• jess

Domestic Abuse, Trauma Responses, and Self-blameshame

Updated: Jun 12

Pussy alert.


I’ve been doing this Complex Trauma thing for a little while now… and I’ve easily talked about mindset, anxiety & depression, the causes of trauma, a little of my own background, and steps towards recovery.


There is a common trauma trend throughout these topics, but I’ve tiptoed around a particular landmine for the past year.


What I haven't talked about? Me at my worst.


I’ve avoided discussing how I actually experienced the ugly reality of chronic retriggerings in an abusive relationship. And the nightmare it made me, in return.


I'm thinking back to the days of living in a traumatic relationship means existing with chronic triggering/trauma states/PTSD activation. The hours and days of full-force trauma responses are terrifying. Threat detected, survival mode activated, fight or flight engaged. It unleashes a wild inner beast, ready to fight/flight/freeze.


I'm thinking back to the days of living in a traumatic relationship means existing with chronic triggering/trauma states/PTSD activation. The hours and days of full-force trauma responses are terrifying. Threat detected, survival mode activated, fight or flight engaged. It unleashes a wild inner beast, ready to fight/flight/freeze.

My recollection of early traumatized households are patchy. Most of my clear memories of being repeatedly triggered occurred in the past few years, in the context of my terrible ex-relationship (RIP 2016-2019). I have been in a trauma state plenty o' times before and after, but this was the most extreme and continuously-triggering time of my adult life.


It's also what I feel most ashamed of, because I'm not happy with who I am during my trauma states.


"Trauma Alert" became a steady state for years, and I had no idea what I was dealing with. I didn't know about PTSD at the time. Now it's clear, I was always on the lookout for danger in my house, waiting for the other shoe. The circumstances were a perfect storm for my unique brand of C-PTSD - violence, abandonment, loneliness, and being unlovable - all wrapped up with the emotional abuse and severe isolation of a controlling relationship.


Living with my partner's own trauma patterns made him appear the reincarnation of my dad. He taught me what “Trauma Response" and "Flashback" meant for the first time. Now that it's over, I'm glad I can share it, but nervous to be so honest.


Trauma interacting with an abusive relationship is ugly, embarrassing, and easy to label from the outside.


Trauma interacting with an abusive relationship is ugly, embarrassing, and easy to label from the outside.

I know I'm the "crazy" ex, but, then again, so was his ex-wife. We were "so similar." Weird how that works, huh? Because trauma is ugly, triggering other people is easy, and gaslighting will eventually break brains. Maybe there are recordings of my animalistic screams... but they conveniently leave out the hours of harassment that led to that point.


Might as well own up to it and share my experience with trauma and an abusive romantic relationship.





The setup for trauma-tastic living


This story starts with meeting someone who promised me the world, but couldn’t even take care of his own damn self. Falling fast for a narcissist's delusions summarizes this one. Like most abusive relationships, things were great until they weren't. It seemed too good to be true in the beginning, and it was.


Within a year of dating intensely, we moved from Illinois to Atlanta together so he could take a poorly-defined job that didn't pan out. He "couldn't live without me" and convinced me to move over the course of 6 months. I didn't want to, but based on his promises and endless love, I gave in. This is where my nightmare really began.


He "couldn't live without me" and convinced me to move over the course of 6 months. I didn't want to, but based on his promises and endless love, I gave in. This is where my nightmare really began.

Mistake one; isolating myself. Back home in the Midwest, I had an impressive job, fortuitous friend group, and familiarity with half the state. I had friend groups in all different areas, favorite venues, and a local music scene where I fit in easily. I had money, I had personal resources, and I had support. Now in Atlanta, I had my boyfriend, a dog I fucking loved more than anything, and a big empty house.


I knew no one and nothing about this new city. I already had a fear of driving, and then... Atlanta drivers, holy fuck. My family and friends were 1000+ miles away, and I wasn't getting out to make new friends. I spent my time working online jobs and making art in the basement. Days and weeks went by without seeing another person besides my ex.


He always had a temper, anxious attachment, and controlling tendencies. Things only escalated when we were left to our own devices living alone in the woods. I could never be out of his sight. We had to do everything together. Every day, every night, every weekend. His family was my family, his gigs were my gigs, his boredom at home was my boredom at home.


He always had a temper, anxious attachment, and controlling tendencies. Things only escalated when we were left to our own devices living alone in the woods.

Soon, I relied on my ex for everything, and he happily encouraged my budding agoraphobia to become a way of life. I should just work out of the house. The drivers out there WERE terrifying. No, he didn't know where I could sell my art and he was too tired to explore the city with me. No need to get over my fears, he would gladly blow our money on dumb shit at the grocery store so I could stay at home.


Alone, isolated, and at the mercy of a sensitive boy playing white knight while secretly seeking to substitute his absentee mom? A recipe for disaster.


Soon, I learned how high my anxiety could escalate and my trauma could become a part of daily life.




The daily energy and fearful expectation


As a kiddo, I had lived in a home of extreme domestic violence, addiction, and abuse. It was the birthplace of my fucked up core beliefs and roots in traumatized living.


So of course, I was no stranger to large men stomping around the house, slamming things, and screaming through the walls. I knew that these early signs went in tandem with unending demands, unreasonable cyclical arguments, and paranoid stalking. I realized the situation could escalate to hands on me, running from room to room hiding behind locked doors, and leaving the house with no place to go.


I had grown up on familial abuse, insecurity, and violence. So, when these activities became my daily “normal” again in adulthood, my brain and body were ready to help me survive. This is where my trauma states swelled and became a near-permanent state of life.


I left my family home, but years later, that trauma still lives in this body.


So, when I would pick up on a stormy energy in the house I desperately tried to talk to him about the bad vibes he was putting out, attempting to remedy it before the end of the world. Unfortunately, my inquiries were used as reasons to be upset.at me now "Nothing is wrong, how many times do I have to tell you, would you drop it, I wasn't mad but now I am!"


All his self-created issues became my problem when he exploded and blamed me.


A stressful period at work, a morning when he was unprepared for his gig, a day when he self-shamed for failing to complete his degree, or any of the occasions when his poor financial decisions came back to bite him in the ass... watch the fuck out. Somehow or another, it was my fault.


A stressful period at work, a morning when he was unprepared for his gig, a day when he self-shamed for failing to complete his degree, or any of the occasions when his poor financial decisions came back to bite him in the ass... watch the fuck out. Somehow or another, it was my fault.

I learned to expect the worst. When I noticed tension, I started to shut down. I would feel an immediate anxiety attack in preparation for the coming hurricane. And that instinct wasn't wrong.


There were days and weeks of torment. Literally, torment. Thanks to couples' therapy and my honesty after individual sessions, he knew exactly what triggered and escalated my trauma responses.... he enacted them continually when he was in a downward spiral until I was utterly broken. Even if it took a week, he was going to get the job done.


There were days and weeks of torment. Literally, torment. Thanks to couples' therapy and my honesty after individual sessions, he knew exactly what triggered and escalated my trauma responses.... he enacted them continually when he was in a downward spiral until I was utterly broken. Even if it took a week, he was going to get the job done.

When it comes to triggers, it usually takes a while to fully wear me down. Something might strike a nerve and receive a quick "snippy" reaction as my heart pounds, but I don't often go into full blown trauma mode until I've been pushed to the limit. Response time just depends how close I've already been to that limit.


I can play it cool for a while; hours, days, even. With my ex I could regularly hold it together for 1-10 hours of constant screaming, but eventually, no matter how hard I'd try to simmer on down, I'd eventually lose it.




This is what my trauma states felt like in an abusive relationship


For me, a trauma state often starts in my heart. I notice my body gets hypertensive and my heart begins pounding out of my chest. I can feel it slamming against my chest cavity, and I can see my shirt flinching with every beat. My blood feels like it’s filling up to my ears. I can hear it flowing through my head and feel the pressure building inside my brain.


My skull feels like someone is squeezing it, with the most pressure applied to my temples and sides of the head (have you seen the logo skull?). My prefrontal brain feels empty and blank.


My vision narrows and feels foggy, almost a similar sensation to the seconds before passing out. My peripherals close in and I have tunnel vision that shifts and blurs. Lights feel brighter - dizzying and disorienting. I’m sure my pupils are the size of dimes, but I can’t see straight. I struggle to focus through the over-stimulation.


My vision narrows and feels foggy, almost a similar sensation to the seconds before passing out. My peripherals close in and I have tunnel vision that shifts and blurs. Lights feel brighter - dizzying and disorienting.

My muscles are primed for action. I feel tension in every limb and a manic energy takes over my body. My arms and legs either tingle or go numb. I’m ready to throw shit, to strike out, or to beat someone senseless. I feel like a caged animal for a while, full of defensive instincts and unpredictable behaviors if I'm physically threatened or touched.


Sometimes I see my dad or oldest brother's faces in front of me. Sometimes I can hear their voices in my ears. Immediately, I'm a little kid watching my family beat each other or getting in between my mom and sibling while the cops are on the way. I'm amped up and ready to do whatever I need to, come physical injury or being berated.


Sometimes I see my dad or oldest brother's faces in front of me. Sometimes I can hear their voices in my ears.

Eventually, after hours sometimes, this active state breaks and I'm filled with an emotional flood. I'm completely overwhelmed and trying to get a hold on my racing panicked thoughts. I shake from head to toe. My entire body rattles uncontrollably. Sometimes the shaking is so extreme that it appears fake, even to me.


I struggle to breath, gasping at air and feeling like I have a straw where my airway should be. I hyperventilate, too wound up to get enough oxygen into my bloodstream no matter how much air I try to suck in. My tense chest and tendency to be balling my eyes out by this point make it difficult to get a full breath.


I’m often collapsed on the floor by now, if not hiding in a dark closet or slamming myself against a tiled bathroom wall. The brutal voices in my head are starting up at this point.


I sometimes self-harm in response to the thoughts - favorite choices seen to be hitting my head against walls/windows in an effort to finally make the brutal narrations stop, and striking walls/counters/doors with my hands to feel something.


Eventually, after hours sometimes, this active state breaks and I'm filled with an emotional flood. I'm completely overwhelmed and trying to get a hold on my racing panicked thoughts. I shake from head to toe. My entire body rattles uncontrollably. Sometimes the shaking is so extreme that it appears fake, even to me.

Oftentimes, my stomach and brain respond with gnawing pains throughout all this. There’s a void in my chest where real physical sensation should be. A stabbing pit in my stomach. Dry heaving is likely. I’m often so worked up that I reach a point of actual physical illness. If not digestive upset, a blaring migraine is certain to follow as my blood pressure skyrockets.


I also can’t fail to mention the goddamn banshee screams and guttural cries that emanate from somewhere inside of me when I'm being chased around, aggressively confronted, and physically restrained. It sounds like something dying; one last attempt at calling out to no one in particular, conveying anguish, complete hopelessness and suffering.


Or, at other times mid-fight, this shriek feels more akin to the final battle cry before a mama cougar launches herself at her much larger enemy in defense of her clan. Either way, push me far enough, and my screams will probably haunt your dreams forever. Sorry neighbors.




Where the body starts, the brain follows.


The physical responses to trauma are inherent and terrifying, but my brain is the worst part of it all. In a traumatized state, I eventually lose all sense of my person, all control, and all consideration for my own life.


My mind plummets into a narrative of being unsafe and alone forever. The voices in my head are saying I'll never escape this. No matter how hard I work or who I strive to become, my fate is being screamed at, left behind, and eventually dying alone. I enter a state of despair and hopelessness.


My mind plummets into a narrative of being unsafe and alone forever. The voices in my head are saying I'll never escape this. No matter how hard I work or who I strive to become, my fate is being screamed at, left behind, and eventually dying alone. I enter a state of despair and hopelessness.

In an instant, I go through every past relationship, familial, friendly, and romantic, and relive all the ways I've been "wrong" for the things in my head. Feeling self-imparted shame for all the times my trauma has caused anger, outbursts, and disappointment that affected others. And I start to think it will never end; I'm a disaster, and everyone is better off without me.


It's hard not to get into a "fuck this noise" mindset and start trying to destroy myself at this point. Why not? I'm trying my hardest and nothing matters anyways.


I tell myself that no matter what I do, this thing has a hold on me. I'm in therapy, I'm working on myself every day, and I'm still being shoved into trauma states all the time. People are happy to push my buttons, but they never want to learn what the buttons are doing to me inside.

I tell myself that no matter what I do, this thing has a hold on me. I'm in therapy, I'm working on myself every day, and I'm still being shoved into trauma states all the time. People are happy to push my buttons, but they never want to learn what the buttons are doing to me inside. I'm never going to escape these terrifying days, and no one will ever take the time to truly understand what I'm going through. How could they? Even I'm constantly learning new things about my past.





In an abusive house Fight / Flight / Freeze is an everyday state


In the early stages of my trauma response, I’m likely to physically Freeze.


If I hear loud footsteps, a forceful cabinet close, or annoyed tones of voice, I’m stuck to the floor. Often, I’m physically immobile in the moment. I’m very aware that this pattern comes from my childhood home, where we could never anticipate what would push my father into being belligerent and aggressive - we could only hope to avoid his attention when it was too late. I remember being physically immobile in fear as he stomped through the house and I hid in the shadows waiting for his screaming to move elsewhere.


Sometimes, I’m get into a mental Freeze;


I can’t do or say anything that might make it worse, so my brain goes blank. My prior focus is gone. I lose all controlled thought and enter into a state of paralyzing fear that disables my rational thought. Normally an eloquent speaker, I suddenly can't say anything. The other party starts talking over me, demanding answers like I'm doing it on purpose. I struggle for words, but they don't make sense. I’m on edge, feeling like I'm being attacked, but stagnant.


I would stare at the locomotive like a deer in the headlights, unable to express myself or act in my own best interest. This is how many arguments started and escalated. Frozen and unable to move.

As a hopeful adult, I've often tried to explain my Freeze experience and find a mutual ground - but the conversation was always fruitless. My anxious response created more upset, and I couldn’t move out of the way of the speeding train or appease it. I would stare at the locomotive like a deer in the headlights, unable to express myself or act in my own best interest. This is how many arguments started and escalated. Frozen and unable to move.


In the next stage of a triggering, I often enter a Fight survival pattern. If the argument has progressed to irrational yelling, mind games, or physical intimidation, I tend to lose my shit in an outwardly expressive way. I'm frustrated and scared, and it starts building in my body.


When I’m being chased through the house, held back, or pushed up against a wall with a screaming mouth literally touching my face… my impulse to Fight back is tangible. That makes a good amount of sense. However, the same can be said when verbal disagreements get wild enough that they remind me of my opioid-brained father; when it feels like someone is trying to make me go insane with absurd statements and off-topic arguments.


I sense a churning hatred in my stomach and action potential in my arms. I scare myself when I look down to see my balled up fists and holes in the wall, when I push someone away from me with all my might, or when I throw something (usually a pen or paintbrush that was in my hand) across the room. I know exactly where these Fight responses come from inside of me - family modeling - but when they emerge, it scares me shitless.


I know exactly where these Fight responses come from inside of me - family modeling - but when they emerge, it scares me shitless.

Weirdly, when the confrontation is particularly aggressive, I inherently want to one-up my partner. Something in me doesn’t back down when I’m being challenged - I attribute this to years of my much bigger brother getting in the faces of my mom and I with cocked fists. My brain whispers, "You think you’re scary? I’ve been a lot more scared before, fucker, go ahead and try me."


The final state - being completely flooded even beyond the point of self-preservation, is when I jump into Flight mode. When I’m completely overwhelmed and just need the moment to stop, no matter what that means, I flee. Something inside pushes me to get the fuck out, to drop everything and go, no matter if I’m in our family house or driving 90mph on a mountainous highway in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It just has.to.stop.


How illogical can my Flight be? Well, I have run out into the street in the middle of the night in the middle of winter. I have walked off from parties and bars without a safe way to get home. I have run away from the house and sat in a parking lot for 5-8 hours because I had nowhere else to go. I have tried to fling myself from rapidly moving vehicles on more than one occasion. Anything to GET AWAY.


Why do I revert to such dangerous Flighty actions? Because at this point the likelihood of personal injury or death doesn’t matter. The only thought in my head is “make it stop,” even if that means lights out.

Why do I revert to such dangerous Flighty actions? Because at this point the likelihood of personal injury or death doesn’t matter. The only thought in my head is “make it stop,” even if that means lights out. Anything is better than enduring another second of screaming, accusations, or physical detainment when the voice in your head is telling you you’re worthless, loveless, and doomed for this to continue forever. My Flight instinct is strong, but when used as a last ditch effort, it’s a safety risk to myself.





When the sea calms, normalcy doesn’t immediately return.


In the aftermath of my triggering, I’m exhausted. Mentally and physically, I am completely drained. Everything is blank. I often can’t remember the details of the ordeal I just experienced.


I can recall things that I immediately feel ashamed of, but not necessarily the context surrounding them. It feels like trying to make sense of a long, drunk night, using snapshots that were condensed into furious 2 second clips. Everything swirls together. Besides the handful of poignant memories, looking back at the day is much like unsuccessfully looking through fog.


It feels like trying to make sense of a long, drunk night, using snapshots that were condensed into furious 2 second clips. Everything swirls together. Besides the handful of poignant memories, looking back at the day is much like unsuccessfully looking through fog.

I feel total defeat when I think of the past few hours, I can’t bring my mind to the present moment, and there’s no thought of the future unless it’s fueled by resentment and hypothetical conversations. It’s a confused, dizzying, and empty point in time, which minimally lasts until I can get a full night of sleep. Maximally, this shit gets drawn out for... years?


You see, after this initial withdrawal phase, it’s not over. The physical intensity of the triggering might fade, but I remain in a heightened trauma state for a while after the big blowout.


My body stays on high alert for weeks after the event. I'm shaky, my heart pounds at the drop of a pin, and my muscles are painfully tense. I get blinding migraines and stomach pains. My acid reflux rears its ugly head with a vengeance. My limbs feel exhausted and weak from the moment I wake up every day. I lose my appetite for a long while. I struggle with insomnia.


My body stays on high alert for weeks after the event. I'm shaky, my heart pounds at the drop of a pin, and my muscles are painfully tense. I get blinding migraines and stomach pains. My acid reflux rears its ugly head with a vengeance. My limbs feel exhausted and weak from the moment I wake up every day. I lose my appetite for a long while. I struggle with insomnia.

My brain is extra-sensitive to anxious thoughts and detecting danger signs. Everything freaks me out, and everyone is a threat. I have trouble integrating details from my daily existence with the larger context of my entire life. I get stuck on small annoyances and minor occurrences throughout the day. Everything is overwhelming. My thoughts are unfocused and depressive. I’m happy to stare off at walls, doing and thinking nothing. It feels like the world is closing in on me.


My usual narrative of being alone, unwanted, and unable to change stream through my inner thoughts. I hate myself and I get helpless to take care of anything important. I exist like the walking dead; technically upright, but an empty shell if you checked under the hood.


For all intents and purposes, I lived with this heightened trauma hangover for about 2 years during my shitass relationship; constantly on alert, pump primed for retriggerings, and despising myself. He pushed me to my limit every few weeks and thought an insincere apology would undo the damage. He genuinely never seemed to understand that my brain and body had learned to fear and distrust him after repeating this cycle so many times. But it was my fault in the first place because I got "snippy" at times, right? Ha. Whatta struggle.




Relationship resolution after a trauma attack.


The worst part of it all, perhaps, is taking the terrifying leap of faith to restore connection again. Trying to relate to another person - to explain what happened on my end - rarely goes well following a trauma state.


The problem is, the other party has to be willing to participate for any trauma understanding to be successful.

I have had luck calming down and talking productively with my Mother in very recent history, but I can’t remember many other occasions when I was able to quickly make a mental comeback and talk things out. I know my ex and I ever learned how to come back from blowups in a respectful way.


The problem is, the other party has to be willing to participate for any trauma understanding to be successful.


Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in learning about your experience or comprehending your past problems. People can’t always find the openness to acknowledge that a particular action or behavioral pattern could mute your personality and bring up such animalistic survival instincts. Folks also don't want to hear the ways that they played into it. It's always easier to call her "crazy" and move on than be accountable and aware.


Who could blame them, really? It is difficult to comprehend the survival instincts programmed in a body, even as the traumatized party. Trauma is as much of a learning experience for us as our loved ones, but it's extra damaging when you have answers that no one wants to hear. This is more difficult than anything.


The cruelest joke is that feeling unable to express my experience and find acceptance, in turn, plays up my underlying core fears of being alone, unwanted, and broken. i.e. It is triggering to be unable to explain your triggerings.

The cruelest joke is that feeling unable to express my experience and find acceptance, in turn, plays up my underlying core fears of being alone, unwanted, and broken. i.e. It is triggering to be unable to explain your triggerings.




Final word from a traumatized motherfucker.


It’s not easy for me to recount the extreme trauma experiences from the past few years. Putting myself back in those shoes, back in that house, used to threaten my positive emotional reserves.


I think it's been an important part of my healing to acknowledge who I can be under triggering circumstances. I’ve never fully forgiven myself for some of my antics, even though I recognize that they were survival attempts from a well-meaning brain. Knowing that other people have heard these tales out of context feels like a hot iron in the gut.


The whole point of this project is to let other folks know they aren’t busted monsters. Who they become under desperate circumstances isn't who they really are. I know this, and I would never judge another human if roles were reversed right now. I still need to do the same for myself.

For the past year I’ve practiced my self-forgiveness, but releasing the judgement I know I'm receiving from others following the dissolution of our relationship is an area I haven’t fully processed that needs more attention. The slander is infuriating. Losing friends and hearing that parties are sympathetic to his experience kills me. But I'm working on it.


(And really... if folks don't find his eerily similar repeat instances of "being victimized by crazy ladies" fishy, clearly they aren't very intelligent humans. Fuck em.)


The whole point of this project is to let other folks know they aren’t busted monsters. Who they become under desperate circumstances isn't who they really are. I know this, and I would never judge another human if roles were reversed right now. I still need to do the same for myself.


If I can’t be honest with myself and with my fellow Fuckers about how confusing, embarrassing, and exhausting trauma states are for everyone involved, especially when you're intertwined with an abusive relationship, I need to find something else to write about.


You aren't crazy. You aren't alone. And you deserve to be heard.



In a similar boat? Yeek. Well, I've got more reading for you! For more on my trauma journey with an abuser, check out these posts:


My intro to C-PTSD pt4: A day in the old life

"Why are you doing this?"

One year after leaving an abusive relationship


And, be sure to follow the new podcast! Find it here or wherever you listen! Now on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more! Just search for complex trauma recovery.


Finally, if this spoke to you - good, bad, or "what the fuck" - let me know!


Hit me up at traumatizedmotherfxckers@gmail.com and tell me what you think about my experience with trauma and romantic abuse.



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • reddit-round-logo-rubber-stamp-reddit-ic
  • Spotify
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr

Atlanta, GA, USA | Chicago, IL, USA

© 2023 by Woman PWR. Proudly created with Wix.comTerms of Use  |   Privacy Policy