Was it really THAT bad?
Second-guessing the events in your marriage can leave you feeling hopeless and your head spinning from trying to remember it all.
The question I get most often, and even asked myself, is “Was it really that bad.” There are a lot of reasons this question can
Dr. Diane Langberg in her book “ “ explains how women living in abusive situations had the same PTSD symptoms as the men coming back from the Vietnam War in the 1950s-1970s.
Was It My Fault
There is a fine line to walk when trying to decipher what part of the relationship is your responsibility is yours and what part is not yours to claim. Because of the deception in these types of relationships, this should not be done alone, please seek out professional help before trying to do this.
Oftentimes, the person being abused will take all the blame for the treatment she endures. She makes excuses for her husband and blames herself for not being a better, wife, mother, homemaker, or woman.
What you must know is that abuse is ALWAYS a choice. Regardless of the hurtful partner's past, or diagnosis, his treatment of others is ALWAYS a choice.
Our Brain and Trauma
Abuse overwhelms people, whether physical, mental emotional, spiritual, or mental abuse. The brain tries to protect the person from having to feel the full effect of the situation. So the brain turns down the senses in order to help the person from getting overwhelmed. It doesn't hurt as bad in the short term but causes a lot of problems in the long term.
Dissociation does not completely numb out the person and the subconscious brain is still able to remember the event even when there may be no memory of the event at all in the conscious part of the brain.
Dissociation can numb out specific details, feelings, interpretations, and memories and the brain may send alarms to the person that there is no danger when there is, and there is danger when there is no danger.
An example of this is amnesia after a car accident, and then getting in a car smelling similar smells from the car accident. This can happen even when there is no recalled memory of the accident. (2)
Did it happen the way I remember it?
When toxic stress leaves you feeling trapped the way you remember things can be skewed. Toxic stress is different than everyday stress because it is more serious and makes a person feel stuck in traumatic situations with no support or care from other relationships. Normal stress may feel like trying to make time in a busy day to do laundry to realize that something is wrong with the washing machine. Toxic stress is heavy and may leave a person feeling like they’re going to pay the price for the washing machine breaking, and will face the wrath of a partner because the laundry isn't done.
There are a lot of reasons that memory may fail, and it may feel as if things aren't as bad as they really were.
Memory and Abuse
In her video “Why Are Trauma Memories So Different From Other Memories: How PTSD Affects Memory.” Emma explains that normal memories lessen over time. Some details are forgotten and the emotion attached to that memory is usually lessened. In non-traumatic memories, there is not as much vivid recall of the incident.
Smells, sounds, feelings, surroundings, and emotions can all be remembered very vividly with traumatic memories.
The memory of the trauma makes the body respond similarly to when the trauma happened. However, the memory is more like snapshots and not a movie with a storyline. This can look like being able to remember very specific and vivid details but not being able to recall what happened first, next and last.
“Memory loss could be protective that, your brain might be shielding you from memories that you don’t have the resources to handle yet. In my opinion, when those memories come back it may be your brain telling you that you are ready to deal with this now.” Emma McAdams
Was it that bad?
You may be questioning if you are remembering things correctly, or wondering if things are really that bad. It may feel like past fights are all a blur and you may reason that he is not the only one to blame.
So was it that bad? Are the fights, the name calling, the kicking you out of the house or the bedroom, taking the kids, and the threats, that bad?
Yes, my friend. I hope that you hear me when I say, that what you are experiencing is very likely worse than what you are even seeing as of right now.
How will I even know where to go from here?
These symptoms of PTSD as from the Mayo Clinic: (3)
- Negative thoughts about self and others
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feeling detached from family and friends
- Lack of interest
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Easily startled and frightened
- Always on guard of danger
- Self-destructive behavior, drinking too much or driving too fast
- Trouble sleeping
- TTrouble concentrating
- Irritability, angry outbursts, aggressive behavior
- Re-enacting traumatic events
- Frightening dreams that may or may not include aspects of the traumatic event
“Symptoms may vary in intensity over time. You may have more PTSD symptoms when you are stressed in general, or when you come across reminders of what you went through.” (3)
There may be a more scientific reason you are asking the question; “Was it really that bad?” Let’s look at the possibilities.
Gaslighting is a term taken from the film Gaslight in 1944. The main character Bella notices strange things happening in her home. Her husband, Paul, is looking for hidden treasures in the family home. He makes Paula believe she is going crazy with the things she is noticing. She notices missing pictures and sees the gaslights on her wall dim after she hears footsteps. Though she was not crazy, what she was seeing was real. But it was the insistent accusation that she was losing her mind from her husband that made her feel as if she was.
This is mental abuse and has a lasting impact on the person being gaslit. As in the movie Bella, truly believed she was going insane.
In 1969, Barton and Whitehead used the term gaslight in an article describing the impact of abuse victims. The term has since been used by mental health professionals.
The signs of gaslighting are subtle and often the gaslightee is deemed the perpetrator instead of the victim.
Some of these signs are: (5)
- Lovebombing- overwhelm a person with an excess display of affection.
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Denying Reality- flat-out denial of things said and done.
- Withholding Affection- intentionally limiting or denying intimacy, closeness, and affection.
- Name-calling and insulting-
- Projecting and balming- Accuse the partner of doing things that the other is actually doing.
- Feeling confused, guilty, doubtful of self, nervous, anxious, difficulty trusting own perception detaching from work, and other relationships even yourself.
What are the next steps? These guides will help you to determine what the next step is in order to keep yourself safe or how to get safe. Reach out with any questions! [email protected]
- Dela J Public Health, Trauma-Related Dissociation, and the Dissociative Disorders: Neglected Symptoms and Severe Public Health Consequences, Public Health, May 8, 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9162402/
- Dr. Tracey Marks, How To Deal With Dissociation as a Reaction to Trauma, Youtube, Dr. Tracey Marks, November 20, 2019, https://youtu.be/gOx0dEoaDrQ
- Mayo Clinic Staff, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Mayo Clinic, December 13, 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967
- New Port Institute, How to Tell if Someone is Gaslighting You, New Port Institute, November 4, 2021, https://www.newportinstitute.com/resources/mental-health/what_is_gaslighting_abuse/#:~:text=Gaslighting%20is%20a%20form%20of,their%20own%20judgment%20and%20intuition
- Anna Drescher, Origin of the Term Gaslight, Simply Psychology, August 16, 2023, https://www.simplypsychology.org/origin-of-the-term-gaslighting.html#:~:text=Decades%20after%20the%20movie%20was,and%20movie%20%E2%80%9CGas%20Light.%E2%80%9D
- Emma McAdam, Why Are Traumatic Memories So Different from Other Memories?, Therapy in a Nutshell Youtube, September 29, 2022, https://youtu.be/SRSOjYnFak8