Toxicity Verses Trauma
CW – Mentions of abusive actions
Most of my thoughts lately have been on making sense of how toxic my upbringing was and it’s a lot to take in.
I want to start off by stating my parents were not and are not abusive (though they absolutely did some abusive things at times). There was no manipulation. They understood that my brothers and I are different and while, yes, we had very gendered roles, it wasn’t because they were trying to enforce the gender binary. They just understood that my brothers and I had very different personalities and actively gravitated towards those roles. My brothers actively enjoy outdoor chores and I hate them and much prefer indoor home making chores. They understood that people have different needs and interests and worked to get us that. There was never any malice. Just a genuine desire to raise up the three of us in a way that acknowledged our individuality.
And I deeply respect that.
Doesn’t mean they weren’t toxic though.
My dad had a temper. He would get angry quickly and didn’t always understand our reactions. He would threaten to spank us with his belt (mom never let that happen). When he got angry about the state of our rooms, he’d clean them by dumping everything into a trash bag and bringing it out to the curb. There were numerous times where mom snuck the bags back into the house and I would secretly have to unpack my room from trash bags.
There was actually one time where my brother and I were playing Nintendo 64 upstairs. My dad was angry about something, so he came upstairs, grabbed the TV (while we were still playing it) and yanked it unplugged from everything. Then he walked back down the stairs and threw the TV off the back deck.
His temper was such that we learned not to interact with dad if he was showing signs of being upset. My mom used to warn us that he had come home “in a bad mood” and noted that maybe it was better to stay in our rooms, out of the way, and try not to do anything that might make it worse.
The result of all of this? I don’t handle other people’s anger well. I clam up. I get very quiet and try to make myself as small as possible. I try to hide and not be noticed. It actively scares me when someone is getting angry around me. Because I was raised to be afraid of people’s anger and to hide from it.
My mom had a really good habit of invalidating people. She thought she was helping and making things better and never realized that what she was saying and doing was incredibly hurtful. My husband noticed this when we were just dating. I didn’t notice til I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I would be fighting a bad spiral and just really struggling only to hear that “yes, it’s okay to be upset, but you gotta just pull yourself together. Pull up your big girl panties and just get moving anyway.” There was no being allowed to work through grief or feelings. Just moving on. And, as I think about it, I’d always lived with that. I was never allowed to experience my feelings. I had to move on. Be stronger. Get used to the fact that life won’t let me feel my emotions.
Combine all of this with my parents teaching me Toxic Christianity and Purity Culture and it was an incredibly toxic environment to grow up in.
I very much will maintain that my parents were not abusive people. They had very much so abusive actions, but I won’t call them abusive people. They genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. And with my dad, my mom called him out on his temper all the time (and she still does). It’s something he is actively trying to improve and make right. He struggles to maintain his mental health but he actively tries to do the right thing and he owns up when he’s done the wrong. For that reason, I won’t call them abusive people, even if that had abusive actions.
For a lot of people, growing up in abusive homes is traumatizing. Living with such a heightened state of awareness due to such extremely toxic environments, it makes sense that it’s traumatizing. The reality is that most of my life was not spent in hyper-awareness. I wasn’t afraid of my mom or dad. I was afraid of his anger, for sure, but not him. That said, I still grew up in a toxic environment. It still damaged me. It still hurt. And that means that I have a lot of things I need to work on to help my brain space be a healthy place.