In the past few weeks, I realised that the coping mechanisms I used as a child to survive my abuse were being triggered in response to the corona virus and the lockdown restrictions. Growing up I really struggled with anxiety that often manifested in anger. I hated not having any control over my life, and today, I find myself right back were it all began. The more the government continues to increase the restrictions that curtail my movements, interactions, and relationships, the more my resentment grows.
You may think that I should not be taking it so personal as the government are ‘supposedly’ only looking out for me. It’s just the only other time someone was supposed to be ‘looking out for me’ was when I was a child and my father exerted similar measures in order to control me, granting him the freedom to regularly rape and abuse me.
The daily onslaught of death notices and reminders to stay inside, only serve to further frighten and confuse me. The more I listen to the various experts on both sides of the fence, the worse I feel. So here is why I think my childhood anxiety/trauma has come to the surface again.
If I were to write a step by step guidebook on how to groom a child for abuse, it would be similar to what is happening with the covid crisis.
ABUSE: After telling the child you care about them, begin slowly introducing fear into the child’s life. At the same time introduce rules that must be followed; small rules to begin with that will help you gauge how compliant the child is.
COVID – The government reassured us on how we will get through this if we all work together, consistently reminding us of the severity of the consequences (instilling fear) if we do not wash hands, coughing into our sleeve, and stay away from others.
ABUSE: Increase the fear gradually over time and introduce more rules that must be followed. This will ensure the child will keep your secret and feel it is for their own good. If done correctly – this will be followed without question.
COVID – Government daily death counts, reminders of the rules and consequences for us all if not followed. Increasing the restrictions gradually – introduce more things to fear- objects, surfaces – widen the group to stay away from and include those most vulnerable (elderly, sick).
ABUSE: While continuing to increase the fear, introduce catastrophic consequences for telling your secret. Make them responsible for others – (if you tell anyone, your mother will leave; your brothers and sisters will be taken into care). This will ensure the child feels responsible for the safety of others instilling a sense of guilt and fear.
COVID – Push the need to use hand sanitisers, wear masks and gloves. This will make sure you understand that it’s your responsibility to protect others, if you don’t you could kill someone you love. Increased isolation for everyone making it against the rules to visit loved ones especially those that need support like elderly parents and those suffering or dying with an illness.
ABUSE: Assert your opinions on the child. Insist you are the only one that will tell them the truth, everyone else will only lie to them. Convince them that you are the only one that can protect and care for them. Keep up the fear levels warning that outside the home is unsafe.
COVID – Maintain daily bulletins, announce deaths while showing images of body bags and communal graves. Denounce other media reports as false or dangerous sources that you should ignore. This is a sure way to make you compliant, afraid, and responsible for everyone.
ABUSE: Undermine the child at every turn, tell them they are stupid, ignorant and know nothing. Criticize their choices and opinions. Maintain control over their movements, activities, and relationships. Let them know that no one is to be trusted but you.
COVID- Take away independence and create dependency through job losses while providing just enough financial aid. This will make people believe that you really do care in case they are wavering. Encourage division asking people to be vigilant and report on their neighbours’ activities – after all its in everyone’s best interest.
ABUSE – Ok collect your diploma – you now have total control over every aspect of the child’s life and the acceptance by the child that this is just how it is.
COVID- Normalise the situation, make it routine, provide small rewards for correct behaviours. Lift restrictions gradually while make it understood that you can take them back if people don’t behave.
A perfect breeding ground for abuse is when an individual is vulnerable, isolated, and totally dependent on someone else for their survival. This will also ensure that the child or adult learns to ignore their natural instincts and will not turn to those they know and love for support. For me, the current crisis makes me feel like I’m right back in my home with my father controlling the narrative. I’m being told to ignore what I’m feeling because after all, aren’t we all in this together. However, after all the years of work I’ve done to reconnect with myself and trust my gut, I refuse to fall into that trap again.
I constantly hear government officials stating that they are the only source I should be going to for information. This automatically makes me feel uneasy. I have spent years overcoming my ability to blindly follow and not question what I’m being told. To assume others, know better, understand more and are smarter than me. It took so long to reconnect with my gut feelings and trust myself when something feels wrong. For me it’s healthy to question what I’m being told. I am no longer willing to ignore what I feel. I have the right to ask questions, to seek answers, to allow for other opinions and viewpoints. To make up my own mind when I have access to all the information, and not just go along because it’s the easier option to avoid conflict.
I now understand the importance of listening to myself. I no longer fear my own instincts, my need to question anything that feels wrong or uncomfortable. I’m not trying to sway anyone to believe one thing or another. I am merely pointing out that regardless of what you believe, questioning what is happening around you is the healthiest thing you can do no matter what the outcome.
I am not suggesting that our government is grooming us for their own ends, however, I think it is appalling the way things unfolded. It is clear there was no care, planning or understanding of the effects on the mental health of victims of trauma, their families or those within their communities. Not one centre providing support to victims of trauma, be it rape, incest, or childhood abuse were given additional funding. In fact, all the current services suffered badly due to the inability to fundraise just to keep their doors open. Another thing, that is an utter disgrace given the surge of abuse cases which occurred as a direct result of the lockdown.
So, if like me you have been triggered during this crisis, know that it’s perfectly normal and understandable given our history with trauma. Understanding that the abuse of power in the hands of our abuser was reflected in the steps that this crisis brought, will at least help you make sense of your reactions and emotional responses over the past few months. It is important that you mind yourself, your mental health and reach out for support to family or friends. I would urge you not to try to go it alone but talk to someone even if it is just the person on the other end of a confidential helpline.
By Paula Kavanagh