People Who Leak Trauma
0 comment Monday, May 26, 2014 |
It is said about adopted children that they 'leak trauma'. That is to say that they don't lie around crying and being all obviously depressed, but then once they've got it out of their system get up and carry on. What they do is carry on and constantly let slip little signs of the inner devastation inside of them.
For instance, my daughter had a fit of wailing today because she was asked to carry a small box of cat food from the car. She kept crying that the box was too heavy as she stumbled dramatically towards the front door, fighting not to drop it, heroically stopping herself from falling over carrying the back-breaking weight of ten pouches of chicken in jelly. When she got inside she dropped the box in the hall and went wailing theatrically into the living room. She was perfectly OK beforehand, and the box was not heavy or big, but some niggling upset inside of her needed expression and so this happened.
This sort of thing happens all the time, from both of them, every day.
When they first came to us they weren't leaking trauma, of course, they were blasting trauma at us like those water cannons used in riot control. Unsurprisingly Husband and I got utterly drenched in their trauma, or in other words we experienced secondary trauma. We only survived those first intense months because Husband could recover at work and I could recover whilst the kids were at school. And because of friends. Friends who were never shocked by anything we had to say and who held for us the belief that we would come through, when we couldn't hold that belief ourselves.
I've since realised that it's not just adopted children who leak or blast us with their inner trauma, but anyone who has a chaotic inner life can do so. You know those people, those friends, relatives, or acquaintances who leave us feeling either totally drained or thoroughly wound-up after we've spent some time with them? That's because they have made us feel for a short time how they feel inside all the time, and whether it is done consciously or subconsciously, it is always done deliberately.
Apparently, we all do this sometimes; force another person to feel the way that we feel inside, thus transferring our Big Bad Emotions to someone else so we can be relieved of them for a while. Ever been angry at someone who remains really calm? Infuriating isn't it? Doesn't calm you down, just makes you madder. That's because they are not letting you off-load some your anger onto them. The bastards.
I once worked with a woman who was in an almost constant state of anxiety about anything that she could find. And if there was nothing particularly anxiety inducing going on in her own life she would take on her sister's troubles, her boyfriends, her (I kid you not) boyfriend's gran. Every change or demand at work, or even daily office happenings, saw her running off for a fag, or a coffee, or chocolate bar. When she wasn't there it was always amazing to me how easy my job seemed, how relaxed I was, even though technically speaking things should have been harder because I had to do her work too whilst she was off.
I tried my best to induce my humourous and philosophical approach to life in her, but usually ended up taking on her sense of panic instead. She used to make me feel ill. I now realise that she was engaged in a constant battle to transfer her anxiety onto me, because those times when she achieved it, well, those were the times she felt actual relief. I never stood a chance.
These days, I cannot be around people like that. I have a good friend, who I really care for, but whom I can't see very often now because she throws a bucket of trauma over me every time I see her. There have been times when I have come away from her feeling almost assaulted by the force of the anger and upset that she has thrown off.
My own Mother; my role in the family has always been to 'take on' her bad moods and turn them around for her. Can't afford to do that so often these days. It wouldn't be so bad if she was able to do that trick for me in turn, but she never has and she never will.
And anybody else who might want to 'dump' their Big Bad Emotions on me, nope, can't be available for that much anymore. I have even been known to defriend people on FB because their Status Updates are a constant grab for attention and sympathy! Oh pur lease!
I just can't do that anymore because the kids do it to me all the time and I have to be in good mental shape for them. Mostly, I manage it. Mostly I can stay clean of their trauma, say something therapeutic, wondering verbally why they are acting the way they are, then say something empathetic. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't, yet it's always the best response. But I'll be honest, I'm still struggling. Son in particular has such rage inside of him that I let him transfer that to me all too easily. The minute he gets het-up, I do. It's hideous and I need to find a way to stop it.
So, whilst I do that, I try to keep people around me who keep me healthy. People who let me talk, and help me gain insight, but who don't feel sorry for me or judge me. People who share things about themselves with me, without expectation that I will fix it for them. People who have who have a flourishing emotional life who I understand and who understand me. Good friends, in other words.
But it does make you think. As an adoptive mother I am charged with bringing some order to my children's chaotic internal lives. By being empathetic, consistent and kind (as much as possible; we are only human) Husband and I hope to help our children grow up into adults with a strong, positive and authentic sense of self. Pity the poor adults who never had that, the ones who are broken inside and whom nobody ever fixed.

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