Fear of Retaliation

Before EMDR therapy, I previously did not consider myself a fearful person. If I felt threatened, I would quickly push those thoughts out of my mind and focus on more practical, productive things. I learned to do this as a very young child who had no other option for coping with a cruel, punishing father, and an emotionally neglectful mother. While pushing impulses away can be a decent coping strategy short term, the long term effect of shutting down feelings of fear for me has meant lifelong chronic migraines and toxic stress. For much of my childhood and young adulthood, I didn’t feel much fear, but it turns out, the bulk of my terror was repressed. I detached so much from what had initially been bothering me that I no longer saw the rather obvious connection between repressed trauma and chronic pain.

Today, in order to heal, I am committed to the oh-so-fun task of feeling my feelings, especially the ones that were previously off limits. Today, my entire body is on high alert. Today, I feel terror. Today, I feel panic. Today, I feel dread. I feel threatened, exposed, and anxious. I feel an impulse to freeze, fight and flee all at the same time. Today, I would very much like to revert back to my old coping strategies, get lost in some sappy reruns on TV, eat a bowl of ice cream, and dissociate. And by today, I mean right now, this is what I am feeling.

I feel this way today because one of my greatest fears is a fear of retaliation. It comes up when I have to say no to a Cluster-B personality type. I am afraid of their inevitable, over-reactive, irrational response to my rational request. It’s when I have to commit to a healthy boundary, and when a narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath seeks to destroy that boundary. They then double down on their abusive, controlling behavior as punishment for exerting a boundary in the first place. I know this pattern well. I know exactly when and where it happened to me in the past, and how it was reinforced over the years. But all of this historical knowledge of when, why, and how this fear came to be only gives my rational brain something to chew on. It does nothing for my reptilian brain, which can only feel it like a death threat. Even my rational brain cannot reason her way out of this threat.  She knows retaliation could happen, and is likely to happen, so long as there is a psycopath in the mix.

Unfortunately, today, I have to face one. Today, I have to handle the fallout for saying no to one. Today, my reptilian brain worries whether she’ll make it home. My rational brain says a physical threat is probably not likely, but the possibility can’t be taken completely off the table. My head is pounding and I’ve used up almost everything in my bag of tricks to hold myself together. I know from years of coaching myself through these situations that if I can make it through the threat of today, I can collapse and regroup tomorrow.

I used to think there was something wrong with me for having this extreme stress response. I now understand that this response is healthy. This alarm is what helps remove me from toxic and dangerous people. While it can’t prevent all impending attacks, I can be better positioned to respond quickly, so I can get myself to safety sooner.

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