A long time ago, I read that your family can best trigger you because they're the ones who put the triggers there to begin with. It reminded me a bit of a computer hacker who put his own code into whatever he built...no matter how much time passed, he could always get in immediately.
I began to think. Did I always want my family to have the ability to trigger me? I went to yoga retreats, and meditated, and removed stressors from my life. But one fact remained: Did any of this stuff really work if I resorted to old, childish ways the minute my relatives said something critical? Were they always going to have automatic access to my emotions?
That's when I discovered the benefits of the observer mindset.
As someone with C-PTSD, I react emotionally. It's very difficult for me to regulate my own feelings, and what's worse, I'm always looking for validation from people who will not give it to me.
Developing an observer mindset does not come naturally to me. The following problems came up over and over again:
1. Seeking external validation from people who I knew would never give it to me.
It's perfectly normal for children to want validation and emotional support from caregivers. But sometimes, it just doesn't happen. Sometimes parents are not emotionally capable. Sometimes they are hurting, and sometimes they are malicious.
When one is stuck waiting and waiting for apologies that will never come, for validation or pats on the back that will never come, or even waiting for confirmation of abuse or of certain traumatic events that will never come, the result is a state of constant stagnation. Healing cannot happen if you are waiting on someone else. Sometimes we must give ourselves closure.
Instead, I had to validate my own experiences. This requires setting boundaries, and refusing to take bait when people want to start a fight. When people make "jokes" at my expense and laugh if I get upset, for example. That's just baiting. And did I even want approval from people who did things like this?
Once I recognized that maybe I didn't need or even want their approval, it was easier to detach. Who did I want approval from? Who did I hold in high esteem? Who did I want to impress because of their values, not just because they were a part of my childhood?
2. Trapped in the "it's not fair" cycle.
It's not fair when someone does something to us, and then never apologizes. It's not fair when someone does something wrong, and then never acknowledges that they even performed that action. It's not fair when someone tells you that you're exaggerating, and that you're taking things "too personally."
For a long time, I was trapped in this "it's not fair" cycle. I didn't move on because I wanted to be proven right in the end. I wanted people to understand what they did. I wanted things to be fair.
It's not fair that sometimes people hurt us and then pretend they didn't...but we must pick up the pieces and move on anyway. It's not fair...but do I want to spend my life harping on what is not fair? Do I want to invest more time, effort, and pain in people who do not appreciate it?
No, I do not. I know what is and is not fair, and I can both believe something was unfair, and move on from it.
3. Lack of boundaries.
I had to begin being comfortable in making my own decisions. People are not entitled to another person's time or efforts. People are not entitled to my time or efforts. I can say no to things I am not comfortable with.
I used to just play along because I was afraid of confrontation, being belittled, or being laughed at. I had to learn to be okay with those things happening. I had to say no.
Establishing boundaries was scary, but I learned it was easier over time. Moreover, once it became clear that I would establish a boundary and hold it, certain people tested the fence far less. People learn to stop violating boundaries, or they experience consequences.
As a result of my setting boundaries, I no longer talk to two relatives. Honestly? I've never been happier. As it turned out, I didn't need people constantly stepping on my needs. Sometimes, there are ugly consequences to violating someone's space, like no longer being a part of their lives.
Once I was able to work through these three glaring issues, I could start looking around me and see what was happening not through the eyes of an emotional, needy child, but almost through the eyes of a scientist. I could observe what was happening. I started to think about the situation with curiosity. Here's what I started to discover:
1. These people also never worked through certain emotions and traumas.
The hurtful things they said and did, and they jokes they made, were a part of a larger picture. I noticed that the most pain stemmed from just a couple of very toxic relatives, and everyone else was either copying that behavior or were trying to cover up their own pain. Humor is a big one. Humor can be used to conceal very raw, very real wounds.
I began to see these "jokes" as the only way certain people could express their pain. They couldn't talk about their feelings without fear of being belittled, either. They imposed these rules on other relatives without considering why they were there.
2. Asking questions diffuses situations.
If a person says something hurtful, instead of reacting...which is taking the bait...I just ask. Why did you say that? Can you explain further? Can you tell me what you mean?
When people have to explain their terrible insult or joke, they usually backpedal on their own. I did not want to ruin my day with extreme emotions...with ups and downs. Instead of fighting or arguing, I can ask what they mean and see what their thought process is.
If a person is repeatedly harmful, it might be time to consider what I want their role in my life to be.
3. It's not my job to constantly make people feel better.
I remember feeling fear when my caregivers were not in a good mood. I remember feeling stressed if someone came home and found me reading on the couch...because I wasn't "working" or "cleaning." I remember feeling relieved only if I was completely alone.
Why did I feel this way? Because I constantly had to take care of others. I felt responsible for people's feelings.
Now, with an observer mindset, I can recognize when a person is angry. But it's okay if someone is angry. It's not my responsibility to make them feel better. If I feel unsafe, I can leave.
This is a kind of power I have never felt before, and it does not come naturally to me. Sometimes I still feel like I am in mortal danger. But the more time goes on, the more I realize that I am not responsible for other people's feelings. People can ask me to clean if they want me to. I can decide what I do with my day. I can read if I enjoy reading.
It's still difficult for me to be around people and not start tending to their emotional needs...but it's a habit I'm determined to break, by creating distance between other people's emotions and mine.