When you’ve come from abuse you don’t really know how to be yourself since, for your entire life, being yourself wasn’t good enough. The real you had to be hidden or shut off. Our authenticity then becomes who we are supposed to be instead of who we are meant to be. As a result, we shift and blend in hopes of gaining acceptance, love, and for fear of abandonment. In order to be free of survival mode, we have be safe to become ourselves, to know we are loved despite our indecencies and that those who’ve shamed us, were wrong about who we ought to be.

I had been safe from abuse for several years before I realized I was still in survival mode. I’d been so used to living that way, I didn’t really know another way. I wasn’t happy with myself and I certainly didn’t know how to relax. I spent a long time doing research on the topic to find how I could break free. For those still stuck, it took me a long time to get out of that mindset so please don’t expect it to take just a couple of weeks.

How does survival mode even start? It seems it comes for parents who are inauthentic themselves, they want to put on a great face and seem like they’re wonderful, loving people, when in reality they’ve abusive and or cold. Another origin is parents who are super focused on appearances (not just physically but the house, the spouse, the trips, cleanliness, etc.). It also comes from parents who shame and criticize us for our school work, interests, friends, appearance, etc. Also, having to give up your voice or things for the sake of the family, having parents who had very safe and sad lives because they didn’t take any risks, having narcissistic parents who modeled inauthenticity. If we grow up without examples of authentic people, we can struggle with knowing who we are and accepting ourselves in addition to becoming extremely fearful of change.

My parents constantly put me down for all of the above. I can remember when I had cancer I had been in college without them knowing. I had cut them off of communication for a few years due to their toxicity. There I was, bald, feeble, still going through chemo, and I was released home between treatments. My mother and step-father came to visit and I decided to show them I was in school. I handed them several letters showing I made the Dean’s list and my step-father pipes up and says “Well this isn’t every single semester so you’ll need to improve if you go back.” I had a 3.7 at the time even though I had nearly died and worked full time while going to school before I became ill. I’d like to mention he never went to school, and is a great example that it doesn’t matter what is going on in your life, those that don’t support you won’t ever support you. It’s important to remember you’re responsible for yourself and your life. My mother sat here, silent and when my ex had walked into the room had told me she was proud. I had always wished the way my mother acted in public was the way she was at home. Growing up with two-faced parents really puts a toll on your well-being.

If you’ve experienced the items above, then you’ll struggle like I did with taking risks, the feeling that good things will never last and that you’re not enough. You’ll worry intently about the inevitable and the ridiculous, just in case it “could” happen. We also can worry about what others think about us, fear getting a job our parents won’t accept, or even getting a hobby someone in our lives may not approve of. We are trapped. Trapped in our daily lives and that feeling eventually feels comfortable, but it never feels “right.” For me, I had to focus on who I really was in order to get out of that mentality.

If you live in constant fear of being fired, worried your spouse/partner will leave, concerned the things you buy will lose value or get worn down, wait for the other shoe to drop, choose not to engage with friends out of fear of losing them, etc then you likely had a neurotic parent, grew up where your things weren’t respected, grew up in chaos, your life was chill to full blown disaster the the flip of a switch, had a parent who had abusive outbursts out of nowhere, had things taken away from you in childhood (like moving around a lot), had a sibling who got all the love and attention, got adopted without processing what happened, etc. We have to be attached to our experiences not the experience of letting go of things. My mother was neurotic and for me I checked most of these things on my list. While I will always love material things, I have learned not to get attached to things and focus on the moment more. It’s important to be present in our life. To do that I had to do gratitude journaling everyday, so that I could focus on what is happening and not what ‘might’ happen. If you lost your job so what? You’ll get another one. You got one before which is how you got your other jobs. Often when we lose things it’s not because we’re living life poorly, it’s because things are outside of our control.

A lot of areas that helped me here was learning that you are not responsible for someone’s reactions or actions. The most you can do is learn what a healthy person and relationship looks like and to fully see yourself to know f you’re healthy and if you’re not, what steps you’re willing to take to improve. From all I’ve learned so far it comes into healing our inner child. At first, I thought this was strange to do that, but, once you identify what your needs are and why, then you can start determining if they’re reasonable or if your expectations are too high and they won’t ever be met. After that, then you work on how to meet your own needs, how to be comfortable being alone, and understanding your value doesn’t come from anyone else but us. It’s also about learning boundaries not just from other people but for yourself so you abide by them. Here is an exercise to try: write down the incident and how they either approached you or respond to you. Then write how you responded to them. Did you respond with an open mind and appropriately? Is that the type of person you want to be like? Are the other people involved in the incident people you want to be like? What were you really responding to when they did xxx thing? Look past the situation itself and look at the underlying thing so you can break free from it. Once you are in a safe space you have to realize the reason you’re trapped within this cycle of self-defamation, is because you’re running. If you want love from a healthy person, then you have to know how to do that well so you stop ruining your life and those around you.

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