It’s Not You; It’s Them

When you have been abused, the tendency is to blame yourself. Why?

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As with anything, there are multiple reasons victims of abuse might blame themselves. For one, people who are abusive must try to make their targets believe it is their fault, so they will be less likely to fight back or tell someone what is happening to them. If you think you are the cause, why would you tell someone about it?

For example, when I was a child, I was so convinced I was to blame for my father’s rage and other abusive behaviors, I never would have dreamed of telling anyone for fear they would agree with him and confirm that I deserved it. Instead, I did everything I possibly could to prove him wrong, so I could receive positive reinforcement from others without having to admit the awful truth about myself: that I was actually an “incompetent idiot” who “couldn’t do anything right” and would likely “never amount to anything.”

The narcissist must believe, and therefore, convince you the problem is “not them; it’s you.” Realistically, it’s the other way around, and they are never going to change, because they refuse to acknowledge anything that’s wrong with them. And you can’t fix what you won’t admit is broken. Here are some other reasons you might blame yourself, but I promise that it’s not you. It’s them. 

Narcissistic Injury

Narcissistic injury is caused when the narcissist perceives an attack or a threat (real or imagined) against them, generally leading to narcissistic rage. Because they perceive something you said or did as a personal attack, they believe they are justified in abusing you because, in their mind, you started it. That’s right. Take it all the way back to the playground, because that is the mentality with which you are now dealing. You said something to hurt their feelings, whether that was your intention or not, so now it’s on. In reality, what you said could have been totally innocuous, but if they perceive it as an attack, a threat, or even just a mild criticism, they will feel well within their rights to retaliate against you with abuse. Healthy people do not “retaliate” against others, especially over something as insignificant as a mistake, misunderstanding, or criticism. This is how you know there is something wrong with them, not you.

But the Narcissist is Never Wrong

You and I both know this is definitely not the case; however, the narcissist does not. Aside from being a useful tactic in ensuring your silence, victim blaming also shifts responsibility for their inappropriate actions to someone else. This is necessary to maintain the facade of their “false self.” As I said, they think you deserve whatever they dish out because they can’t possibly be wrong. Reasonable people know they are flawed, because no one is perfect, and they accept that they will make occasional mistakes. However, when your ego is that fragile due to the pressures of constantly hiding your inadequate “true self,” it is far too painful to admit your shortcomings, which brings us back to narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage. They will never stop abusing other people, because they will always find a way to make it their victim’s fault. That’s how you know you are not actually to blame, and the problem is theirs alone.

The Narcissist is Always the Victim

In keeping with the theme, the narcissist is a perpetual victim…of the world, so of course their abuse of others is always warranted. The world (and everyone in it) obviously owes them something, and they are going to collect by any means necessary. This is probably compounded by the fact that they were likely victims of similar abuse in their own childhoods, so they really do feel like the perpetual victim of circumstance, because they can’t understand that they have the power to change their lives now. Further, when their own abusive and exploitative actions come back to bite them, it provides them with the ideal excuse to play the victim again. I think narcissists believe that being the constant victim automatically absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. “Look what you made me do!” Sound familiar? It’s all about shifting the blame to the target and becoming the victim themselves, so they never have to be wrong or accountable for the consequences of their behavior. Healthy people won’t try to destroy you over a simple disagreement, misunderstanding, or mistake. On the other hand, those who take everything as a personal affront will, which is another way you can tell that it’s not you. It’s them.

Gaslight Special on Aisle Me

Narcissists love a good gaslight, and they won’t hesitate to tell you all of their excuses for abusing you straight out because, as we’ve established, it is all your fault anyway. For instance, if you could just learn to keep your mouth shut, they wouldn’t have to teach you a lesson. You know how much it bothers them when you question them, and you probably even did it on purpose because you like the drama. Or maybe it’s because they love you so much that it makes them uncontrollably angry when you disagree with them, talk to someone else, find a hobby, get a job, make a new friend, or have any outside interests at all. They can’t control their reactions because they are so passionate about you. (Don’t be flattered by that, by the way. It’s not real.) Just remember, we all have emotional reactions to things other people say and do. The difference is, healthy people don’t act on their emotions in an abusive way. Narcissists, abusers, and other toxic people shift the blame for their actions to others, so they don’t have to take responsibility for their abusive behavior. That’s how you know it’s definitely them and not you.

Victim Blaming Society

In addition, there is no doubt that we live in a victim blaming society. You quite literally can’t get away from it. When a woman is sexually assaulted, why does the first question people tend to ask have to do with the clothes she was wearing? Or, does it really matter if she was drunk or how much she had to drink that night? Is a woman ever actually “asking for it”? (Just in case you’re stumped here, the answer is a solid “no.” Unless she literally asks you for sex, she’s not asking for it. Case closed.) Why are there people who blame the victims of police brutality instead of blaming the police for using excessive force and not training officers to diffuse and deescalate situations? That is, after all, their job. To put it simply, those who value traits like loyalty and obedience to authority over compassion and empathy are more likely to blame the victims of crimes or abuse, rather than the actual perpetrators. Therefore, it stands to reason that society would have a vested interest in pushing the victim blaming narrative. (Read more on societal gaslighting.)

The Perfect Target

As I touched on in my last blog post, narcissists look for a specific combination of characteristics they can exploit. Universally, they choose people who are authentic, trustworthy, trusting, optimistic, kind, empathetic, compassionate, responsible, hardworking, respectful, respectable, generous, and vulnerable. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. Does it seem as though there is anything wrong with a person who possesses all of these wonderful qualities? I would argue that being such a person actually means there is something very right about you. If you have these traits and a history of abuse, you’re basically the perfect target, because the narcissistic abuser doesn’t have to spend the time to groom you. All of that hard work has already been done for them by your previous abuser, which means more time to play with your emotions and suck the supply right out of you. It also means it takes much less effort to convince you that you’re the problem, because someone else has already done that for them, too.

It’s Not You

All of this muddies the waters, blurs the lines, and creates intense confusion, as it is meant to do. The fact that our culture often casts doubt on victims, does not make it right. We have been brainwashed to believe it’s warranted in certain cases, but it never is. The victim is never to blame for the behavior of the perpetrator of the crime or abuse, because that implies that anyone has any power or control over the actions of other people, and that is unequivocally untrue. In fact, that is a flagrant control tactic used by oppressors against those they are oppressing.

Please do not ever blame yourself. You do not deserve to be abused or mistreated in any way or by anyone. You deserve to be loved and treated with kindness and compassion. Take an honest look at the situation, relationship, and the other person or people involved before you continue to try to fix something you didn’t break in the first place. Please believe me. The problem is not you because people are interchangeable to narcissists and other abusers. All they care about is getting their supply or fuel from you. And that is how you know for sure that it’s not you; it’s them.

The Mourning After

I’m still deep in mourning…again. Only, it’s not over the death of a loved one.

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I’m mourning the loss of yet another illusion of a longtime friendship with someone who supposedly loved me and wanted the best for me. In hindsight, I’m not sure I believe that was ever the case. This was not just anyone, but someone I have considered “family” for a long time, who let me know that sentiment was not mutual in no uncertain terms, despite claiming otherwise for years. Since the “final straw” incident, I have come to the harsh realization through dissecting and reflecting on the entirety of our relationship, that I have been confusing this person’s now evident disdain for me with love, because that’s what I was taught love is supposed to feel like. Now I know better.

This person masquerades as caring and optimistic, yet is quite critical and judgmental in actuality. There have been plenty of times throughout our decades-long friendship when their judgments have made me uneasy, but I was conditioned to believe being overly critical and judgmental were “normal” and that I was somehow “abnormal” for having a natural reaction to the toxicity it created around me. Those who are truly caring, positive, and optimistic are not critical and judgmental, nor do they invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences, because they are more interested in building others up than tearing them down. On the other hand, negative and toxic people must tear others down to build themselves up.

This is yet another person in my life who never genuinely knew me, and has refused to get to know me, because the real me doesn’t fit their narrative. They insist on telling me (and others) who I am. I suppose I’m guilty of the same in one way, though, as I kept buying their front when the truth was glaringly obvious. There is no need to “talk it out” with them, because they told me I was “overreacting” and to “lighten up” the last time I tried to express my feelings. I can’t allow my emotions to be mocked, minimized, or invalidated by this person again. The last time was the last time I will walk into that trap. From now on, I will protect my heart.

I’m angry. Not with them, but with myself for being so willfully blind to reality for so long. Looking back on the overall relationship, I now recognize all the same patterns I’ve excused and ignored for years, and this is just another person who seems to get a kick out of my inner turmoil… Yet another “friend” who has been using me to feel better about their own life for a very long time. I can’t express how much it hurts every time I realize someone has never cared for me the way I have cared for them. And it just keeps happening.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I authored the first post that was inspired by this agonizing reawakening. This one has been almost as devastating to accept as the death of my marriage was. Almost. I even had to take a mini-break from Facebook, because I couldn’t stand watching the facade crumble before my eyes, while everyone else is still lapping up the lies. I couldn’t take knowing what I know, but watching everything go on as usual. (Truth be told, if it weren’t for work and support groups, I’d take a permanent vacation from Facebook.)

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I finally took an honest look at the whole relationship with fresh, educated eyes, and I cannot ignore the red flags any longer. (I’ve been doing that my entire life, and look where it’s gotten me.) I won’t be placing people who continue to inflict harm on me ahead of my own needs anymore. It doesn’t matter who they are, what our “relationship” is, how difficult their lives have been, or how long we’ve known each other. I’m no martyr.

There is legitimately only one person left from my past who has the power to wreck me like this, so there’s that bright side I’m always looking for, I suppose! Maybe soon I’ll be “unwreckable,” but only because there won’t be anyone left that I care enough about to trust? If I literally trust no one, I can’t be hurt anymore. Right? (Don’t worry. I’m only slightly serious.)

When you grow up with a narcissistic (or otherwise toxic and abusive) family dynamic, you are conditioned to distrust your own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. If you have even one parent who persistently engaged in gaslighting, you likely knew you couldn’t trust them either, which makes it impossible to trust anyone else. If your other parent was also an abuser or an enabler, where did that leave you? If you can’t trust yourself or your own parents, who can you trust? How do you even know what trust and honesty look like?

To contribute to the trust issues, growing up under the influence of prolonged familial toxicity leaves you vulnerable to further victimization throughout your life by other abusers. Unfortunately, narcissists and other abusive people are excellent at finding targets to victimize. They look for specific characteristics to exploit, like kindness, compassion, honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and generosity. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. This, coupled with a history of abuse, makes for a perfect target. If you’ve already been groomed, it takes much less time and effort to convince you that you’re the problem. Besides, they can play the hero or healer to you…at first. But I digress. (This could be the potential start to another kind of post altogether.)

I think what I need most right now is a hard reset. I need to learn to actually trust myself before I can even think about trusting anyone else, including those from my past. (I’m finding I have a great deal more work to do in that respect.) If I have no faith in my perception, how will I know when someone is displaying signs of dishonesty, for instance? If I can’t trust my own instincts, how will I know if something about a person or a situation “feels” wrong? If I can’t trust what I feel, how can I keep myself safe? At this particular moment, my solution is to exercise extreme caution with everyone and trust no one. I know that’s not completely healthy, but it may be safest…at least for now. Once I’ve done enough healing to have confidence in myself, I will be able to trust my perceptions of other people. What’s more, I will begin to attract and be drawn to healthier, more positive people who will be worthy of my trust.

To read about how I decide when to go “no contact” with someone, check out my previous post

To learn about gaslighting on a societal scale, please see my most recent HuffPost piece

Tell Me, How Do I Feel?

Warning: this post contains possible triggers for survivors of emotional & psychological abuse.

For my entire life, I have had my feelings questioned, mocked, and dictated to me by the ones who were supposed to love me the most. The message I’ve received is that my feelings are wrong, invalid, merely a tool of manipulation, and/or I am not entitled to them at all. Furthermore, others are more entitled to their opinions about my feelings and why I am experiencing them. I now know that is not true, and I am working to repair the damage it has caused, as it has affected every aspect of my life.

Narcissists love to share their expertise on everything, especially when it comes to other people’s emotions. After all, they are experts on…well, just about everything if you ask them, but particularly feelings. (Obviously.) They won’t hesitate to let anyone know what they think of their emotions (and opinions for that matter), which is that they are unforgivably wrong if they are not in total alignment with that of the narcissist. Why? In my view, there are a few reasons.

1. The Narcissist is Always Right

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Because the narcissist is always right in their mind, if someone has a negative reaction to their behavior, that person must be wrong. For example, my first memory is being berated by my father from the driver’s seat of the car as I sat defenselessly in the backseat. He was screaming at me about how stupid I was. I have no idea what I could have possibly done to deserve that degree of a verbal tirade at such a young age, as I couldn’t have been much older than about three years. (But then again, I rarely knew what I was getting in trouble for with him. He was very volatile and anything could set him off.)

I remember saying, “I’m not stupid,” over and over again as I sobbed. I remember watching my mom through tear soaked eyes as she sat in the passenger seat doing nothing to stop it, wondering why she wouldn’t defend me (she must have agreed with him), which turned out to be a theme throughout my life. Then I got in even more trouble for “arguing” with him and he threatened to “give me something to cry about” (that was a favorite of his) because, in his mind, his abuse of me was completely warranted due to whatever minor infraction I had just committed. I remember him twisting the situation and actually managing to become the victim of a toddler by accusing me of trying to manipulate him by crying (another of his greatest hits).

A couple of days ago, my soon-to-be ex did the same thing to me. Here’s the extremely abridged story. We started arguing. The topic and reason don’t matter because the outcome was the same as it always is. There was no resolution because he cannot communicate constructively, and resorts to abuse to “win” any argument. When I reacted to his belittling of my emotions, he became exceptionally condescending, said some more incredibly hurtful things dressed up as his opinions to which he is entitled (of course), and then told me my feelings about it were ridiculous. I told him I felt like I was about to cry in a foolish attempt to communicate my pain to him, and his response was, “of course you are! That’s your go-to!” (Smacks of accusing me of trying to manipulate him with my tears, doesn’t it? I was trying to get him to understand that he was hurting me and to stop being abusive toward me, so we could talk rationally. If that’s manipulation, so be it.) When I tried explaining that I was legitimately hurt by what he said, he went into stonewall mode and told me to leave him alone; thereby, successfully (in his mind) becoming my victim because he didn’t want to talk about it anymore, and I was trying to make him do something against his will. He knew he couldn’t “win” the argument, so he shut me down with insults and wouldn’t let me speak, because he thinks whomever has the last word automatically wins. The whole thing is fairly despicable and 100% pathetic when you stop to think about it.

Playing the victim is an excellent way to shift blame and continue being right. Moreover, it is key to maintaining the narcissist’s facade. When the target reacts to the abuse naturally, they will minimize their own actions and dismiss the other person’s feelings, because if they acknowledge their behavior as the cause, they can no longer be right. Additionally, this requires them to turn the situation around and paint the target as the aggressor or abuser. To that end, the narcissist will use any of the other abusive tactics they have in their arsenal to manipulate their target, control other people’s perception of that person, and portray themselves as the victim.

2. You Are Their Projector Screen

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Compounded by their inability to see people for who they genuinely are, and their unbelievable lack of empathy for others, narcissists are masters of projection. They project their own traits, behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings onto their targets, while mimicking that person’s positive characteristics. They essentially have two selves: a false self and a true self. The false self is a facade they project outwardly for others to see and to protect their true selves. It is mainly comprised of an idealized, grandiose version of themselves, combined with some of their target’s most admirable attributes, and it masks their true self, which has been critically damaged. Since their primary goal is preserving their false self, they use projection as a way to free themselves of their undesirable personality traits and transfer them to the target by accusing them of doing the very things the narcissist is guilty of doing. Oh, the hypocrisy!

For the narcissist, projection has the happy side effect of gaslighting. Projecting inaccurate character flaws onto the target, or telling them how they feel, for instance, is effectively gaslighting them. Take this example from my childhood. Not surprisingly, my father was not the most patient person. Some of my earliest memories are of being screamed at to hurry when getting ready to leave the house to go somewhere before I was even school aged. Then my father would become enraged and accuse me of purposefully going slower just because he wanted me to go faster. He would proclaim that it proved how stupid I must be, because I was obviously trying to make him angry. Please believe me, I promise I was not doing it on purpose because, contrary to his projection, I was not stupid. If I was, indeed, going slower, it was probably because there was a maniac standing over me screaming the whole time I tried to get ready, and I was a terrified little kid. I’ve also never gotten my jollies by intentionally fucking with another human being, so that had to be some kind of projection, too. I did everything within my teeny-tiny power to avoid his wrath at all times.

To give a more recent example from a different type of relationship, during our latest argument, my soon-to-be ex was literally jumping up and down like a toddler in front of me while calling me immature. As a matter of fact, projecting his immaturity on to me is a common defense mechanism. On many occasions in the past, he has used gaslighting, condescension, infantilizing, lying, and denial against me during arguments, and then when I inevitably became upset, he would suddenly be done with it, and I was the immature one for wanting to talk about my feelings. So, in other words, he thinks it’s acceptable to insult someone, but if they want to talk about how it made them feel, they are unreasonable and immature. Sorry, pal, but that’s not going to work anymore.

3. Gaslighting is Fun, Mental, and Fundamental

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Dictating the emotions of others allows the narcissistic abuser to utilize their go-to abuse tactic: Gaslighting. For a narcissist, nothing is more enjoyable than talking in circles around their target, spinning their head by twisting their words, then interrupting them so they can’t explain themselves, and telling them what they actually meant, what they really think, and how they feel. They will even say things like, “I know you better than you know yourself,” in an attempt to convince their targets that their perception of themselves is incorrect. As a result, the target becomes too dizzy with confusion to defend themselves anymore.

However, it’s not all fun and games. A crucial function is also served. Constantly telling someone what they think, how they feel, what they’re feeling is wrong, or that they’re overreacting, erodes their perception, self-confidence, and sense of self. Over time, this causes the target to question everything, including their own sanity, not only giving the narcissist instant gratification, but priming the target to become an ongoing source of narcissistic supply as well. Simply put, narcissists (and other abusers) have to break their targets down because healthy people don’t allow themselves to be abused.

Aside from making the target feel crazy because their emotions are always being challenged and invalidated, it can also make them appear that way to others, which offers the narcissist a certain amount of protection in the form of credibility. Other people in their lives will begin to side with the abuser, as they witness the decline in the target’s mental state. Consequently, the lies the narcissist tells about the target will ring true. This aids them in isolating the target from anyone who might help or be of support to them. Now when they say, “you need help,” there will be a chorus of flying monkeys to back them up. As a parent, it’s even easier for the narcissistic abuser to manipulate other family members, friends, teachers, counselors, etc. into believing the child is the problem, and they are a loving parent trying to do what is best for them. In a romantic relationship, the narcissist might start by dropping hints to mutual friends about their partner’s “strange” behavior, irritability, or overreactions; probably playing it off as concern, so those people will be less likely to believe the target if they try to ask for help.

Putting It All Together

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Once I awakened to the reality that I was the victim of narcissistic abuse, I began the long and enduring process of putting together the pieces of my life puzzle. Suddenly, so much of it made sense and I started remembering things I had forgotten long ago, which surprised me because I remembered more of my childhood than most people seem to already. I actually have kind of a scary memory, so when other incidents came flooding back, it was considerably traumatic for me. I wasn’t prepared for the memories to get worse, and sometimes I thought I couldn’t handle it.

It is very nearly impossible for those who have not gone through it to understand narcissistic abuse and the severity of its effects on survivors. And other family members are almost certainly too entrenched in their own role in the narcissistic family dynamic to see it for what it is. If you suddenly find yourself realizing you have been the victim of this kind of abuse, please know that you are not alone, and it is/was not your fault. You were never the problem; your abuser is and was. You are worthy of love, and you are way more than enough. Educate and empower yourself. With knowledge comes understanding; with understanding comes hope.

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Personal note: It’s been a little while! I had an awesome visit with my sister and family in New York! My nephew is doing better than expected, so I won’t give up hope that he’ll beat the odds! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know my nephew and nieces as young adults! They are exceptionally cool humans. I can’t wait to go back this Summer! I’m back home now, though. So much has happened in the last few weeks, and I’ve been doing a lot of writing, but nothing else I can share as of yet. Sometimes it takes a bit for it to coalesce into something coherent and cohesive.

Believe it or not, I’m still working on my comprehensive article on 20+ abuse tactics employed by narcissists and others with Cluster B personality disorders. It’s been more difficult than I initially imagined it would be, and I keep having to put it on the back burner in favor of paying gigs. However, I am confident it will be a helpful resource to other survivors when complete. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or if you just need someone to talk to. 🙂

Handling Sex Daggers and Other Intrusive Energy as a Highly Sensitive Person

Warning: This post is long, deals with mature topics of a sexual nature, contains a little swearing, and may also be a potential trigger for some abuse survivors. Additionally, it was written from the perspective of a cisgender, heterosexual woman relating to cisgender, heterosexual men. I apologize in advance for my inability to be more inclusive on this particular subject. Please feel free to contact me if you have suggestions on how to correct any inadvertent cissexist language.

You know the feeling. You’re being watched. You know someone’s eyes are on you because you can literally feel them. Everyone has had this experience at some point.

The eyes are central to communication. They give us important cues about other people’s intentions and emotions. And, as it turns out, human brains are hard-wired to actually detect another person’s gaze. Studies have recorded that certain brain cells fire when someone looks directly at you (even if you cannot see the person).

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In addition, our eyes have evolved to have a much greater contrast between the sclera (the white part) and the iris (the colored part), which makes it easier to tell where a person is looking. It also makes our eyes much more expressive. Such features would be a disadvantage in many other species, most notably in predators. However, human survival relies on cooperation and communication; therefore, it is to our advantage to communicate certain things to others through our eyes. Simply put, sometimes you can convey more information with just one look than you can with your entire vocabulary.

Knowing someone is looking at you gives you the opportunity to determine their intentions towards you. Are they friendly? Are they dangerous? Do they want to take what you have? Do they want to share what they have? Are they “throwing sex daggers out of their eyes” at you? (Gratuitous Gilmore Girls reference)

If you are a woman, chances are you are even more attuned to other people’s gazes. After all, we have a lot more to figure out, specifically if the gaze is coming from a man who might be sexually interested in us.

First, let’s assume you are also attracted to said man, he isn’t giving you any weird or creepy vibes so his attention is welcomed, and you lock eyes. What happens next? To get a little science-y on you for a minute, it sets off a chain of chemical reactions in your brain. You can’t control this. Before you even have time to form a conscious thought, your brain has sized the other person up and basically decided if they are a biologically viable candidate for you to…well, mate with. But I digress. This could become another article altogether. Let’s just say, “it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship,” and leave it that, at least for now.

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What happens if you are not attracted to the person gazing upon you? Hopefully nothing. You take notice, maybe even feel a little flattered (you’ve still got “it”), and you both move on with your lives. No harm, no foul.

But, what if the gaze makes you uneasy? What does it mean when you feel violated simply because of the way a man is looking at you? To be blunt, it’s probably because his thoughts are sexually aggressive and he’s “throwing sex daggers” at you with his eyes.

Can someone you are mutually attracted to throw them at you? Sure. Being attracted to someone does not automatically exempt them from being a predator. (Wouldn’t that make dating, and life in general, a whole hell of a lot easier, though?) If you’re actually attracted to a predator, you are more likely to ignore or explain away your discomfort to your own detriment.

The word “daggers” implies, at the very least, that the man wielding them is penetrating you with his eyes, so to speak. And he’s probably not having a “run-of-the-mill” fantasy about you either. More than likely, he is imagining dominating you.

“Sex daggers” are not to be confused with “fuck me eyes” which tell someone they can “have you” if they want you, and can be achieved by both men and women. When you gaze back into them, they are not sexually aggressive or threatening in any way, and they definitely do not appear to have thoughts of domination behind them. If anything, they signal a sort of submission to you. They are meant to say, “take me, I’m yours” (or something). “Sex daggers” (the way I’m talking about) are strictly thrown by male predators, and it’s imperative to remember that not all men do this. If a man makes you feel violated solely by the way he looks at you, listen to your instincts. They are there to protect you. (I am learning to take my own advice, but more on that in a bit.) This is where it can become complicated and confusing if you are like me, even more so when you are also a highly sensitive person. (I’ll touch on the complications later.)

What does it mean to be a “highly sensitive person” (or HSP)?

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, “the highly sensitive person (HSP) has a sensitive nervous system, is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

But the key quality is that, compared to the 80% without the trait, they process everything around them much more—reflect on it, elaborate on it, make associations. When this processing is not fully conscious, it surfaces as intuition. This represents a survival strategy found in a [sic] many species, always in a minority of its members.”

If you are the kind of person who likes self-tests, you can take this one (and probably others) to find out if you might be (online tests are not conclusive) a highly sensitive person, but my guess is you already know if you are. 😉 (My total was 19 in case you’re wondering.)

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Some who are considered highly sensitive also identify as “empaths” or “empathic” and tend to be “tuned in” to the emotions of those around them. When they say they can “feel your pain,” they really mean it. These are the people who tend to go out of their way to make others more comfortable. I am this way, and I don’t mind admitting that it’s a little self serving. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable either, but let’s be real for a minute. If you’re uncomfortable, I’m uncomfortable. I’m going to do my best to alleviate the discomfort for us both.

If you feel like we’ve suddenly entered “hooey” or “supernatural” territory, I assure you we have not. Everything discussed so far can be explained scientifically. All animals rely on instinct for survival and, I hate to break it to you, but Bloodhound Gang was right: “You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals.” We can’t escape biology.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on this, but I understand it well enough to feel confident saying that anything people tend to view as “intuition” or even “psychic ability” can likely be chalked up to firing brain cells and chemical reactions all going on undetected, (as well as other things I don’t understand well enough to try to explain, but you can google it if you’re bored later), and probably a host of other things we have yet to discover and make sense of. All I can say is, nothing that occurs naturally should be considered supernatural or unnatural.

What makes someone an HSP?

Again, I am not an expert. I’m merely someone with an intense interest in understanding pretty much everything (including myself), and a compulsion to gain as much knowledge on any given subject as my brain can hold. (Evidently, some of it is stickier.) I’m pretty sure this is where a “nature versus nurture” debate could begin, but that’s yet another article.

I can tell you what I believe the contributing factors were in my case. Aside from perhaps having a personality that is conducive to hyper sensitivity and empathy, I was conditioned to be this way from birth due to narcissistic and other forms of abuse. It is a survival mechanism.

You may have learned that 7% of communication is verbal, while the other 93% is made up of vocal variety (tone of voice) and nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, facial expressions, body language, and even things you can’t consciously detect, like pheromones. I don’t necessarily put much weight behind the percentages because I think it’s nearly impossible to measure such things accurately. Improvable statistics aside, however, let’s look at it logically. Is it easy to lie with words? Generally, the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Is it easy to control your body language? Not so much for most people. This is probably because the majority of it goes on “behind the scenes” so we don’t even realize what we’re doing. I pay more attention to people’s actions than their words for this reason. For example, when someone tells you they don’t mean to hurt you, yet they keep doing things they know are painful to you, they are lying. Believe their behavior, not their words.

Source: pixabay.com

When you grow up in an abusive environment, particularly if you have a decidedly volatile authority figure, it is in your best interest to learn that person and assess their mood based on their demeanor as quickly as possible to keep yourself safe. When you never know what will set them off, you have to get good at figuring out their moods, and more importantly, their mood swings. If they are already in a bad mood, you avoid them because they will take it out on you. Unfortunately, you can’t always prevent it, though. Some severely toxic people will quite literally be fine one moment, then a raving lunatic the next, for no apparent reason. It is due to their own warped perception and disordered thinking, which is a serious oversimplification, but you get the idea. Circumstances like these programmed me to evaluate other people’s moods within seconds and adjust my behavior accordingly.

Another contribution to my high sensitivity, specifically in regards to sexual energy, is having been sexualized at a very young age. I am not in a place where I’m ready to publicly write about this in depth, but here is what I’m comfortable saying for now. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t acutely aware of my own sexuality and the “power” it possessed. In fact, I was conditioned to believe that was the only thing even remotely “special” about me before I ever hit kindergarten. I was raised on the belief that women are secondary to men, irrational, quite often stupid, and really only good for one thing. Further, if someone “couldn’t resist” me, it was my own fault for being too sexual. (Small children don’t sexualize themselves. Adults do that to them.) I think you probably get enough of the gist without requiring any more details.

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

Remember a long time ago, when I said I would explain the complications for people like me later? You finally made it to later. Because of my childhood, as well as sexual assaults and a rape during my teens and early adulthood, I am much more sensitive to other people’s sexual energy if it is directed at me in particular. It’s probably supposed to protect me. Unfortunately, it all feels like a violation. Even if it’s a totally innocent, involuntary chemical reaction. And it doesn’t even matter if I find the man attractive either. I could be totally digging his treats, but if I get the impression he’s thinking about how I fuck, I’m out. I can’t deal. I don’t want to feel objectified in any way, by anyone, even if I like the person. I know this is not a healthy reaction to have to a healthy sexual interest, though, so I’ve been working through it.

Here’s a little confession I hadn’t told anyone until recently: I’ve never seen another human being and thought, “break me off a piece of that” (or whatever people think when they find someone attractive). In other words, the mere sight of someone has never triggered me to have a sexual thought or even just a feeling. (From what I understand, most people experience this naturally due to the rush of chemicals that occurs when they see someone they like. And now I sound like a total alien, but oh well.) I have the same response to every attractive person I see, regardless of gender. I think some variation of, “now that’s a symmetrical face,” or “wow, isn’t he aesthetically pleasing?” Yeah, I’m just that much of a nerd I guess. Of course, that’s not to say that I’ve never experienced sexual attraction for someone before, but I’ve never experienced it first. The other person has to show an interest in me to begin with…to get my neurons firing or something? (Still not an expert.)

Plus, because of my past experiences, I have a lot of trouble trusting men. Sorry, fellas. Logically, I know you’re not all bad, but I guess I feel safer assuming you are, if I don’t know you. I’m working on that, too, along with everything else.

What’s my point? I am constantly at war with what I’m perceiving and what I think about myself. So, when I get the feeling someone is into me, I automatically talk myself out of it for all of the reasons laid out above. Additionally, narcissistic abuse causes you to second guess yourself on everything. With gaslighting as its backbone, it manufactures self-doubt in its victims. It makes you believe your memory is wrong or that you’re overreacting. When this is a constant in your life from day one, it takes an unimaginable amount of strength and tenacity to rewire the circuitry of your brain, if you can even recognize the necessity for it in the first place. Then there’s the tiny matter of always being excruciatingly uncomfortable with any kind of attention (you don’t want attention from narcissists), but especially that kind. All of this makes determining a man’s intentions towards me almost impossible, and that combined with everything else is why I can’t bring myself to trust them. See? I’ve done a lot of work so far, but there’s so much more ahead of me. It’s daunting to think about it all, so I have to take it one step at a time.

This brings me to the same conclusion my last article did. It is crucial for me to be single and focused on healing myself for a long while. I don’t just have baggage. I have a complete set of beat-up, mismatched luggage that carries way more than you would think… No. Scratch that. I don’t have luggage. I have an entire bag of holding.

I, like everyone else, am a work in progress. I just happen to have been saddled with a lot more work than most. Though it is mind-numbingly frightening at times, I am genuinely grateful for this journey. I don’t know where it will lead me yet, but by the time I get there, my bag of holding will be full of invaluable lessons learned and tools I can use to help others transform their lives for the better.