In the past several months since my parents have stopped speaking to me, I’ve gained quite an education.
One thing I’ve learned is about survival mode. Survival mode is a way of behaving in an abusive situation. Basically, your emotions are shut off & you do whatever you need to in order to get through the awful situation. Barely speaking so as not to say something that upsets your abuser, for example.
I’ve learned that survival mode doesn’t necessarily end when the relationship ends. In my case, my parents didn’t say outright that they never wanted to speak to me again- they just stopped calling me. I think that is why I stayed in survival mode for months after our last conversations, I didn’t know for sure if they’d call or not. When I realized months had passed since I’ve heard from them (11 for my mother, 4 for my father to date- not her longest silent treatment, but it is his) only then did survival mode end. This happened with my in-laws too. I stopped speaking to them in 2002, but survival mode didn’t end for months after.
I think this means that the brain wants to be completely, 110% sure that the abusers are gone before it can relax. Survival mode is all about protecting you, so it makes sense the brain would want to be absolutely certain all danger is gone before it exits survival mode.
I’ve also learned that once survival mode is gone, emotions come out. Naturally when you’re in survival mode, your emotions get put on the back burner because you’re focused only on surviving. Once the danger is gone, emotions come to the surface, including ones that have been suppressed for a long time. It can feel overwhelming especially when you haven’t dealt with them for a very long time. However, I firmly believe it’s necessary to deal with them.
Without the burden of focusing on survival, I feel like I’m noticing every little thing. Unfortunately, part of that includes triggers. They seem to happen constantly. The other day, I saw a TV show where this lady’s son in-law cheated on her daughter. Although the daughter forgave him & he promised to mend his ways, the mother still was very upset. When she told her son in-law that there is no pain worse than watching your child suffer & you not being able to fix it, I flashed back to the fight I had with my parents last May. My father changed the subject to really odd topics to deflect my yelling at him. My mother sighed an obviously bored sigh as I cried & yelled at her until I gave up & told her if she had anything to say before I hang up, do it now. Her chance to apologize turned into her whining about having vertigo (for the record, I have it too- yes, it sucks, but you’d think when your normally calm, rational daughter is that upset, that might just take priority..). I realized that caring parent isn’t something I’ll ever have, & it hurt me enough to make me burst into tears, something I rarely do.
In order to handle these experiences, I rely on God a LOT. I tell Him how I feel & He reassures me, comforts me & explains what’s happening. He also shows me things that help. For example, I can be scrolling through Facebook when a meme or article that pertains to my situation pops up, & the information in it is very helpful to me.
I also write in my journal- seeing things written out is a good way to gain clarity. Not sure why that is, but it’s true. Seeing events written out as well as my feelings has helped me to see the situation clearer, instead of through the eyes of someone whose views are skewed hurt by narcissistic abuse.
Talking about things with a safe person is helpful too. I’ve told my husband some of what’s been going on. Sometimes, he gets angry or looks completely shocked by things I’ve shared about my parents. That lets me know it’s not normal! When you grow up with narcissists, abuse & bizarre is your normal. Even as an adult, it can be hard to let go of that & embrace the healthy & good things. Having someone you love & trust say that certain things were wrong or bizarre is helpful in letting go of those bad beliefs.
Dear Reader, if you too have been in survival mode for a long time, these things may happen with you too. Or maybe they’re happening already. If so, please rest assured that you are fine! It may not feel that way but you are. Ending survival mode is truly a good thing. Your mind & body finally can relax, & you can deal with those long buried emotions.