Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Let Me Tell You About My Super Power...

SUPER EM!  My powers don't extend to photo manipulation, sadly.

I've been using a phrase for a really long time and it's only recently that I've realised that it's the wrong one.

Four and a half years ago, I found the strength to walk away from an abusive relationship.  I don't use the term "found the strength" lightly, because believe me, walking away and putting myself back together again was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Since then, as with most survivors, I've learnt that some things trigger memories of what I experienced and I will therefore be more sensitive to them.  Generally, once you know what your triggers are, you can either avoid them, or work on ways to protect yourself, should you encounter them.  Another thing you learn, as you're rebuilding yourself, is that certain things you say and do are likely to be influenced by what you went through.  I might react strangely to something that seems harmless and I have to be able to recognise that and understand where my reaction comes from.  I call those reactions and triggers my "abuse hangover."

"Abuse hangover" is, for me at least, a good umbrella term for all those funny little reactions I have to what seem like minor issues, or for the (thankfully ever-decreasing) list of things that can be triggering.  But there's one thing that shouldn't be lumped into that catch-all term and that is my ability to spot abusive tendencies in people.

In the first months and even years after I walked away, got help and put myself back together again, I  would sometimes see someone behaving in a snide, manipulative manner and feel that I had to have a bit of a word with myself before I inwardly judged them for it.  "Oh, Emma.  It's your 'abuse hangover' talking," I'd tell myself.  And sometimes, it really was just that; the person was having an off day, or I was only seeing half of the situation and it wasn't fair to make an assumption without all of the facts.  It's true to say that when you're fresh out of an abusive situation, you're often highly attuned to the signs you need to be looking out for, because even if you're receiving counselling, or support from an abuse charity (as I was), you're often still in that place where you can't believe you missed all the red flags when they were dangled right in front of your nose for so long.  Your senses are heightened and any behaviour that you perceive as bad is going to be magnified in your mind.

But there comes a point where it's not just the "hangover" from what you experienced that's colouring your judgement.  There comes a point - perhaps, as in my case, long after you've finished having support and you've left the abuse well behind in your past - when you realise that recognising abusive behaviour when you see it isn't a "hangover."  It's a gift.  More than that, it's a freaking SUPER POWER.

Being able to spot when a person is being manipulative, coercive, controlling or purposefully intimidating is a skill that, in a perfect world, we would all have.  If we did, perhaps abuse would happen far less.  Sadly, the fact is that abusers are clever.  Manipulative people know which strings to pull, to ensure they remain sympathetic and blameless.  Coercive people know how to make you feel as though you made the choice that they wanted you to make.  Control can be so subtle that you don't even realise you're being controlled until it's much too late.

People often pride themselves on believing that abuse - in any form - could never happen to them, but the fact is that abuse is insidious and we often don't even realise that it's happening to us.  I certainly didn't.  

But now, four and a half years after I left my abuser, I've put myself back together, learnt a whole heap about abuse, moved forwards with my life and, crucially, I know the signs, now.  I'd never be arrogant or foolish enough to suggest that I could never possibly succumb to any form of abuse again; as I said earlier, abusers are clever and manipulative.  But it would be harder.  These days, I recognise when someone is trying to manipulate me or others.  I can tell when someone is behaving in a coercive manner.  I know when someone is gaslighting.

Those are skills to be proud of.  They were hard "won" and they will protect me as I continue to move forward through life.  That's why I refuse to call them a "hangover," anymore.  They're my super powers and I'm lucky to have them, even if I did come by them in a particularly awful manner.

Abusive people: I SEE YOU.

Now, I don't claim to have all the answers.  Being able to tell when someone has abusive tendencies is one thing, but knowing how to deal with the situation (if avoiding that person forevermore isn't an option) is a puzzle I have yet to solve.  Knowing what your triggers are is a good starting point and being able to have coping methods in place is always wise.  Even if you simply go to your metaphorical "happy place" if you encounter an abusive person, that's a helpful step towards not letting them get under your skin.  Remember you're free, now.  That ability to spot abusive behaviour in the first place is testament to what you went through to get to where you are, today.  So, there's no shame in going to your mental happy place, if you can't avoid an abusive person.

For the record, my happy place looks like this:

Oh, so happy.  So very, very happy.

In summary, there's absolutely no way I intend to write off my ability to spot abusive behaviour in a person as a mere "hangover" from what I experienced.  It's a skill.  It's a gift.  It's a super power.  

If anyone needs me, I'll be over here, wearing my pants over my jeans.

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