The one consistency during my childhood were the inconsistencies. People around me were unpredictable in their attitudes and behaviour towards me and each other; one moment they were positive, the next there would be abuse of some sort. I never had any sense of solid ground beneath my feet; and no cushion of unconditional acceptance to fall back on when I stumbled.
Instead, I created consistency through the dissociative system.
When the dissociative system went beyond it’s ability to cope, and instead showed disordered behaviours and thinking, I needed to seek consistency outside of the system again. I had to start looking to those around me. I looked to partners, therapists, and people at work to act as that anchor. As with many people from dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds, I continued to select partners and friends who were dysfunctional and repeated the negative patterns I was familiar with (e.g. husband, my American friend Matthew). I slowly moved away from these old patterns and found new people who seemed healthy (e.g. cynical workplace friend, Allison).
Because these new people have shown consistency over time, it confuses me when they become inconsistent.
Earlier this year, my cynical workplace friend started having an affair with a married man. The one person in the office that I could talk to, and laugh with, was now showing the dysfunctional behaviours from my past. This triggered so many old and new emotions. It made no sense. She admitted that it was fun, and therefore didn’t see a problem with it. Any issues within the marriage, were for him to sort out with his wife. It had nothing to do with her. Suddenly she wasn’t consistent anymore. She was seen by the system as being selfish, short-sighted, and not thinking of the family she was becoming involved with. What about the man’s nine year old daughter?
While she had shown the usual mistakes involved with being a human in the past, this was a deliberate decision that she made. Parts of the system found it incompatible with the person we knew and laughed with. I know it’s about old emotions – the mother was convinced that the father was having an affair. I know it’s about feeling let down by someone we trusted and respected. But probably one of the biggest blows, was to our sense of trust. Our poor lack of judgment in people, was again shown to be true. I still can’t trust myself.
So one of my anchors was cut loose. Yes, we still laugh and talk. But it’s different now. I’m not sure if she feels it or not, but it is.
What’s interesting about this concept of consistency and anchoring, is that within the survivor community, I see it as much more fluid. At one point I will be an anchor for someone; at another, they will be mine. I think this is mainly because of different expectations we have for each group. I understand when fellow survivors are struggling with behaviours and thought patterns. I can empathise and offer acceptance and validation. We’re on the same journey of learning who to trust, what the boundaries are and what our place is within the world. These similarities make the survivor friendships so vital. Although they may serve a different purpose than the consistent anchor, they offer an insight and validation that the anchor may never understand or comprehend.
Consistent anchors don’t have to be therapists or people who know anything about our past. They are people who you rely on to be there. It can be something as simple as the person in the coffee shop smiling to you each day, to a friend you can laugh with about everyday life that seemingly has nothing to do with the past; but has everything to do with healing.
It’s the combination of these types of connections and consistency that I think will help us through.