Denial about the abuse I experienced had a grip on me for a long time. Even ten years after no contact, I still questioned whether the hell I lived through was my fault. I felt a lot of guilt about going no contact, but knew that I had to, for the sake of my own sanity. This is the problem with early childhood abuse. The child who experienced it was made to believe that what happened to her was normal, and there must be something wrong with her, not the abuser, if she had a problem with it. When someone is not given what they need for healthy formation, it becomes a part of who they are. Abuse gave me an over-developed sense of guilt and shame over things that I didn’t do, that were out of my control. I was supposed to be responsible for the failed relationship with my parents. I was supposed to take the heat for their bad behavior. It was my fault that they couldn’t offer me love or understanding. There must be something wrong with me that these things happened.
Of course, now, it all sounds so silly, but these have been my internal tapes for a long time. In many ways, I am just now learning how much they were ingrained into my subconscious. It affected virtually every choice I made in life.
Even now, I struggle with pangs of anxiety over similar thoughts, when they arise in different contexts. When someone is unhappy or upset around me, my immediate reaction is to question whether it is my fault. It’s extremely difficult for me to be around angry people, because it feels like I’ve blown a fuse. I get instant headaches. I tense up. Their anger could have absolutely nothing to do with me, but my body absorbs it like a toxin.
The same goes with misplaced blame. Recently someone in denial made a comment about how it was my fault that she was doing a certain toxic behavior. The formula looks like this: “If you weren’t so… I wouldn’t be…” Of course, anyone who has had a basic education in human behavior could see how false that any statement like that is, but even so, her words haunted me. She couldn’t even say it to my face. She had to say it to someone close to me, which is passive- aggressive triangulation. In her case, she feels threatened about me going public with my abuse. I am a threat because she is trying to hide what happened to her. I understand her pain. But her toxic behavior is all the more toxic to someone in recovery like me.
For my own sake of safety, sanity, and healing, there are a lot of people that I need to stay away from. It’s sad when someone I care about proves herself toxic. In most cases, their behavior is not as extreme as what I experienced from my parents and brother, but also in most cases, it is the same formula. Denial. Misplaced blame. Lack of empathy. Self-centeredness. Passive-agressive attacks. Gossip. Protecting the abuser. Blaming the victim.
When someone is first exposed to a toxic chemical or substance, it might not affect them. If someone is exposed to something toxic repeatedly, over time, they will develop symptoms. Eventually, any exposure at all to that toxin to an over-exposed person will cause an extreme reaction, and even death. It is the same way with toxic people. For someone like me, I am at near-death-level exposure when it comes to toxic behaviors. I am so allergic, I simply cannot have them around me. I am learning to let go of toxic people, and also, I am learning to not apologize for it. No one has to apologize for cancer, and toxic people are my cancer.