Childhood Conditioning and Stockholm Syndrome
Recently I had a conversation via Facebook with one of my new friends that I have made through this project. Truly I had no idea how creating this Facebook Page, then my blog would affect my life. I have been “meeting” some amazing people and it is a wonderful way to connect and share and learn about other people’s experiences, traumas and healing as well. Although you get the occasional asshat, it is worth if for the people who are here to learn, to connect and grow and help others.
The conversation I had was about Harley Quinn, who I am having tattooed on my left forearm this Saturday. I connect with her character portrayal in Suicide Squad on so many levels. At one point my new friend mentioned Stockholm Syndrome. And I suddenly had goosebumps all over my body and a realization arose that had never occurred to me before.
I had a form of Stockholm Syndrome with my biological mother. It made me realize how clueless we all were back then, specifically the county that was supposed to protect me. The psychologists and psychiatrists that I was forced to meet with, the teachers who saw me every day, although, since I had moved so often I had been to at least three to four schools a year. I was perpetually the new kid and the outsider.
My biological mother was severely mentally ill, having psychotic breaks several times a year. Each break would come with her denying me love and affection, sometimes she did not know who I was, her religious fanaticism would flip into massive overdrive and the beatings would increase. We would have no food so I would go hungry and because she was incapable of taking care of me I would be dirty.
I would try so hard to gain her affection. I would try so hard to fit into whatever mold she needed or wanted me to fit into. I would be hypervigilant. Watching her every move, every twitch. She would often pace back and forth talking to herself. She would anoint the walls with urine and oil. She would burn candles. She would hurt me and she would hurt our animals.
When she had these breaks, it usually took some time before anyone outside would notice and finally step in. It tore me apart every time we were separated, and this was several times a year for my entire childhood up until she took her own life by letting the water take her into the darkness, silence and hopefully peace.
I remember one time I asked one of our neighbors for food because I was so hungry. Instead of helping me, she told my mother who then beat me for begging for food. This was usually how it went. If I asked for help I was considered overly dramatic, often considered a liar. Then they would always tell her and she would beat me and force me into that damn closet with that damn candle and force me to read the fucking bible as I cried, broken and bruised from the beating.
But the second she showed me affection, showed me any bit of love or tenderness I would forget the pain, I would forget the beatings and the closet and everything she did to me. Because all I wanted was my mommy to love me. All I wanted was love. When I sought it I was denied. Foster parents or caseworkers considered my attempts at getting affection as manipulative, insincere. I was starving for affection and they truly believed that I was something that I was not. It was never real when it was given, a hug here along with a look, a raised eyebrow, but I was starving and I took it, even though I knew it was not real.
Unlike my siblings, I never knew my mother when she was not ill. They only had to experience her madness occasionally. It was all I knew. I loved her. I hated her. I needed her and when I was separated from her I was in agony with longing. To live without love is one of the worst things a child can experience. To constantly be on guard from the moment your brain is developed enough to form the protective traits to do so is excruciating.
This was all I knew. I knew that other people had better lives. Other children did not have to go through what I did. I once visited another child’s home, I think she was a friend from school. I knew her parents looked down on me and did not want me to be there, to spend time with her, because I could see it in their eyes and their body language. I was the misfit, the throw away child.
When we went into her bed room I was stunned. The image of that moment, walking into a room filled with a real bed, with toys and clothing and furniture and warmth and color is forever imprinted in my memory. She had everything. I had nothing. She was clean, her hair pretty and brushed, her parents loved her, she had never gone days without eating, her parents did not beat her and her home was warm and pretty. She was not afraid. She was happy and fun.
When I had this epiphany while chatting with my new friend, it made my connection to Harley Quinn even more focused for me. It is different obviously, but Harley is a survivor. She is not okay. She is messed up seriously from what she went through, who she was in order to please her abuser. She is a fighter, she is a survivor, she knows that she is messed up, she is compassionate and she is filled with rage, she is filled with longing for what she wants and will never have, and she know this and accepts it. I am not okay. She is not okay. And that is okay.
I often talk and write about how I see the process of healing:
• Acceptance: not meaning you accept or love yourself, but that you accept that you are fucked up in some way. For me it is acceptance of the Complex Post Traumatic Disorder or Developmental Trauma Disorder. Acceptance of the symptoms of that disorder. Acceptance.
• Education: Educating myself about my disorder, the symptoms, learning about my own personal triggers and how I react to them and why. Learning about how to retrain myself so that I react the way I would prefer to. This takes time my friends. I have been doing it for pretty much my whole life without actively realizing it or understanding it. The education and acceptance takes away some of the feeling of shame and blame and the embarrassment I used to feel. The responsibility I used to feel for not being who I thought I should be and for trying to be who everyone wanted me to be. It is freeing in a way to understand what is happening to me now and what was happening to me throughout my life. It is also important to educate those in your life. And, I cannot stress this enough, not everyone is going to be a part of your journey. Not everyone in your life will have a supportive role to play and if they can’t or won’t, that is okay, accept this and move on. Truly, we are the only ones who can heal ourselves, sometimes, often in fact, we need help, but we have to be willing to suffer more and put in the work in order to heal. Healing is something that is deeply personal and it means something different for everyone.
• Accommodation: To me this one is a big one. Accommodation of yourself, of your disorder and the symptoms that it forces upon you. It is important to remember that this is not your fault, that you are not doing this to yourself. You are not lacking in strength or personality or lazy and so on. This is the point where you realize that you have a disorder and there are natural symptom that you have to endure and that is okay. Accommodate yourself. Make game plans for when you are triggered, learn to recognize your triggers and analyze them, dig in and figure out why something has triggered you, get to the meat of that bitch and then come up with a game plan for the next time it happens, because it will, that is the nature of the beast.
I have a disorder called C-PTSD, it was caused by the first 12 years of my life. By my biological mothers suffocating and fanatical love, by her fanatical religious leanings, by her abuse, by her unwillingness to let me go, by her psychotic episodes, by the case workers and the System that kept sending me back to her, by the psychologists and psychiatrists who did not catch the damage that was happening to me in an effective way, by my biological family that ignored me, looked down on me and abandoned me, by my biological father who never took responsibility, by the foster parents who abused me, by the family members who touched me inappropriately and the friends of the foster parents who touched me inappropriately and talked about my body when I was just a little innocent girl, by moving more than forty two times before I was 12, by growing up being seen as defective, as lazy, as not good enough, as manipulative, and as inadequate.
My brain developed differently than the brain of a child who received nurturing before the age of five. I suffer every day. I struggle to fight the pain, the sadness, the grief and the anxiety, panic and depression that I feel every day, all the time. I struggle to fight the triggers I know about and understand the ones I don’t. I am trying to figure out how to heal myself and what that means to me.
I loved my mother with a passion. I adored her and I needed her and I hated her with an intensity that takes my breath away when I think about it. I tried so hard to please her and everyone else. I was never enough.
I have begun to realize that she was not a monster, not the way I saw her. She was a woman who suffered herself and struggled to find meaning. She was a bad mother to me. She was abusive and you cannot blame all that on the illnesses she suffered from. But she was not a monster and she did love me in her own fanatical way.
If she had not taken her own life, I would never have been freed from her tyrannical love and that would have destroyed me. As it was, the damage that had been done was bad enough that I am still fighting every day against it. I was, and am, fortunate to have been chosen by my true mother. By the woman who stood by my side and continues to do so to this day with unconditional love, giving me space when I need it and affection when I am able to accept it. She is the reason I was able to break away from the confusing and painful adoration and hate of my biological mother.
Stockholm Syndrome, or conditioning, whatever you want to call it, is powerful, although I was not technically a hostage, I was in fact a hostage. She would not let me go. Until she let everything go. I still wonder about that, about what she was thinking when she finally decided she had had enough and took her own life. Did she know she was freeing me, saving me by doing that? Or was she just so tired of the mental illness that the thought of succumbing to the waves was the only way she could think to end her own pain and suffering?
Either way, my story did not end with her death. My pain and suffering continued and it continues to this day. Which is why this blog and the Facebook page exists.
Trauma is just that, trauma. It does not end simply because the cause ends. It continues and it grows and it comes out in so many different ways. Self-blame is one of the biggest struggles people like me have to deal with and fight against.
When I was chatting with my friend and had my realization I was taken aback. I still get goosebumps when I think about it because it explains so much and it explains one more reason why I relate to Harley Quinn and why it is so important to me to mark this stage of my life with a tattoo of her. When I begin to recover, I will get another one and I will be able to look at the art on my body as stages in my life, pain and growth.
I loved my mother. I was broken when she kept being taken from me, by her illness, by the police, by the hospital and finally by her death, when I was orphaned and truly had no one left. No one to love me, no matter how distorted and dysfunctional that love may have been.
The darkness grew inside of me as the rage built and I find myself struggling now with both and the grief, longing and constant sadness, anxiety and panic. All because I am fighting back against the conditioning that was set in place during the first 12 years of my life.
This is a fascinating and painful process my friends, learning to understand myself and my disorder and to break down what healing means to me. I am not okay and that is okay.