Back in control of the panic buttons

Editor’s note: The following essay was written by the Lovefraud reader “Adelade.”

Without going into a long, drawn-out recollection of my experiences with sociopaths, I wanted to talk about my “Panic Buttons.” The panic buttons are the same as “triggers,” but I tend to panic, so I see them as “panic buttons.”

There is a host of priceless discussion on this site about triggering. I’m one of those types that not only triggers, but I typically fall down a vortex of panic that starts out on the edge of the whirlwind, and I spiral downwards, and inwards, until I’m so disoriented that I don’t know how to get out.

The “reason” that I tend to panic is because of my past experiences with sociopaths and abuse. There was always “hope” that the abuse would stop. It would cease for periods of time and this gave me the false belief that “change” was in the offing. Well, true to form, the abuse would always (without fail) resume and intensify after the lulls.

So, there are certain circumstances that I’ve always reacted to with panic. Now, it wouldn’t begin as full-blown panic anxiety, but it would be a sort of uneasy tickle in my gut that would spiral out of control and, as is most typical, the abuser would capitalize on my discomfort and elevate it to the next level.

Abusive exes

An example of this would be with the first abusive ex-spath. One of our children’s birthdays would be coming up and I would begin to believe that, this year, the father of these children would finally attend to our children of his own accord. He would give the impression that this was to be by talking about birthday parties, gifts, fun, and so forth—my hope for a “normal” event for our children.

As the birthday drew closer, he would begin to complain about not being able to afford a party, or a specific gift, etc. This would dash my hopes for “normality” and begin the panic vortex in a slow spin. In response, I would try to “fix” the situation by any means, to no avail. Then, the vortex would pick up speed and start drawing me in. The demands would begin that I contact my parents to ask for money, or the child wouldn’t even have a birthday cake. If I refused to ask my parents for money, he would begin to “bargain” with me for sexual favors. If I performed an act that he had witnessed in pornographic imagery, he might “get the money together” to buy a birthday cake.

Back and forth, these tactics would go and I would begin to feel panic—I either had to find the money or perform a repulsive sex act. If I were too slow in reacting to the threats, the blame would be placed on my shoulders because I didn’t “care enough” about our children to “obey” my husband. Then, the beatings would begin, and the vortex of panic would be unstoppable. Invariably, I ended up calling my parents and begging for birthday money. After the money arrived, it would be a “honeymoon” of sorts where the children would be showered with gifts, clothing, food, and birthday cakes – but, never a party.

Fast forward to the second marriage. This panic vortex always began with finances, and the second ex-spath was well aware of these issues because I had told him of my experiences with the first ex-spath. Because the second ex-spath was not physically abusive, it never occurred to me that he was at the main switch to engage the panic vortex and that I was just as easily manipulated by these fears without beatings or sexual abuse. Because the second ex-spath frequently asserted (and, I quote), “I will NEVER abuse you like that,” I believed those words and trusted the second ex-spath’s word was his bond. Well, he was far more subtle, and finances were the primary Panic Button for him to push.

Not obligated to react

Of course, there are other Panic Buttons that can send me off into a full-blown state of anxiety, and there’s no need to list each of them here. But, what I have learned in my first stages of recovery is that I am not obligated to “RE-act” to “bad news” or any given situation.

The most recent example of this was the threat of losing the shell that I live in if I didn’t “participate” in a joint bankruptcy action filed by the second ex-spath. The bankruptcy attorney was retained by the ex-spath and was in a great rush for me to drive to another State, sign papers, and meet with the ex-spath in a joint “credit counseling” meeting that clearly violated the standing Restraining Order. The bankruptcy attorney claimed that he was unaware that I had relocated, or that there was a Restraining Order in place, but that I should “jump on this” because it was a “freebie” and would relieve me of all debts. This attorney also minimized the Restraining Order by saying (again, I quote) “The credit counseling would be allowed.”

I’m not going to say that I didn’t begin to slip into the Panic Vortex – I sure did. But, several people on LoveFraud.com and in Real Life counseled me to slow down and think, instead of reacting. And, I did this—for the first time in my life, I stopped that vortex and looked at the facts, as they were:

* The ex-spath was declaring bankruptcy for his unsecured debts

* I did not have any unsecured credit with the exception of the balance of an auto loan

* The bankruptcy attorney was not working for me, but had been retained by the ex-spath

* The ex-spath would never, under any circumstances, take any action that would benefit me

* Any time that I feel that I must make a very hurried decision, I make a mistake and I had the distinct feeling that I was being rushed into re-acting, rather than making an educated decision

Back in control

After a time, all of this simmered down and I was back in control of my actions, thoughts, and decisions. And, this one experience became a tremendous lesson to me that my reactions with regard to control go all the way back to my damaged “inner child” that had consistently experienced one disappointment after another, regardless of any assurance that things would “be better” the next time. The origins of the Panic Vortex finally became crystal clear, and the only person that has a finger on the Panic Button is now me. I am not required to panic for any reason, especially those scenarios that are instigated by the ex-spath, or his attorneys. I am no longer “panicked” about the divorce. I am finally beginning to feel a tiny measure of control, and this “feeling” is finally based upon “fact.”

Sure, there are many things over which I have no control, but those things can be addressed through slow, informed, and insightful consideration. I can take action without “RE-acting.” And, I cannot describe how empowering this fact is. This one fact has been a boost to my self-esteem and self-worth to a degree that I cannot describe— I have never, at any point during my lifetime, felt this sense of empowerment.

We each have this ability to manage triggers, anxiety, panic, and our own personal vortexes. It just takes time, practice, discussion, and consideration to take back or even formulate control and power over ourselves, if we’ve never experienced it before. For me, it’s been a lifetime devoid of this, and this has been an incredible epiphany. I can make things happen under my own power, and I can control my level of re-actions when I am able to recognize what the basis for my anxiety is. Are my “feelings” based upon “facts,” or am I reacting? If I stop and examine all of the facts of any given situation, I can determine this. Most often, if I leave the emotion out of the equation, the solution is relatively obvious. If I run on high emotion, then every rock, pebble, or twig presents an obstacle that appears to be insurmountable. This is a new exercise for me, and one that I have never practiced throughout my lifetime.

In spite of all of the ramifications of sociopath entanglements, every day is an eye-opener for me. Even those days when the sky seems to be falling, there is something new for me to learn and experience.

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52 Comments on "Back in control of the panic buttons"

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Excellent article. I like how you reframed the concept of triggers into panic buttons and brought in the concept of the vortex of panic.

I grew up with a S father and a malignant N mother how rained verbal and physical abuse down on me. I never once could relax, because I always knew that whatever breather I had was going to vanish sooner rather than later. That early conditioning made me easy pickings for the subsequent abusers in my life, which culminated with the last S, which just about did me in. Basically, my life became moving from one panic attack to the next, with a growing sense of panic in between those attacks.

What I could so relate to in your article was the concept of making decisions on the fly. My parents never allowed me the luxury of sitting down and thinking something through. Instead I was bombarded with messages of “do something. Do anything.” So, I would make a decision on the fly, ignoring the screaming in my brain telling me this was not in my best intersts, and go off half-cocked. And once again, a disastrous decision would be made which would negatively affect me. Today my youngest sibling and I sit there and discuss how we suffer from “paralysis through analysis” – we over-analyze every decision we make – even on the most simple things.

I have come to realize that the “do something. Do anything” message that was drilled into me was yet another form of control exerted by my parents. Rather than looking out for my best interests, I think they enjoyed the power they got from witnessing my failures, so then they could say those 4 little words “I told you so.”

Looking back on my so-called up-bringing, on some days I wonder how I ever lived like that. On other days I wonder how I ever lived through that. My old therapist used to tell me I was far stronger than I gave myself credit for for having survived that. Maybe. All I know is that I find it so exhausting at this point my life to have such a shaky sense of self and so little faith in my own decision-making ability. But, like you are discovering and I have learned, there is nothing wrong in sitting, taking a deep breath, telling someone you’re not in a position to make a decision at this moment, and then deciding whether or not something is or is not in your best interests and deciding accordingly.

Hear! Hear!!! Yea, Matt! Very very good points….and keeping us in the “spin cycle” of confusion is a way to control…and to keep us from making logical decisions.

VERY important post. I keep uncovering insights b/c of all the ME TOOs, where others write and I realize wow, that fits ME TOO.

The ME TOO with you is about paralysis through analysis. I do that, and have been accused of over analysing everything. But I NEVER tied it to my childhood abuse. You are SO RIGHT. I lived in fear of being wrong. My mother would set me up in catch 22 scenarios and then I’d be beaten for my failure. (I test OFF the SCALE for logic/reasoning.. yet I am STILL afraid of being wrong.)

I ran into the SAME lack of logic when I was married to my spath. Didn’t matter what I did, it was going to be the wrong choice. (ex: if i worked, he was free to cheat b/c i was not home to take care of him, if i stayed home, then i was lazy and living off the sweat of his brow.)

i’ve been frozen SO many times, unable to pull the trigger in my business decisions, full of anxiety and thought it was b/c i was lazy.

thanks so much for your post. what a gift you gave me today.
Katy, STILL finding pieces of the puzzle.

Matt & KatyDid, here’s an interesting link on “crazy making behavior” that pretty much sums up why abusers and spaths engage in that “HURRY, HURRY” behavior: http://www.abusivelove.com/AbusiveLove_4_07.htm

What always mystifies me is how these people achieve the whole-self damages that they do with such ease. I often wonder if they are issues a “Sociopath’s Guide To Carnage” handbook, or something.

Brightest blessings

EXCELLENT link. Thank you. Reading seems to make me feel so validated, esp how efforts to not make them mad is CRAZYMaking b/c logic is Absent. The absence of reality, by definition, is CRAZY. Maybe it’s b/c it’s printed that makes it more real to me. When it’s spoken, it’s possible for spaths to retract, another point so clearly explained in your link.

I read the whole article and included another hot button for me.
It’s Where I work SO HARD to find middle ground, a Solution, and that very effort is used to proclaim me as manipulative. Trying to get along, trying to explain, trying to be understood are ALL dismissed as manipulative. WHich causes me to retreat and go interspective, trying to see it from another’s viewpoint about what I did/failed to do that caused them to feel manipulated.

The result? I feel overwhelmed and a failure. Can’t get heard. They’ve proclaimed a false/untrue conclusion and NOTHING I can say matters one whit. I am a Failure Failure Failure. Which again, freezes my decisionmaking, b/c if I fail to chose correctly, there is NO redemption for me. I am condemned. The pain is enormous.

Again, thank you Speaks Truth. Great link. Short paragraphs, effective validating writing.

Best, Katy

Whoops! Another panic button. What a GREAT link! “abuse may be worse when all seems normal”.

I was talking to my therapist, and saying how I thought my spath may finally realize he loved me b/c he stopped being so angry/hostile. And she said a sentence that sticks with me all these years later ” KATY, the ABSENCE of ABUSE is NOT LOVE.”

Simply pathetic that my life had become SO oppressive that when the oppression faded, I thought my dreams were coming true. Shows how low my standards had fallen.

I’m experiencing Lots of ME TOOS in that link. But some really painful ones stand out for me. It’s very Useful to mark my recovery. I feel so alone b/c I have moved to this new location and I do not want anyone to know of my previous life. I want regard and respect, not to be dismissed as defective and pitiful. However, I am sensitive to powerplays within community service clubs and church ministries. Or maybe I am seeing boogymonsters everywhere and need to chill…..

KatyDid, you’ve got a good, strong counselor! The “absence of ‘abuse'” certainly is not “love,” nor is it a “kindness. The exspath didn’t beat the crap out of me, rape me, or threaten me with murder/suicide. On another thread, I posted that he would often assert (and, I quote), “I will NEVER abuse you like (the ex) did.” Anytime anyone says, “I’ll never _____ to you,” is reason to run like Bambi!

The “need” to find a middleground, or solution, is something that I’ve grappled with, as well. It’s pretty much what allowed the second exspath to so thoroughly manipulate my life. Sometimes, there is no middleground or solution. Sometimes, whatever it is IS what it is…if that makes sense (?). For me, I don’t particularly like this fact – I want answer, reasons, and solutions, too. But, when it comes to spath, they are what they are and they do what they do. No definition, terminology, or research data is going to alter our experiences at the hands of a spath. “Knowing” doesn’t change things. Even “understanding” what we were dealing with doesn’t change things.

Seeing “boogeymonsters everywhere” is completely “normal” in recovery, as far as I can tell. After emerging from the entanglement, we’re pretty gun-shy and suspicious. And, where I’m concerned, hopefully this will swing back to center instead of my being so hypervigilant.

I don’t believe that your life is pathetic – you’re upright and breathing, and you’re doing the hard work to recover. Yeah, things might not be very pleasant, at this point, but you’re finding your sea-legs on this voyage, and that takes time. Your confidence will return, your self-esteem will rebuild itself, and you’ll have higher, stronger, and thicker boundaries.

I don’t want people to know much about my experiences, either. I don’t want to be “defined” as “that gal that got robbed and played by her husband.” I intend to be recognized as “that gal that is so resourceful and no-nonsense. You can’t fool THAT gal, so don’t even try.”

Soon enough, there will be legal closure to my situation and I can finally focus on rebuilding my life. And, that effort has to begin SOMEwhere.

IN the meantime, you’re doing GREAT KatyDid – seriously. Things may not “seem” as if they’re going great guns, but they surely are! I don’t know how to do it, but I would LOVE to go back a few years and read where I was in comparison to where I am, today. I think you’d find that you’re a galaxy away from the person that brought you to this site, in the first place.

Big hugs and brightest blessings!

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