Over the years it’s been reassuring to look at my brain, but there wasn’t much more I could do for it except eat better and exercise. Which I just might start doing. In the meantime, whenever I look at the pictures of my poor distressed brain before the alienation got really bad, it makes me think about what my brain looks like now.
I don’t need another brain scan to tell me that the damage to my brain got a lot worse before it started getting better. We know a lot about how our brain is functioning just by how we feel. Our subjective symptoms are just as valid as brain scans as evidence of the anatomical and physiological damage that is caused by the psychological domestic violence inflicted by our ex-partners. This damage is then compounded by the ignorance of the courts and mental health professions and (I hate to say this, but) even our well meaning friends and family.
If I had continued to get brain scans over the past 5 or 6 years they would have shown how the relentless trauma of domestic violence caused my anxiety, depression, memory difficulties, emotional dysregulation, hyper-vigilance etc. had developed into Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).
Deep in the middle of your brain is a small organ called the amygdala. This is the center of your threat response system. When it receives a danger signal from your sensory network; sight, hearing, smell, or touch, it activates the release of the stress hormones; cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones optimize your body’s physical reactions to protect you. They are extremely powerful and are meant to be used sparingly to ignite a short fight or flight to reestablish your safety. Once the danger is over your emotional regulation processes eliminate the stress hormones from your system and your body returns to normal. But what happens if the threat is never over? What happens if the amygdala continues to receive warnings of danger and it continues to activate the release of stress hormones? What if you can’t fight or flee so that the threat is constantly there? This is trauma, also called traumatic stress, or toxic stress. Stress hormones were meant to protect our lives but too many too long become toxic to the rest of our systems.
The threat or fear response process is the same for us if we are trying to protect or save ourselves or our children. We are healthy, loving moms and dads (unlike our ex-partners) which means that our children’s well-being means more to us than our own. Our ex-partners are a severe threat to our children and it is our innate nature as parents to protect them. The dilemma lies in the fact that for all the fighting we do, the threat is never resolved. We are trapped and helpless to resolve the ongoing threat to our children’s health and safety. We become paralyzed in freeze mode.
There hasn’t been much talk about the fear response “freeze” because quite frankly, victims are not expected to live through freeze mode. Freeze mode was designed and is usually reserved to make dying easier. Let’s use the typical “being chased by a tiger” scenario. You know that you can’t fight the tiger so you run, but you don’t get too far. When the tiger has you and there is no chance of escape, your brain and body start to shut down so that you don't have to be fully aware of being lunch.
Targeted parents are so traumatized we are in freeze mode. Our alarm system keeps the destructive hormones racing while we succumb to inescapable shock. Diagnostically, this is called Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or as one reader accurately pointed out; Complex Post Traumatic Stress INJURY! Obviously, we don’t have to be in the military to experience the emotional horror of frantically fighting on the front lines of a war in which our children’s lives are at stake.
Most traumatized targeted parents struggle with taking care of themselves. We think, somewhat naively, that if we reconnect with our children, everything will be magically better, so this is where we put all of our energy. But remember from the first video on trauma, we aren't thinking very critically or strategically when we make these decisions. So, if targeted parents want to improve their lives and the lives of our children we need to put our own oxygen mask on first. The following are a list of things we can do now and work for to create a positive change.
1. Recognize the severity of our ex-partner's personality disorder. This took some doing for me, partially because I didn't want to believe it was as bad as it was. I kept thinking, well... he was abused too, he couldn't help it. Maybe I can make him see. This was so whimpy, but I was emotionally abused(for a long time) to believe the lies that I was responsible and unstable AND that anything I did to him would negatively affect our children. People with anti-social experienced childhood abuse too and they are in jail to protect society. Society needs the same protection from NPDs and BPDs. Look at the long list of irrational, abusive behaviors and think about what you would say to someone close to you, if their ex-partner was doing these things to their family. We all should be FURIOUS instead of frozen! Controlled anger is empowering.
2. Learn about ACEs, trauma informed movements and why child psychological abuse is so dangerous. Don't focus on trying to get your ex diagnosed, just focus on how their behaviors harm you and your children.
3. Shift your perspective away from the concept and language of parental alienation, which is more confusing to most people outside our community than it is helpful. Focus on what everybody else can also see--the criteria for child psychological abuse, the inter-generational transmission of the pathology, the interference and other laws the abuser won't follow, ACEs and the trauma informed language.
4. Discuss all of this with your therapist and make sure you are fully supported and feel safe with them. The relationship with your therapist will go farther than the specific treatment modality they use. There are many therapies that work (you can google this). What doesn't work is just talking. We need to talk, but if your therapist doesn't stop you from monopolizing the treatment time by talking, you are wasting your time and money.
I really get this! My therapist let me vent for the first couple of sessions and then she and I set up goals and a timeline. From that point on, she let me talk for about 15 minutes and then we went to work.
Processing trauma isn't easy or comfortable, but it works to heal the wounds so you get your life back and can contribute to solving the problem. Make the commitment.
5. See the movie "Inside Out." Personally, I found Internal Family Systems the most helpful therapy because it focused on the coping skills I had developed that masked my authentic self. Once I got back in touch with the person I was before I met my ex-spouse, I found a point from which I could rewire my trauma and rebuild my courage, confidence, and competence. However, many therapies are very effective and helpful. You can use google to explore different types of therapy like EMDR (which I also liked).
6. Get a copy and read, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk MD.
7. Share and discuss these videos and encourage others to join the Alliance and the movement to collectively end narcissistic/borderline abuse in American Families.
8. Be thankful. Even though we are not where we want to be, I for one am glad that I am not where I use to be!