damaged."

It's not like any particular incident was so, so awful.  Any one of the assaults on my sense of myself as a worthwhile person I could have dealt with, perhaps.  But when you get it every day, sometimes several times a day, some larger, some smaller, and sometimes just the dread of anticipation, and there is no respite, no one to say, "I know you're doing your best, I know you're a good kid, and I love you just the way you are," and no escaping the never-ending judgement and being found wanting except for being physically away from every other human being and mentally not even in this world, it crushes you.  At some point, the mere presence of other people becomes an assault, and even the most innocuous and even apparently supportive interactions retraumatize you.

What makes it harder for me is that I'm someone who needs human connection.  I'm not cut out to be a loner.  The isolation that my childhood created in me is like a wound that never heals.  One of the best things about transitioning is that I'm finally able to reach out to other people.  It's still hard, and every time I make myself a little vulnerable to someone else, it's a huge effort.

And, yeah, I still can't really trust anyone; whatever trust I grant is quite limited and conditional.

"...  I think I'm great just the way I am, and so are you." -- Jazz Jennings



CPTSD

Offline Sno

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2018, 05:54:03 am »
I was rereading Trans Like Me (by CN Lester), and I hit a paragraph that made things clear to me:
When I read this paragraph, I went, "oh, now I understand why I was so damaged."

It's not like any particular incident was so, so awful.  Any one of the assaults on my sense of myself as a worthwhile person I could have dealt with, perhaps.  But when you get it every day, sometimes several times a day, some larger, some smaller, and sometimes just the dread of anticipation, and there is no respite, no one to say, "I know you're doing your best, I know you're a good kid, and I love you just the way you are," and no escaping the never-ending judgement and being found wanting except for being physically away from every other human being and mentally not even in this world, it crushes you.  At some point, the mere presence of other people becomes an assault, and even the most innocuous and even apparently supportive interactions retraumatize you.

What makes it harder for me is that I'm someone who needs human connection.  I'm not cut out to be a loner.  The isolation that my childhood created in me is like a wound that never heals.  One of the best things about transitioning is that I'm finally able to reach out to other people.  It's still hard, and every time I make myself a little vulnerable to someone else, it's a huge effort.

And, yeah, I still can't really trust anyone; whatever trust I grant is quite limited and conditional.

Connection, hon, is apart of the human condition - we all need it.

The isolation we experience is devastating in its own right, but! You’re not alone. We do understand.

(Hugs)

Rowan

Offline Virginia

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2018, 08:12:23 am »
When I read this paragraph, I went, "oh, now I understand why I was so damaged."

A hard earned realization, my friend. I am proud of you for reaching this point of self understanding.
~VA (pronounced Vee- Aye, the abbreviation for the State of Virginia where I live)

Offline Asche

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2018, 09:22:44 am »
...  But when you get it every day, sometimes several times a day, some larger, some smaller, and sometimes just the dread of anticipation, and there is no respite, no one to say, "I know you're doing your best, I know you're a good kid, and I love you just the way you are," and no escaping the never-ending judgement and being found wanting ... , it crushes you.

From what I've read, I'd say this is what killed Leela Alcorn

What I don't get is why it didn't kill me.
"...  I think I'm great just the way I am, and so are you." -- Jazz Jennings



CPTSD

Offline Sno

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Re: Fragments of PTSD III — Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2018, 11:46:55 pm »
What I don't get is why it didn't kill me.

You and me both hon, we must be remarkable creatures to have survived.

Rowan

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