If you grew up in a home where your parents were strained, or worse, at a complete loss as to how to adequately provide a safe and nurturing home, you might have experienced inconsistencies, unpredictability, perhaps neglect, or even emotional and physical abuse. You might have intuitively known to follow these steps in order to protect yourself:
- Stop feeling feelings, especially the feelings of being carefree, happy and hopeful. Better yet, dissociate from yourself and "go numb."
- Start being hypervigilant. Watch very carefully, observe inconsistencies between words and behavior, analyze the true motivations behind everything you see, and definitely read between the lines when someone makes promises.
- Stop trusting. Do not trust your own feelings and don't trust others' words or promises.
- Become suspicious and anticipate what is coming next; always be braced and ready for the worst.
- Never, ever relax and believe that a period of relative calm will last. It won't.
- Don't tell anyone what is going on in your home. It's too embarrassing and besides, we don't air our dirty laundry in public.
- Stop needing. Decide that you don't need anyone or anything; convince yourself and convince those around you. Today's need is tomorrow's disappointment.
- Start controlling. Control your feelings, your body, and your environment. Start to have obsessive-compulsive tendencies like counting or other ritualistic behaviors. Control others around you, become a perfectionist and feel responsible for everything that happens. Even the illusion of being in control is helpful.
- Avoid conflict. If anger or rejection is imminent, become a people pleaser.
- Rescue others. This makes you feel special and increases your self-esteem. When you are drawn to rescue wounded people, you are really just seeing yourself in them and trying to rescue yourself - the way you wish someone would try to rescue you. Maintain your victim status; others will feel sorry for you and this will feel like love.
These survival techniques will serve you well while you are in the family war zone. However, you may find that once you have left the war zone - gone away to college, moved to another town, or just otherwise left that family system - these defensive strategies become a bit problematic. When applied during peace time, with people who are open, trustworthy, and loving, you may find them complaining that they can't achieve intimacy with you. How in the world could they? You are so heavily defended by this point, authentic emotional sharing is pretty impossible. But at least you are safe from feeling pain.