Saturday, 1 November 2014

Toxic Survival Syndrome

I've written before about my black dog moments. It took reading a post about the fear of failure for me to clarify what is my biggest issue in moving forward towards what I really want from life.

Toxic Survival Syndrome.

I've no idea if that's a real thing, but it certainly sums up what I need to overcome on a daily basis, just to get through every single day.

My basic personality is one of those "take charge and make it happen" types. It can best be summed up by the Belbin Shaper team role:

Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are dynamic and usually extroverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches for solving problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team does not become complacent.
Shapers often see obstacles as exciting challenges and they tend to have the courage to push on when others feel like quitting.
Their potential weaknesses may be that they're argumentative, and that they may offend people's feelings.
Now, other than the "usually extroverted" element - I'm an ambivert - that's pretty close to my childhood behaviour. Like other "argumentative" types, I tend to stand my ground when it matters, although as I got older, I learnt to back off appropriately at times. I've always done my best, within certain parameters, to not offend others. I've been offended, bullied and discriminated against too often to want to do that to others.

There's a problem though - I am at my best when I can feel sufficiently secure and in control of my life. When that doesn't happen, the adrenaline response kicks in and I gallop towards my Toxic Survival mode.

Due to a really bad life choice in my late twenties, I spent 3 years in a relationship ripe with domestic abuse. No control over my life, my finances, my personal appearance, my parenting. No friends. No security, at home or at work. No support from my family. No hope.

I followed the typical pattern in these cases, leaving and returning several times until I finally realised that either I left, or I died. So I left.

The psychological legacy is something I continue to struggle with. Essentially, PTSD symptoms; I have an exaggerated startle reflex over 20 years after the relationship ended, events can still easily trigger the full gamut of insomnia, poor short-term memory, impaired ability to concentrate, panic attacks (something I've worked really hard to overcome), ongoing anxiety and a return to a hypersensitive and hypervigilant state. Needless to say, the low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, and tendency to avoid potentially threatening human contact is bubbling along under the surface just waiting for a chance to take over.

Bonfire night is not a good night for me. I don't watch gratuitously violent films, either. Zombie movies are avoided completely.

In the early years after that relationship ended, I survived one day at a time. I repeated the mantra "I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor" until it became part of my psychological armour. I buried myself in motherhood and work. I didn't have much time for a social life, and to be honest, I felt safer without one. I work in a male-dominated environment; it's exhausting trying to keep hypervigilance under control when everybody you meet, male or female, poses a potential threat to your wellbeing, but I feel safer around geeks.

There is still one key behaviour I need to overcome,

I find 'phone calls so threatening, just hearing a phone ring sets my adrenaline response off.

Phones are inextricably linked with physical and emotional pain, fear, panic, betrayal and heartbreak. Whilst I can now face down a violent man with equanimity, I can't cope with a phone call. It's almost impossible to pick up a handset to make calls, let alone deal with receiving them.

That's toxic. And it's stopping me from reclaiming my baseline personality.

So, in an attempt to channel my "take charge" personality, I'm setting myself a target of making one call per day for the next 60 days. Time to dial back on Toxic Survival.