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#58409 - 10/25/05 12:25 PM Question to survivors:self-isolation ,self-esteem,etc.
riviera Offline

Registered: 06/01/05
Posts: 59
Loc: Spain
***May contain triggers***

Hi to all who are here to listen and/or support

It is happening lately that my boyfriend feels very vulnerable among people (friends, work,etc). He goes out with them after fighting a battle inside, feeling nervous and frightened but at least he makes the move. Eventually he has a good time but once everybody says goodbye then he just goes on an automatic pilot isolating himself and feeling extremely sad and lonely. I need to clarify that this happens when I am not there. He was saying yesterday that when I am with him and we are with friends he feels safe and he can trust.

Yesterday we were talking about it and we got to the following conclusions:

1. Triggers- being among people (work, friends- when I am not there), drinks, presents, compliments. My boyf has a big issue with presents and compliments as his perp gained his trust for a long period of time before the abuse started.

2. Feelings- Lack of trust and betrayal lead to self-isolation, avoidance and loneliness. Compliments lead to worthlessness and guilt which in turn leads to low self-esteem,lack of self-confidence and sadness.

They are all "old defense mechanisms". We can rationalize them all as you see but he is feeling them all and no logic can prevent him from doing so. He ended up yesterday's conversation pointing out the need of disclosing to more people and maybe feeling better about it. It is like when he is with people who does not know, he feels he is hiding part of himself. He has learnt and feels that he does not need to do that anymore. Maybe that's why the confussion and maybe that is what is all about.

All these together results in an explosive cocktail of overwhelming feelings and emotions that he feels he is unable to control no more. He always says "I am all over the place. Never felt like this in my life". Before he was very extrovert, communicative and always handled people very good (so he can't help himself from comparing past and present and always conclude that it was better before. The fact is that it wasn't).

Now this is actually very difficult for him.We reckon is cause of breaking the walls inside (protection) and feeling very vulnerable and unprotected. All the fears then come to the surface and he is back into the darkness again. We have realized that these reactions respond to a "domino effect". Once one piece falls then the whole range of feelings follow.

It seems that he is now more aware of the situation and really wants/needs to change it. The key question is: HOW? How to stop the first piece of the domino from falling? :

What do you do to gain self-esteem and confidence?
What do you do to step out of self-isolation when being triggered?

I guess this is a lot to ask for but still your experience as a survivor will be appreciated to help others.
Thanks so much as always.

#58410 - 10/25/05 04:08 PM Re: Question to survivors:self-isolation ,self-esteem,etc.
roadrunner Offline
Administrator Emeritus

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 22045
Loc: Carlisle, PA

I think how one regains self-esteem and confidence will depend a lot on what happened to them, personality, and so on. I can tell you what I do, and maybe offer some general ideas as well.

I think it's very important not to try to do too much too fast. It's no good being traumatized and devastated all over again. Once we start on the path of recovery I guess we want to see things move as quickly as possible, but small steady steps will get us further and faster than a huge jump followed by months of emotional paralysis.

One thing I have done is to identify something I like anyway, something that makes me feel good about myself and the world, and to try to do that with other people in an organized way. For me it's blues music, which I have been playing since I was 15. About 4 years ago I joined an organization of others who are fond of this music, and we meet for playing, workshops, and going to concerts. This helps me to see that maybe I can be just Larry and have a life independent of being a survivor. When I am at our workshops I can actually go to bed and get up the next day without thinking about what happened to me as a child. For me, doing something creative and worthwhile had to be with other people; my feelings of guilt are enormous, and it often makes me feel so alone. It helps me so much to see that I can relate to others as a person, and do so in a safe way. It's a means of fighting back. I can tell myself, okay, these are my feelings, but I am not the terrible shameful person I often feel I am. People can get to know me and like me in contexts that have nothing to do with supporting me as a survivor.

Isolation: What a mess. Again, I can just say how it looks to me. Isolation was something that came along with abuse. My abuser sought to isolate me from my family in order to keep things going, and as I felt worse and worse about myself I contributed to those feelings. To an abused boy the whole world looks unsafe: you are afraid all the time, your feelings are in chaos, nothing makes sense, and your ability to trust is eroded away. You really are left with nothing - except a man who rapes frightened children. I can give you an example of how bad it gets: when my abuser was exposed and chased off, I actually missed him and thought look at what I did now. That's because I was so emotionally isolated. I thought I was worthless and had no one but him.

You also start to use isolation as a defense mechanism. My abuser liked to humiliate and frighten me when things were happening, and I coped by going numb and just closing down emotionally. You become an expert at this: you look more or less okay, but you are seething inside, afraid to relate to anyone, and anxious just to be away from everything. As an adult who has disclosed and is fearful about what will happen now, you just revert to what worked in the past. You relate to others as something you "should" do, but as soon as the duty is done it's back to isolation. I also sometimes isolate myself because I fear I will say or do something ridiculous.

On isolation when he's triggered, my thought would be to try to identify what triggers him and try to stop things there. My abuser liked to shock and frighten me and would enter the room quietly; I wouldn't hear him coming, but suddenly I would hear the click of the door locking and be flooded with fear. As an adult, when I am alone in my study and it's quiet, the result is often a flashback: I hear the click of the door locking (there's no such lock on that door), turn around, and there he is in the room with me. My way out of this is to keep some music on as I work, so it's not dead quiet. A lot of times triggers can be figured out and just avoided.

A survivor who's been triggered and closes down is in a bad place full of conflict. On the one hand it's his haven, a way of refusing to face things, but on the other, for a survivor who was systematically groomed and abused over a long time it's part of the abuse, so not a safe refuge at all. It's difficult to just talk him out of that.

Maybe a way forward would be for you and your boyfriend to talk about this and agree on what you will do when this happens. Like get out and go for a walk together, but without drawing him into conversation unless he is ready. This way, when he is badly triggered and closes shop, he can agree to your suggestion of a walk because he knows exactly what he will and will not be expected to do.

Good luck, this is really a tough one.


Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway.
Nobody living can make me turn back:
This land was made for you and me.
(Woody Guthrie)

#58411 - 10/26/05 05:50 AM Re: Question to survivors:self-isolation ,self-esteem,etc.
Grunty1967b Offline

Registered: 07/28/05
Posts: 861
Loc: Australia
As you said at the end of your post, you have asked and covered many issues so I'd like to just touch on a couple.

The first is your boyfriendsí thoughts that perhaps he should disclose to more people and therefore not be hiding things about himself from others. As a survivor I think that is a dangerous thing to do. Disclosure to anybody is a very emotional thing and needs to have a set purpose or goal. Even disclosing to people you think will understand can still bring comments or questions that can cause great hurt and distress. This can happen even more if itís with people who donít understand anything about male childhood sexual abuse. Hereís an example: how would your boyfriend react if he disclosed and somebody and they asked things like ďdid you enjoy it?Ē or ďwhy didnít you just say noĒ. I think youíll see thereís the answer right there in disclosing to all and sundry Ė donít do it!

You also noted how your boyfriend is very up and down emotionally at present and that the domino effect seems to happen without specific cause or control to stop it. I believe Iím in the same place as him at the moment. Iím in the midst of dealing head on with my past abuse and my daily cycle is up and down by the hour to the extent that I wonder how Iím going get through the day.

From everything Iím learning, this is all part of the process. It feels yuk but Iím holding onto the promise that it will get better. So, I donít think (I at least) can stop it but to have people like yourself around to say ďItís ok and youíre okĒ can be a great help. I recently told my wife about the depth of my struggle (she thought it was all ok) and she is fully supportive, asks genuinely each day how Iím doing and just gives me a hug when I say ďIím doing badĒ. Love him through it is all I can say.


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