A culture of gaslightening people into staying with toxic family members

We live in a culture that places family before anything and whilst there is nothing wrong with this, it is wrong when other realities are not considered and denied and when this is valued above an individual’s well-being and their right to cut off or distance themselves from a family member(s) that is toxic.

In my work, I have come across many children that have grown into adults injured by a parent, both or another family member and who already carry guilt and shame that isn’t theirs to bare. I have witnessed the injuries first hand and listened to the challenges and struggles it brings.

Before we begin to explore this further, we need to first understand, what is gas lightening? We need to understand this, because when we silence victims, with, but it’s family! You can’t walk away from family! How can you do that to your family? You must forgiven them…(fill in the blank), what we are doing is gas lightening.

Wikipedia describes it as:  “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment, often evoking in them cognitive dissonance and other changes, including low self-esteem”.

Cognitive dissonance is a term to describe, the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. An example of this is knowing something is bad for us but still wanting it. Example, knowing smoking is bad for us (cognitive) and then still taking the action to do so (dissonance). Due to the fact certain truths can lead to a feeling of mental discomfort we alternate our thoughts, behaviours, attitudes or beliefs in order to reduce this discomfort and restore balance. Therefore, it is when inconsistency can be found within us and a mental conflict is occurring.

Gaslightening not only as victims question their own judgement and reality but then also has people stuck in the cycle of cognitive dissonance and serve to keep others in their mental prison. To have pain invalidated is a form of violence.

So let’s go on to see what we mean by family, because words such match their meanings and family is more than just the word itself. Words need to be used accurately to have meaning.

What is family?

Family is more than just DNA, blood makes you related but loyalty makes you family. Family doesn’t mean others owe us, we are not bad if we walk away or cut contact with toxic family members even if this is a parent/caregiver or parents/caregivers. We are nobodies possessions and we are not objects.

One needs to earn trust and respect it is not given because someone is simply a parent to us. Relationships are not one sided and love is not being ‘loved’ by what we do rather than who we are. Love isn’t control, family shouldn’t be about being controlled. People don’t get a right to mistreat us and a free pass to do this and get out of jail card because they are ‘family’. Titles need to be earned and people need to represent the meaning of such titles or else it means nothing, blood isn’t always thicker than water. It doesn’t automatically give them a licence to kill. Emotional abuse can and does kill, not being seen, heard kills, isolation which is what this leads too kills, being silenced kills and we need to stop silencing and shaming people.

It takes immense courage and intelligence to break generational patterns and unhealthy cycles. Individuals should be empowered and encouraged to have these rights, they are modelling boundaries and healthy behaviours and self care and taking action to put these in place and have these in place and that’s never wrong. It’s not an easy choice to separate form what is meant to be the people that are our first love object(s). It is excruciatingly painful to accept that we were never loved, protected, wanted, respected by those closest to us, by who was meant to be our everything and who where the blueprint to how we would then see the world, others and ourselves.

Whilst family is important and whilst a  parent and child bond especially with mothers are seen as being unbreakable and strong, the truth is, this is not always the case. Mothers can be toxic and cause harm and destruction to their child/ren with their behaviours. It doesn’t automatically mean a person is good or great because they have given birth. I am not talking about mothers who love their child/ren but suffer from post-natal depression and find it hard to bond with their child and connect, I am not talking about women who have the right not to want a child/ren or like children much but that respect and cause no harm. I am talking about individuals who purposely manipulate and have caused suffering to their child/ren.

Where victims of this, have to grieve a loss of childhood, a loss of a parent(s) they will never have, a loss of their choices, loss of self esteem, loss of self worth, loss of their authentic selves and identity, loss of security and safety.

Where family sees them as the black sheep when they assert their rights for respect, boundaries, to be treated with dignity and where constantly they are forced into conforming and living in fear of judgement or punishment. Where society and people keeps them stuck because they are seen as the bad one for family is everything. Family isn’t disrespect, abuse, manipulation, betrayal, or abandonment (abandonment meaning emotionally not just physically).

I hate how society shames children into staying, loving, forgiving parents that have failed them in ways that were in their control and how this allows that parent(s) to feel like they have done no wrong and never be held accountable and how other family members may support the toxic parent. When said parent(s) fail their own children, and don’t care about the damage they inflict or have. Aspects such as disrespect, lack of support, attention, and protection are silent killers that often accompany victims in their adult lives as wounds and scars. Even with a sad and pathetic sorry, when sorry is said and actions never change, those wounds don’t heal easily and go deep.

Just because you may have had loving parent’s who have died and this is valid pain and heartbreaking no doubts about it, but don’t emotionally blackmail those of us who need to break away from toxic parents by guilting us to forgive or say how lucky we are to still have a parent(s), we never did, and old or not, we don’t owe to protect them because of their age when they didn’t protect us when we were of a vulnerable age or even adults that were not taught to protect ourselves and never were offered protection.

This only fuels self-gaslightening for survivors and only serves to keep them stuck and feeling helpless trapped into this labyrinth of dysfunctional patterns. Survivors should not be expected to tolerate this, to go along with this and enable this, society should not make it so this is being enabled and people who care about us should not ask us to betrayal and sacrifice ourselves and well-being in the name of so called “family”.

The only people we need to love, protect and rescue is ourselves not our toxic parent(s).

This is not to say that everyone must break all ties, this decision is an individual one and each person and situation will be different. Only that person knows what is best for them and can make that decision and they have a right to decide whatever suits them best.

But it does mean that boundaries need to be put in place and if someone’s behaviour isn’t changing or has, then partial or complete separation needs to be placed. If patterns don’t change and are repeated, it is no longer a mistake but part of someone’s chosen behaviour. Nobody can love someone into changing abusive behaviour, because the problem isn’t you. This may mean seeing someone less, having contact in ways that feel safer and total separation if this is needed.

Your psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical well-being is imperative and remember that emotional abuse is just as destructive on it’s own and causes physical damage because there is a direct link with emotions and our bodies and stress and trauma all happen there in our nervous system that is then interlinked to all other systems in our body.

Love doesn’t require us to set ourselves on fire in order to keep who is hurting us warm. Attachment doesn’t equal connection, trauma bonds don’t equal love.

We need to prioritise victims, not shame them, not enable family to continue to be dysfunctional and destructive and not allow them the means to do this and the privilege all because of DNA and the relationship this creates. Nobody chooses their family, but they can chose who is family and who deserves to be in their life or not. Abuse cannot be justified.

Beauty in imperfection

Many times, perfectionism can arise from conditions of worth. It’s perfectly normal to want to do something to our best abilities, to have standards and believe in quality. This is healthy, what isn’t healthy is when we give ourselves the task to achieve the unrealistic expectations we may hold, to chase perfection when there is no such thing and to use punitive or critical judgements on ourselves if we fall short of this.

So, what are conditions of worth and how are they formed? Carl Rogers (the founder of person centred approach), describes conditions of worth as the conditions we think we need to meet in order for us to be accepted by others, these develop in childhood when we may learn that certain things we do please our parents, caregivers or other adults.

An example is, schools shame us from an early age by not taking into account child development stages or being trauma informed and from a very flawed and archaic system. It judges us and grades us, and we are defined by this.

As Albert Einstein says, “You can’t judge a fish by how well it climbs a tree”.

Parents and caregivers may praise children when they ‘succeed’, this approval may be addictive, if approval lacks in other areas, the child may feel they have worth only as long as they ‘achieve’ academically.

Society and its messages especially in the media or to sell, work on conditions of worth. Girls in particular from a young age are conditioned to base their worth on their appearance and later on in life on how well they can attract or please men. Our worth is seen to lie on how wealthy we are, as this is seen as what is means to be successful and what is desirable.

Perfectionism tends to stem form the wound that is caused by shame and the belief that we are never enough. The void of emptiness that we feel we must fill in order to be worthy. The problem is that it can get addictive and like addictions we need a ‘fix’ a fix that is short lived and then the downward spiral and cycle starts again, because ‘success’ is short lived and until that emptiness isn’t filled by ourselves and within rather than by chasing external things to validate us, we will never be free.

Bullying is another life experience that can cause this, especially if our appearance is mocked. Plastic surgery and beauty products all condition us to believe that we are never beautiful enough, we are not okay as we are. The truth is, someone will always be smarter, younger, more beautiful but that doesn’t mean we have any less value or that beauty is not within us. We are all beautiful, worthy and unique in our own way. We can embrace our flaws and see the beauty that can be found in imperfection. Being human, real and authentic is not something to be ashamed us, it is natural raw beauty.

Let’s explore how imperfections can be seen for the beautiful things that they can represent.

Many times, when people have suffered great emotional pain such as trauma or a break down, they may develop the erroneous belief that they are ‘broken’. People are often seen as needing ‘fixing’. People are neither broken or need fixing but when we may feel less then, try to think of the Japanese art of Kintsugi (golden joinery) or Kinsukuroi (golden repair) which is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with gold. The philosophy is that the broken pottery is seen as being valuable and its history is not something to be ashamed off, therefore by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. These so-called flaws or imperfections do not mean we have less value, we can find beauty even in the ‘broken’.

Persian rugs, Turkish carpets (and Navajo weaving customs) are weaved with a mistake, this mistake is done deliberately, and the imperfection is embraced to create the beautiful rugs and carpets that are created. They are not any less beautiful or valuable. It’s important that we don’t attach our worth on external things and that we cultivate our own self-love where we can learn to love and accept ourselves for who we are and how we look like, this doesn’t mean we have to like everything, it doesn’t mean we will, but it does mean that we can still see our beauty and value regardless.

Many people are perfectionisms because they may feel that they are lowering their standards if not striving for perfectionism, but perfectionism and striving for excellence are not to be confused. One is a based on quality and realistic and the other does not exist and even hinders the flow and beauty of our creativity. In addition, as we can have seen there is beauty in mistakes, think of inventions that were the results of mistakes. Without those mistakes they would not be discovered. Enjoy and trust in the process.

As for who we are, we are only loved when we are accepted and loved for us not for who someone else wants us to be. That is control not love and transactional ‘love’, you are ‘loved’ on the bases of who someone what’s you to be or for what you do. Nobody is perfect nor should we ever be expected to be. We can be lovable as we are.

Only when we strip ourselves of conditions of worth and find self-acceptance can we be free from the shackles of perfectionism

Emotional wounds also bleed

Abandonment for a child can feel like the threat of a horrid death or death sentence. Abandonment isn’t limited to parents leaving us as babies, it’s also not being heard or seen by caregivers, its caregivers being emotionally absent and emotionally neglectful which results in us being starved of our emotional needs which are just as important as food and shelter and physical things we need growing up. It can be when we are abused as children for any form of abuse is a form of abandonment. It can be the death of a loved one, the absence of a parent or caregiver, divorce. It can be feeling rejected and experiencing rejection.

In fact, rejection hurts just as much as physical pain because the same area of the brain that reacts to physical pain also reacts to emotional pain and particularly with serious and devastating forms of feeling rejected but also ‘minor’ rejections. The level of the pain is not perceived by the event but how it affects and is interpreted by the receiver, what could feel like a ‘minor’ rejection for one person can be devastating for another. All cause pain and injury. This is why being ignored can cause one of the most painful of feelings.

If negative experiences in childhood from caregivers are experienced and then rejection or betrayals continue from friends and relationships in later life, the wound and injuries only become bigger and bigger and the pain harder to control as it gets more overwhelming and paralysing.

This affects trust, trust in ourselves, the world and others. Once trust is shattered it is hard to give, because even if we want to trust and offer this, we don’t have it, especially if so many people have hurt us and even more if by those closest to us that we were meant to trust and be safe with.

When we are bullied or ignored or ostracised by others or don’t ‘fit’ in, this affects our sense of belonging. It may feel like the whole world is rejecting us. Our self-esteem and worth then gets eroded and we can become punitive and critical of ourselves or find it hard to let love in because we have come to see ourselves as unlovable, unworthy and even defective. We may have been compared to others and if so,  we may have come to believe we are not enough. So now we either shut people out or become people pleasers to gain others approval.

If not treated those wounds stay open and get infected, if we have had to stitch them up ourselves, the stitches might not have been tight enough and so when someone injuries us again the wound rips open and gets infected all over again. This can spread to other areas of our lives and endanger them.

It can result in feelings of inferiority complex where you feel threatened by making yourself vulnerable or of feeling inferior to others especially if this is all one may have ever felt or known. It all stems from not being or feeling safe and if we have never felt safe, how can we know how to feel safe even when we are in a safe situation? We must learn new ways that start with connecting to our bodies for our gut instinct is found in our bodies and this is the radar that keeps us safe and alerts us. Trauma and stress is stored in our bodies and emotions are felt in our bodies so connecting to our bodies is key. Mind, body and soul are interconnected not separate.

Many times, life and people seem to hurt us in the same area, weakening us. A stab wound cannot heal if we keep getting stabbed in the same place.

Our responses can seem like over exaggerations to others, we can be perceived as too sensitive or of having odd reactions but an odd reaction is an old reaction. We are simply being triggered but because emotional injuries are invisible to the human eye and especially in a world that does everything to conceal it and ignore it, including ourselves, it goes unnoticed that someone can be profoundly bleeding (emotionally) whilst looking ‘normal’.

Think of a person who has been physically abused, if someone even gets angry as an innocent response or raises a hand even to say hi, these can trigger a survival response and seen as threats, the person who has been hurt in the past, is programmed to detect danger, they will get ready to defend themselves from the anger, they will see the innocent gesture of a raised hand as one that is about to strike them. Emotional injuries work in the same way and people can react to emotional flashbacks, which means when they emotionally feel a feeling related to having been hurt or abused, they react in the same way as if that threat were immediate and real. These responses are as natural as when we burn ourselves and we immediately retrieve our hand away from what is causing us the threat and pain.

In trauma the part of our brain that detects dangers becomes faulty and is overactive, meaning it will go off like a smoke alarm does, when toast is burned or the house on fire. It will not stop to think as thinking can get us killed, it will just act on what is seen as a threat. Emotionally this can also be what may threaten our ego, such as when in a relationship we may become jealous of our partner’s past lovers. even when we are loved.

Dr. Mario Martinez (also a Biocognition,) states that we can be wounded in three ways: Shame, Abandonment, and Betrayal.

He goes on to say, when your wound is shame, you feel fear, pain, and embarrassment. When your wound is abandonment, you feel fear, pain, and isolation.  When you wound is betrayal, you feel fear, pain, and anger. The healing field for Shame is Honour. The healing field for Abandonment is Commitment. The healing field for Betrayal is Loyalty.

Shame can become toxic and it’s a very powerful emotion to heal from. Shame is when we believe we are defective, shame says: I am bad, I am wrong. Many times, toxic shame is given to us just like low self-esteem is, nobody is born with a poor sense of self or shame. Many times, we have been made to feel this way and we can then take these false beliefs to mean they are the truth and they can then become part of us and in turn we can carry the legacy of abuse of rejection by abandoning and betraying ourselves. Especially in abuse we are programmed to betray ourselves we are made to do this.

Many self defence mechanisms develop for our survival, they served us at some point but later in life no longer do and threaten our very being and relationship with self and others or see us on a path of self-destruction and self-sabotage.

In the book: Healing the scars of Emotional abuse by Gregory L. Jantz PH.D. he perfectly articulates the damaging effects of emotional abuse.

“When you view life as unstable, anxiety, tension and fear result. When you are constantly vigilant to the behaviour of others, hypersensitivity and hostility result. When you learn to second-guess yourself, confusion and feelings of disconnection result. When nothing you do ever seems to be right, insecurity, guilt and shame result. When others tell you that you are always wrong, indecision and inaction result. When you stop having the energy to fight it all, apathy and depression result. When you have finally had it, rage results. When you never seem to receive fairness, justice is all you think about. When you have been hurt by those you love, love is viewed as a risk. When living is painful, addictions are acceptable because they numb the pain. When the mind is a jumble of emotional chaos, the body and its systems break down. When your inner turmoil produces outer stress, your current relationships are endangered. When you can’t control your negative emotions, you become the very person you hate. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that emotional abuse isn’t damaging”.

Emotional pain can be the hardest to heal from. It is felt at the core of our being. We must grieve, we must feel that pain, we must allow ourself this grieving process, let the tears out, let the screams of pain out and facing such soul destroying pain can feel like a threat itself; it can feel like going to war.

Trauma shatters us from within, like the shattering of a glass, sometimes we can glue pieces back or like melted gold we can make something else that is beautiful out of the loss. Either way trauma is a loss and we are changed but that doesn’t mean that we cannot create ourselves again, that we lose our worth or that we are destroyed to the point of no return. It requires us to be born again, like birth it can come with complications and it can feel painful even excruciatingly unbearable but the moment we are born again we can be filled with love for our new selves. During our transformation we have to treat ourselves with the same self-care and love as if we were a pregnant woman. We must be patient and love the new being that is growing within us. We can fall in love with the new us that is given life again and we can treat ourselves with the same love, care, devotion as we would a  new-born child because we are just as valuable, just as worthy for existing and because we can never get back what we lost or the life we should have had, but we can start from now and we can emerge from the ashes. Nobody says it’s easy, but it is possible.

Further reading:

Brain treats rejection same way as physical pain https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/brain-treats-rejection-physical-pain-say-scientists-8884507.html

Poem: Trauma

Trauma is a wound,
An injury to the mind, soul, body and heart,
Distributed memories scattered apart.
Fragmentation occurs, like an explosion blowing everything to pieces, not knowing if reality or dreams are the reasons to feelings.
Doubt and confusion occur, feelings of going mad, not knowing where you stand, sometimes nobody there to reach out a hand.
Dissociation follows, stalking the mind, trying to find an escape, surviving the experiences that were too painful, the mind for this rest is grateful.
Overwhelming emotions too much to bare, flashbacks follow as a way of the mind trying itself to repair, yet with it comes great despair.
Nothing is clear at first, it makes no sense, or we are suddenly brought back in the torturous cell.
Trauma is a wound or more, inflected upon many aspects of our being, one of the hardest journey’s of healing.
If the wound is left to bleed, we are in danger of no longer being here, it brings a lot of fear.
If stitched with feeble thread, its vulnerable to be ripped apart, again causing a bleeding heart.
If left open to fester, it will get infected and the hurt will spread, it absorbs dreaded germs, this can happen when our voices and pain are not heard.
When the trauma is minimised or dismissed when failing to notice how deep the wound is, goes amiss.
Coping strategies develop, self medication develops to silence sensations, addictions are born; they like our abusers are our saviours and tormenters, the wound gets even more tender.
Trapped in a labyrinth of suffering and pain, reliving things over and over again.
Shutting off and repressing it all, trying to slam that door.
Trauma is a war that’s why we get post traumatic stress, to come out alive at the other end is more than a success. It is a miracle of the human soul, the commitment to keep up the fight, even when many times we fall apart, when the bleeding continues in every part.
Psychomatic reactions are felt, the memories stored in the body, and to explain the reason there is nobody.
Trauma is a wound on the human spirit, it has an amazing ability to heal, we need to support those who are hurt. They have many layers of pain to be cleansed, like an onion those layers need to be one by one peeled and much support is needed if trauma victims are ever to heal. They are survivors of life, the injury the greatest to be inflicted, their abusers should be convicted.
©Antonella Sofia Zottola

The shadow

A dark shadow hoovered above me, at first I thought it was my shadow, it kept following me everywhere, and then it occurred  to me that a shadow disappears in the dark but even in the dark I could still make out its presence. It would take me down, it grew stronger in time and always pinned me down. It grew and became more powerful and nobody ever knew what I had to do to make it through every day, with this shadow hoovering over me all day. They were oblivious and ignorant, too blind to see, I became a skilled actor wearing a smile as my prop, playing the so called normal human who never could be touched by pain and sorrow. This isolation allowed the shadow to engulf me, I was dependent on it, it became my companion, my misery. It was getting harder for me to make it leave.

One day it spoke to me, told me that it was called depression, it also went by names as having the blues, the black dog…it said that its aim was to break me down, to make me feel in despair, that for friendship with me it didn’t care. It threatened me that the world would not understand, that it would ostracise me and label me crazy, lazy, a freak and weak.

That my suicidal despair would be classified as attention seeking, selfish, off my rocket and mad. That it had me where it wanted and if I told, others would see me as this, I would lose my dignity and their respect, they wouldn’t see the human suffering that I felt. That nobody cared and I’d be punished that death was better than being humiliated.

I started to see that society didn’t see my shadow but it engaged in victim blaming. It made me feel more despair, it wounded me with its stigma and preconceptions, it made me worse with its lack of empathy and understanding.

Then one day I grew angry, who was society and others to judge and inflict more pain? To feed the shadow and reassure and strengthen its stay?

I started to speak out and fight and challenge all this with all my might.

I grew stronger when I learned to ditch the fear, it was time that I got over being scared of the dark, the dark this world leaves others in and realised that empathy and compassion can drive out the dark, that when now sunnier days are out the shadow might still be there, but it doesn’t cause harm no more, defeating depression happens when we learn to reach out to those in pain, and never make them feel alone again. We all want to be saved, stigmatising us will bring no change.

© Antonella Zottola

Poem: Domestic Violence

Fear of abandonment, low self worth, wanting the cure to kill loneliness and more. Dependent on anyone to ease the pain, an emotional painkiller that can’t be found, in agony your soul drowns.
Wanting to feel loved, for approval and acceptance, burning with the pain, someone is going to play a horrid game. The water and tides get high you are reaching out for anything to keep you afloat, even if it’s not what and who you’d want. You grab manure if it keeps you afloat, drink polluted water if it keeps you from the thirst, eat the mouldy food if it stops you dying from hunger, emotional needs are just as strong.
Predator smells the fear, the vulnerability and sees the sadness and the un-shed tears. A perfect target they see, to be found, to control at will, manipulating love and needs to justify what they do, you have been caught and once fed, led to the slaughter house to be tortured and eventually killed, psychologically if not physically.
Smiles your way and enters the opened door, seeks out those vulnerabilities to cause extra injuries and more. Holds you hostage without a gun; with manipulation, hatred, and in making you weaker and weaker finds jubilation.
Feeding on your needs, your hunger for belonging in a world unsafe, you are alone in this isolated cave. Abuse starts so gradually and slow, confusion and entrapment, caught in the quick sand of abuse, swallowing you whole, your escape isn’t easy, trapped in a situation so complex and dangerous, sink, rise or die, remain calm and survive.
Learn their every move, to defeat the enemy or else you lose. Everybody judges, you’re in the wrong, bad boys is what you want, you’re crazy, a liar, attention seeking, too sensitive and a whore, you made your bed now lie in it, nobody has compassion or sees your value, the message is break the silence no more you are not worthy or have the right to be safe, you’re the one that made the mistake. You deserve it, you’re bad, you need to be perfect and even then there is wrong in that. Extra lies from more toxic people unable to hear your story and pain, unable to help you set yourself free, they keep you trapped and then ask why didn’t you just leave?
It echo’s the messages of the abuser;” you did this, you asked for this, you deserve it, nobody will believe you, you’re crazy, you stupid bitch….” No win situation is what you’re in.
Everything you do to survive will go against you and scrutinised, you might as well be dead. In loneliness and pain in this dungeon you stay, every day it gets harder to escape, traumatic bonding are the new chains that hold you down, no key is to be found.
Screaming doesn’t help; you’re all alone with the devil in hell. You no longer know who you are, the identity you had is long gone, your worth is dead, and there is nothing left but an empty shell. So hungry you eat and enjoy the crumbs, for they give you relief for a while, at time compliance and submission frees you from further pain, better days and ‘kindness’ make you forget reality for a while, maybe it will end is what you have to keep telling yourself to survive, sacrifices you endlessly make.
But behold a new fear emerges, that of dying all alone, killed by their very hands, like the assassination of your soul, staying will get you dead, a fear that has you being brave like never before, you head straight for that door. No looking back as you run and keep on running, bleeding from within, escaping the horrors that you were locked in.
Alas, you’re free, but this is just the beginning, as reality sinks in, the horrors that now become intense and deep. Building a life and recovery takes time, no longer can you hide behind denial, you are faced with the horrific truth, abuse is traumatic and fatal; you feel burning shame and to blame, nobody understands the complexity, the dynamics at play, they point the finger and the blame.
How more isolated can you feel? Abuse is fatal and it’s real.
Education is needed, awareness the key, without it and action we can’t be free.
© Antonella Zottla
For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5


Walking dead infected by the deadly virus of patriarchy, oppression, slavery, exploitation, prisoners of societal control, conditioning and expectations, decaying in this controlled system begging for liberation. Rats in a cage, society the experimental lab, turning the world mad. In this cage we age, losing track of the days. Stuck in useless education, jobs that exploit us throughout the nation. Manipulated into the system, threatened with the power others have, the hierarchy  of capitalism and corruption, leaders with no conscious or emotions. Domination, where selfish greed and sociopathic tendencies are cause of celebration. Manipulated puppets on a string, our egos stroked is what we need, victims of the mental games, living one big useless game. Busy lifestyles no room to live, slaves to the system is for what we live. Misogyny keeping women second best, violence on them it sheds, hatred spreading and the world is consumed by the deadly plague spreading. Infecting humanity with its deadly poison, infecting minds that are going through corrosion. Terrorism, wars, crimes of hate, waking up to life when it’s too late.
Bleeding souls, empty souls, infected souls, screaming souls, to this disease we sell our souls.
Watching life pass us by, too late, we are not ready to say goodbye. Lives stolen one way or another, people betraying themselves, stolen lives, the disease either steals your soul or makes you kill your body or identity, society is the host that invades it with it’s destructive notions, it makes people feel inadequate and incomplete, creating struggles to accept who we are within. Taking away choices it tries, vulnerabilities rise, time is taken from our lives in many ways it claims our souls before we die.
Homes that can’t be brought, poverty and even with jobs being broke. A desolate world, starving its people of food, love, water, self acceptance, freedom and justice. Living for others and not ourselves, ruled by oppression this world isn’t fair. In our sweat we soak, in our blood we sit, robots to society unable to function or sleep. Survival every day, on us society preys.
We need a revolution, to find our voices and take power back, humanity is what society lacks. We need to challenge what it lacks, know that what we are taught are lessons that have lacked. We need to break the shackles to set us free, to reclaim back our life, a revolution is what we need in life. Standing together we are strong, we can mend the wrongs.
Fighting for our souls, let’s be the antidote to the disease, no longer the walking dead, with brains that rot, lets take back the life that society wants to be forgot. Let’s rebel against the system for better change, let’s be the change ourselves, for the revolution starts within, change starts with us, revolutionise our ways we must.
The battle starts within, to combat the attacks of this virus all around, let’s unite all around. Let’s break free from this oppressive society and live in freedom and peace and humanity.
Let’s spread our wings and fly, no longer absorbing all the lies. Manipulated to do another’s will, when will this power be killed? When will we control our fate? Let’s not hesitate to act before it’s too late. We only get one life; to be controlled is not a life. For our human rights let us now stand.

© Antonella Zottola

The Nature of Codependency

My analogy of co-dependency which is people pleasing is being like X-Men character Mystique. In the sense not that one takes or can take the physical shape and appearance of another but in the sense that as co-dependents we shift ourselves to accommodate others, we base our identities on mirroring others, on being who they want us to be or we think they want us to be.

We create and live through a false self because we allow others to define us, we shift ourselves for approval. If I’m who someone wants me to be or like them, I don’t risk rejection and abandonment. I can be loved; I will be seen as enough. I can only be seen this way; I can only be heard if I don’t speak my truth but agree with others. I can only be accepted if I’m everything but me.

Codependency is the reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. The need to be perfect and defined by others. It’s a loss of control and giving away our power. It’s a loss of our authenticity, our potential, our values, our morals, our boundaries… In fact, the absence of boundaries plays a pivotal role and the fear of setting them, this is why co-dependent people later in life are at risk of ending up being taken advantage off and further abused, not because it’s their fault but because others chose to abuse them by exploiting these very vulnerabilities. In addition, co-dependents fear that having boundaries make them bad or selfish because many times as children they were shamed for having their needs or denied their rights.

Gabor Mate said children need two things; authenticity and attachment.

What happens in codependency is that authenticity is sacrificed for attachment.

In the fear of being abandoned by others, the result is that we sacrifice our own needs and self-love and abandon ourselves.

Co-dependent people don’t have a solid sense of who they are, because co-dependency is a natural reaction to trauma that develops in the formative years and childhood and is due to having experienced developmental trauma. Trauma or abuse robs us of our sense of self amongst other things. Many times it wasn’t okay to be ourselves, to be a child with needs and curiosity and test boundaries and be dependent and needing of nurture, the messages we received were; you are not okay as you are, you are too much, you are not enough, you cannot be accepted or loved for being you, you are not valuable, you’re not lovable…these messages can be subtle and don’t even need to be verbally made. When a child fears these things, they feel rejected and fear being abandoned. For a child abandonment is like murder. Co-dependency develops as a survival strategy, because children are dependent on survival by the adults. These patterns don’t just automatically vanish when someone turns of age. Being an adult is more than just about age.

These patterns follow us into adult relationships, many times seeing us end up in abusive relationships. The trauma response that co-dependency falls into is the fawn response.

The ‘please‘ or ‘fawn‘ response is an often overlooked survival mechanism to a traumatic situation, experience or circumstance. As any survival response; like flight, fight or freeze, a please or fawn response is to manage a state of danger or potential danger.

We may have learned that if as children we utilised the fight response and challenged our parents or protested their mistreatment of us, it only led us to being or feeling punished. This robs us of our assertive skills and silences us into subservience and submission. It also does one of the most destructive things ever that others utilise later in life to hurt us and that’s it deletes our ability to say no, to the point the word no loses all existence. This is why it’s hard for co-dependents to say no, to set boundaries and why they fear doing so will occur a negative action or response. Flight really isn’t much of an option since children depend on the adults in their lives and can’t just easily run away and some go into the freeze response where they dissociate from their toxic environment or people around them.

Many co-dependents were parentified in childhood. Parentification is also linked to childhood trauma and often made invisible just like the child may feel. It occurs when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, where the child has to step up as the caretaker, mediator, or protector of the family. It is a form of mental abuse and boundary violation.  Again, we see that a codependent has grown up in a dysfunctional family setting where lack of boundaries were to be found. 

This sense of becoming a carer was damaging yet made the child feel they were needed and had a purpose and that if they gave of themselves, they could finally be accepted and loved.

‘Love’ very often came with conditions of worth. Conditions of worth were coined by Carl Rogers, the founder of the Person-Centred approach which is a way of being not doing. Rogers said that conditions of worth are what we develop when we take on board other people’s values and ideas about how we should be. When we are children, we learn what pleases those around us (parents, relatives…) and what gains us approval. This is what sets the stage later to people pleasing and why I mentioned at the start of the article why we become like chameleons or Mystique in X-men.

We also learn what gains us disapproval, for some this can be as simple as making mistakes and the reason why perfectionism is also linked to co-dependency and the child becoming the ‘perfect’ child who is always obedient and polite. Co-dependents are extremely loyal to those that are toxic and can allow mistreatment without seeing it as this because of their past history and conditioning.

It is a need for any child to feel wanted, enough, loved, seen, heard, accepted and to feel they belong and nurtured and it is as much of a requirement as food, shelter, water…Because as children we rely on these for survival we end up doing what is needed to get them (please).

What can add to not feeling enough or unwanted and linked with conditions of worth in later life is also society and how in order to feel like we belong, we are expected and told to be a certain way or act a certain way.

Boys and men don’t cry. Girls and women are not ladylike if they do certain things, gender stereotypes are good at this, advertisements that label certain aspects as flaws in order to make business and work on our self-esteem or create and generate this lack of low self-esteem. Women need to look a certain way to be attractive to men, men need to be macho and have a six pack, success is seen as wealth…This can open the original wound and create added layers making one never feel accepted, wanted, loved or enough as they are or it can create codependency from adolescents and adulthood only. The danger of placing value on these things and believing these conditioned lies, is that if we don’t have these things (if we are not ‘perfect’) then our worth can feel challenged.

 Pete walker defines trauma-based co-dependency as:

‘a syndrome of self-abandonment and self-abnegation’.

He also explains the implicit code of the fawn type is that it is:

  • To listen rather than talk
  • To agree than to dissent
  • To offer care than to ask for help
  • To elicit the other than to express self
  • To leave choices to the other rather than express preferences.

It is only with learning how to apply and carry out boundaries, when we find our voice, are able to offer ourselves our own love and acceptance can we break free of co-dependency and start to become our authentic selves and learn who we truly are or set free the person we always were but that was prisoned.

Further reading of interest:

Abuse victims are not codependent: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/abuse-victims-are-not-codependent-theyre-trauma-bonded_b_581cfc1de4b0334571e09b49?ncid=engmodushpmg00000006

The truth behind suicide and the suicidal mind

Edwin. S. Shneidman states:

“In almost every case, suicide is caused by pain, a certain kind of pain – psychological pain, which I call psychache. Furthermore, this psychache stems from thwarted or distorted psychological needs’ (The Suicidal Mind, 1996, p.4)

Suicidal death is an escape from overwhelming pain.

The question we should be asking is “Where does it hurt? And “How can I help you?”

Shneidman also looks at some common truths and factors about suicide. These are:

  • The common purpose of suicide is to seek a solution to end the pain.
  • The common goal of suicide is cessation of consciousness. Dissociating from the painful reality.
  • The common stimulus in suicide is psychological pain. Pain is at the core of suicide.
  • The common stressor in suicide is frustrated psychological needs. These cause the pain and push the person into suicide.
  • The common emotion in suicide is hopelessness-helplessness. It feels like there is nothing the person can do (except end their pain via death) and nobody that can help them (with the pain they feel).
  • The common cognitive state in suicide is ambivalence. This is the tug war between life and death. Not wanting to live, not wanting to die but wanting to end the pain and death feeling like the only solution. Suicidal people feel forced into this, it is not a want but stemming from the need to end the pain. When the need becomes greater than the want, suicide wins. This is the result of great distress and great desperation.
  • The common perceptual state in suicide is constriction. Black or white thinking. All or nothing.

Shneidman states:

“Suicide is not best understood as a psychosis, a neurosis, or a character disorder. It is a transient psychological constriction, involving our emotions and intellect”. “There was nothing else to do.’ “The only way out was death’. “The only thing I could do was this’.

  • The common action in suicide is escape or egression.
  • The common interpersonal act in suicide is communication of intention
  • The common pattern in suicide is consistent with life-long styles of coping. Individuals who have lost their lives to suicide, have been fighting for far longer than we realise, it’s an accumulation of unprocessed life events that can trigger the final act. Those more prone to automatically use the flee survival response are made vulnerable.

What doesn’t help people who are suffering is the myths that surround suicide that need to be eliminated and based on lack of empathy and total ignorance.

Suicidal people are not selfish, cowards, weak or attention seeking, not only are they in great psychological pain, but did you know that the part involved with empathy is shut down? When overwhelmed our nervous system shuts down and parts of our brain become inactive. In that moment, suicidal people are not thinking, this ability is disabled, they are trying to end their pain.

Also children and adolescents commit suicide, do we think of them as weak, cowards…or do we see them as dsyregulated individuals in great distress unable to regulate and soothe selves?

Suicidal idealisation and suicide itself is common and normal, we need a relational approach to this not a pathological approach. We need to stop pathologising human experiences. We need to stop shaming people who open up to us and label them attention seeking, let’s substitute attention seeking with connection seeking. Suicide can escalate when individuals are made to feel unsupported and isolated.

If someone brings our attention to the fact they are hurting, we ask where are you hurting? We don’t say people are seeking attention when they have had an accident and are injured, the doctor or paramedic may ask, can you tell me where it hurts? Can you show me where you are hurting? and assistance will immediately be given. We also don’t leave an individual who is bleeding profoundly to bleed alone so why do we emotionally? why is the waiting list and support for people in distress so long, requiring them to have to wait years even for assistance? Why are children being dismissed because they are told they are not suicidal enough for help?

Myths not only are callous, judgmental and inaccurate but also contribute in making others feel further unsupported, misunderstood, stigmatised, punished, isolated and alone, increasing the pain and risk. This is the root of the problem and this rises suicidal feelings and the risks of suicide.

We see in films the kind act of putting an animal in pain out of its misery and suicidal people feel like they are doing the same for themselves as well as a kind act to those they love in the way of removing the burden they feel they are. They don’t want their loved ones to see them in pain and have to experience that pain every day and feel that death would give them freedom from this. They know that their death would also cause pain, but they don’t see this as worse of a pain than to see a loved one dead inside and in pain whilst alive. It is excruciatingly painful and difficult for someone to end their life, and an indication of how bad that psycheache is. Nobody likes pain, think of what we do, when we have a toothache, we reach for medication to help alleviate the pain, when we are in severe psychological pain such as deep injuries and needing surgery we are given anaesthetic to take away the pain, imagine living with this pain with no anaesthetic day after day. For a suicidal person living can feel like being burned alive each day.

Not every suicidal person wants to end life, it’s not that they don’t want to live but they fear living or life more than death. For others they may feel trapped in limbo where they fear living and they feel dying just as equally. These individuals may find themselves experiencing suicidal ideation but not making plans. This is a torment in its own right. Suicide is trying to find a solution to a problem, it is the trauma response of flight mode. Attempts are ways to self soothe when one is emotionally dysregulated and overwhelmed by so much emotional and psychological pain within. One doesn’t need to suffer from a mental illness, even if mental illness is a high risk and many lose their lives to a mental illness far too many times, this is why we must have the support we need to help those in need but the support for mental health as always been scarce and the world has long not be trauma informed.

What also doesn’t help is that we live in a world that causes systematic trauma alone through oppression and exploitation such as racism, capitalism, misogyny…and one that doesn’t meet human needs. A world where emotions are frowned upon and vulnerability which is courage seen as weakness, victim blaming is engrained in our culture and all these things woven into the fabric of our society alone is enough to make any strong, healthy or mentally healthy person, emotionally bleed.

Not all people that are suicidal are necessarily depressed because many times what is pathologically labelled as a disease is in effect an emotional reaction and therefore rather a dis-ease (as Peter Levine states) and also if we look at the word depression it means to press down, push down and this is what we are asked to do with our feelings and emotions. Many times, what we feel is dismissed with phrases such as: “just think positive”, “It could be worse”, “things happen for a reason” …making one feel alone and misunderstood and their pain further silenced. We further create more distress to an already distressed individual through hospitalisation where they can be forced by police into an ambulance, sedated and treated like dangerous violent criminals. In past, mental illness treatments were barbaric and abusive to the point they would make you suicidal.

When our survival is threatened and pain overwhelming the real aim is to end the pain, it’s to find a solution. Suicide isn’t primarily in my view about self destruction although the act itself has this element, but rather it is a form of self protection. It’s a reaction to a threat so great, the threat of never being the same, the threat caused by overwhelming fear for our life or our reputation, the overwhelming of shame. It can be a different threat to different people as all of us are individuals with individual circumstances. I believe it’s the threat that leads to what distressed individuals come to see as the only solution. It is not intentional and rational, it is determined by various social and biological forces. Like us humans it is complex and needs to be given the attention it deserves and victims and survivors of suicide or attempted suicide(s), need to be given the dignity and justice they deserve.

If something so heavy is falling on us and it threatens to crush us, chances are without support we cannot free ourselves and the weight of something we cannot possible hold alone will come crashing and potentially kill us. Something has happened or happens that has metaphorically ended a person’s life before suicide ends it physically as in kills the body. Many times, we fail to see that the person who we have lost to the world, was trying to survive, wanted to survive and intended to survive and had been strong for so long and yet we fail to see this is the case in a lot of suicides. We just label them cowards just like soldiers in wars who developed PTSD and could no longer bring themselves to function or fight. We cannot judge anyone or ourselves even by the same standards when we are faced with a threat or when we are in great distress. When are needs are not met and we are starved and deprived of these needs or need to survive.

An example is, if we are safe and regulated and have security and resources and say we are thirsty, we will drink something that is drinkable, if we were in a desert for days and the threat of death by dehydration was looking us in the eye, in despair we would drink poison just to quench the thirst, this would lead to death but our intention was not death, it was to ease the discomfort, to find a solution even if it came with repercussions. Our choices, our behaviours, our actions, our thoughts, all change when faced with things.

So we can’t judge and compare, victims of suicide with someone who feels safe and in a calm state because of this. Another example is seen even in animals, scorpion suicide was long featured in Iberian folklore, but George Bryron’s 1813 poem: The Giaour, brought attention to it. When ringed with fire and faced with no means of escape, the scorpion was said to end the threat by thrusting its sting into its own back which would see it dying. A bee will sacrifice their life to string to protect itself from threat. Suicide is an act to protect self from the threat of overwhelming emotional and mental pain.

We can also consider the IFS (internal Family system) modality, which is an approach that doesn’t pathologise rather normalises aspects within ourselves and looks into them with a lens of compassion and curiosity not judgement. It is of the belief that our mind is made up of sub-personalities, this is why we can experience conflicting emotions, because there is more to us than just one part. We are made up of many parts. That is why many suicidal individuals may have a part of them that wants to live and a part of them that wants to die with the latter taking over.

IFS claims that these parts are divided into exiles (parts of us that are wounded, vulnerable, traumatised), protectors (these are pro-active and try to protect the exile parts from becoming wounded again and experiencing emotional flooding which overwhelms us), and finally the firefighters (these parts are reactive and try to end the pain, these are the parts that can have us feel suicidal or act on suicide). So what we see, is that suicide is an act of self protection, an attempt to protect self from pain and like a firefighter the goal is to put out the fire (pain), everything else isn’t important and will get destroyed, just like suicide ends the pain but destroys the body in order to do this which results in a life lost.

I have aimed to argue and present my argument that suicide has absolutely nothing to do with a character deficit and as Aphrodite Matsakis states when talking of trauma:

“At some point in your life you have probably cut your finger with a knife. If the blade was dull, you may have suffered only a little nick. If the blade was sharp, you may have bled all over. If the blade was very sharp and the force behind it was great enough, you might even have lost part of your finger. The extent of your injury depended more on the sharpness of the blade and the power behind it than on the toughness of your skin. Given enough force, even extremely tough skin would not protect you from the knife, and anyone else in the same situation would also be injured, even if they had the toughest skin in the world. The same holds true on a psychological level. There are events in life that would almost make anyone ‘bleed all over’.

What I mean by trauma is anything that affects our ability to function, what happens inside us. Even the things like losing a job, a breakup/divorce, the loss of security, loneliness…

In addition, we need to change our language around suicide. Don’t say: They committed suicide, they had a failed attempt, they are attention seeking. Alternatives and the truth are, they died by suicide, they were in psychological pain, they are asking for support and help. People don’t commit suicide, they are driven to suicide. Let’s end the stigma and stop hurting those that are already hurt and in pain by words, myths and ignorance.

Let’s get educated and spread the love! Let’s remember those that have made attempts and survived along with those who have lost a loved one and those that have lost their lives to psycheache.

Reference: Edwin. S. Shneidman, The Suicidal Mind (1996

Copywrite: Antonella Zottola

This article is copywrite protected and no content may be reproduced or used for any purpose without the permission of the author.


Why Christmas may be a dangerous time for victims of domestic violence

Christmas is a time that can intensify the loneliness that one may feel or has been battling with. Add to this that abusers use a tactic called isolation, which is a means to isolate the victim so that the victim becomes dependent on the abuser who is the only person they may have. The abuser tries to isolate the victim from friends and family so that these relationships can be lost, and the victim is left vulnerable and the power and control of the abuser tightens. If this support system is lost, the victim may feel more compelled to return to the abuser. Financial difficulties may also come into play. Christmas can highlight the shame of not having a loving relationship in one’s life, or company and someone to share the magic with.

Abusers are opportunists, and what better time to seize an opportunity than at Christmas when loneliness can be a killer and emotions may be overwhelming for those who feel alone, unloved, unwanted, abandoned and rejected, or who may have no family and friends? This is why abusers may try to, and many times do, entice a victim to return to them around this time. When an abuser returns it’s not because they wish to change, not because they miss the victim, not because they love the victim, not because they are interested in a romantic relationship, but because they want that power and control, and to prove they have this to the victim; to demonstrate that they can always be accepted back, that the victim needs them: “I have power over you”. They are missing having what they see as a privilege, using the victim as a supply, that they see the privilege to treat someone badly and see how the victim has traumatically bonded to them.

Abusers are masters of manipulation and know exactly what they do. It is very tempting for the victim to return, to soothe the pain of loneliness, to have to be in denial because the truth is scary. The pull of the chains of traumatic bonding is very powerful.

The no contact rule the victim has put in place can be hard to do, as the toxicity of an abusive relationship can feel like an addiction; you know it’s bad, dangerous even, but you need a fix to believe the reality is different, to numb the pain even temporarily; the addiction from the positive rewards the abuser uses and then again abuses. All these are tactics that are not separate but part of the game. Knowing that the victim will crave those “happier” days, moments and experiences, believing it means that there is a better side to the abuser, that this means they can be changed and that love will lead to this change. It’s a dangerous myth and lie sold to victims by the abuser who promises to change, by messages given by society, especially to females.

It can be so tempting to go back, but an abuser becomes more dangerous after a break-up and sometimes wishes to return to gain revenge upon what they see as an act of defiance from the victim. How dare they think they can leave? That they are better than me? How dare they demand respect or see through the games, deceit, lies and techniques? The victim must be taught a lesson so they don’t step out of place again. This can be what an abuser may be feeling and thinking, and highlights the danger of returning.

The more a victim stays or the more they return the tighter the grip, the harder it gets, the more dangerous it can become and the consequences can and have been fatal.

Please make sure that you have a strong support system in place around times that can make you more vulnerable. Please stay strong knowing you deserve so much more; please know that the pain of loneliness can be a killer but being with an abuser who is an empty human being can make you, in the end, feel more alone than you ever felt before. Please know that you are not alone. Please pour that energy and love unto yourself, give yourself the love that you feel you need to get from others. Please be safe, know that it’s not your fault for feeling the way you do, for feeling that temptation, know that someone understands but, if you can, please don’t return – one can’t find happiness in the same place that has destroyed them and made them unhappy.

We all want a happy ending but many times it can and has resulted in a tragic ending, and if an abuser ever were to change, the only person who can make this happen is themselves, because they and they alone choose to, but you cannot place yourself in danger waiting for this, and even then you deserve to be free from abuse and have your time and space to heal.

Merry Christmas to all victims who have gotten out, who may be trying to, who have and may feel compelled to return and all those that may be reminded of the trauma experienced around this time. You are not alone.

For more information on domestic violence and abuse, check out my eBook – Shattering the myths of abuse: Validating the pain; Changing the culture –https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shattering-Myths-Abuse-Validating-Changing-ebook/dp/B07PSCF9B5