Hello from another person with complex PTSD because of being exposed to serious and often shocking violence and emotional / verbal abuse from the time I was a toddler.
I'm two decades on from you and it's been a bit of a road. I didn't even know I had complex PTSD until four years ago, when the whole thing became very obvious due to some really disturbing recovered memories from very early childhood (on top of existing ones). That was an a-ha experience. I always knew that my childhood wasn't roses and objectively knew from the time I was a teenager that my birth family were physically, verbally and emotionally abusive, but I could never connect the emotions with the memories - it was like watching a movie in a really detached way.
Of course, as you'd be aware, that's because children in those sorts of situations have to put their emotions mostly to one side all their young lives just so they can survive childhood - there's noone to process them with, and you can't get on with constructive activities that will help you get away if you're falling down a black hole. As a child, I concentrated very seriously on schoolwork as a road to eventual independence, and that paid off. I entered university on the fast track at 16, graduated with a double science degree and the top student prize, and worked initially as a research scientist, and later on as an educator, first at university and later on in high schools, where I taught freely across the physical and life sciences, as well as English and English Literature, in academic courses for students aiming to enter university. I really enjoyed working with the 12-17 age group in part because they have amazing brains, and in part because I knew what life was really like behind closed doors for some of these young people, and could be a warm, positive, encouraging adult for them in the way some of my own teachers along the road had been for me, which had made a huge
difference to my life.
Tellingly, all my adult life, and particularly around times of stress, I had these intermittent weird episodes where I would wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat with my heart racing and shocking nausea. There was no remembered nightmare, I'd not been mulling over anything, there was no reason I could see for it - the whole thing was like someone injected a load of adrenaline into my backside when I was sleeping - an entirely physical thing. Medically, adrenal tumours were on the list of possible explanations, but I didn't have those. As it didn't happen too often unless I was stressed out, I just shrugged my shoulders and decided I had a weird, but mostly harmless, physical malfunction.
Around four years ago though, I was getting a lot of these (in the lead-up to Christmas and our traditional visit to our birth families) and then suddenly had actual visual memories during these episodes, and then it became rather obvious what was going on. I asked my GP, "Why now? Why all this delay?" - and she said it's typical for these things not to be allowed to surface, by that survival mechanism, until you've been in a healthy, supportive relationship for years and you feel thoroughly safe - and until potentially falling apart doesn't threaten your physical survival, e.g. because unable to do your paid work when processing something so enormous.
The weird episodes I'd been having were emotional flashbacks, initially divorced from the specific situations which had produced them. (I wrote about those here https://www.horseforum.com/member-jo...post1970627599
if further detail would be helpful or interesting for anyone - emotional health issues ought to be better understood by everyone, whether or not they had childhood adversity.) Turns out there's the cerebrum, where we do our thinking, and then there's the more evolutionarily ancient, basic-equipment parts of the brain, which are responsible for emotions and survival. These very effectively store and process potential survival threat situations, in a non-verbal manner - and guess where else everyone here can really see this in their lives? With horses, of course - all that hypervigilance and run first, ask questions later setup that's completely necessary for an animal whose biggest survival threat along all its evolutionary history has been predators jumping at them... (and that's one big reason so many of us with those kinds of histories are drawn to horses and very good at understanding and communicating with them...)
This is a huge subject, and I'm going to cut it short here. Anyway, I got married in my mid-30s to a decent, supportive, funny, clever, highly interesting and ethical man - also from a dysfunctional (although not violent) family. Like in most relationships, we had some teething problems - you're going to get those more if you don't come from a loving, healthy family, as you'll certainly be aware. Like in every healthy relationship, you can't take things for granted, you have to keep working on it, and you're going to bring your emotional baggage to the table in times of stress and then have to work on that baggage again (it does get smaller if you don't shove it under the carpet), you have to keep learning and growing, but you should also
be having a ton of fun and companionship and shared adventures, and be best of friends. (If people were to ask me what the most important foundations for a healthy marriage are, I would say close friendship and respect. Close friendship also implies mental compatibility.)
This is us half a year ago on Brett's traditional mountain climb to celebrate his birthday. The internet is a bit impersonal, so I try to always underscore that we're all real human beings, not some sort of detached blobs floating in a void.
Brett and I are monogamous by disposition, and in our case have no romantic or other interest in getting together with other people on that level. Mind you, a really good friend of mine, when we were both in our early 30s and single, used to joke that one man was not enough, you had to have three - one for the bedroom, one for helping with home maintenance, and one for meaningful conversations.
My husband thinks this is hilarious, but then he ticked all three boxes, so he may well laugh.
We're coming up to our 11th wedding anniversary next month, and are really enjoying our journey with each other.
I have no moral quibbles with consensual polyamory - we're all different - and I'm a staunch supporter of LGBTQI+, marriage equality, etc. I do understand that some people have open marriages and some are happy with that, and that to some people, marriage is a lifelong commitment, but not necessarily to the exclusion of all others. There's polygamy through a lot of cultures and traditions (oddly, usually about the male with a female harem and moral outrage when it's the other way around), and in the history of the Western middle and upper classes, marriage was often a business and family arrangement, rather than about love and respect.
My alarm bells about your situation aren't to do with the idea of open or polyamorous marriages. I actually had a little side thought - when you come from a really traumatic background, the idea of your world falling apart again is so hideous that I can see why some people wouldn't want to put all their eggs in one basket (in my case, I refused to put my eggs in any
basket for much of my 20s, and learnt to live on my own, which was actually really good for me). We're all mere humans, and it's one heck of a gamble to give another fallible person so much power over our wellbeing and happiness. A friend of mine is just struggling with being ditched for a 20-something by her husband of 30 years when he turned 50, and is completely unimpressed and dealing with a world that has exploded without warning. It's a really rough ride. Had she been married to two people, she'd have some sort of buffer I suppose. (But part of becoming healthy people is also that you have to know you'd be able to cope with the potential death of, or defection by, your partner, and to reinvent yourself and create fresh meaning after such a possible event. Healthy love starts with healthy self-love and with assuming adult responsibility for our own feelings and lives, rather than finding someone else to do that for us.)
OK, back to the alarm bells, from that little side track.
I agree with everyone else who says "run" here, because a relationship is not healthy without respect. There's a big difference between someone losing their temper occasionally and then assuming responsibility for working on that issue of theirs, while making amends with anyone who was hurt or harmed in the process, and a consistent pattern
of disrespect and abusive outbursts that has developed (sometimes with the empty "I'll never do it again" and subsequent "love bombing", presents, flowers, heart-rending letters of faux repentance etc characterising some early-stage abusive romantic relationships).
Once you have a pattern like that, a) most relationships won't graduate to healthy lifelong material, and b) the few that do can only do so by the people involved drawing back from each other and working seriously on their own stuff, not for the sake of keeping the relationship, but for the more fundamental sake of wanting to become better people - and it doesn't work unless this is genuine and each person is seriously doing that. If people only go through the motions to "save their relationship" then they'll revert to square one the moment they feel secure of their relationship again. This will then become a permanently dysfunctional, in all probablility codependent, relationship, in which neither person can substantially grow or evolve or develop seriously as a human being, and reach anything near their positive potential. And many, many people in this world are stuck in such relationships, which are like Neanderthal caves (/little shops of horror).
In a healthy relationship, you bring out the best in each other, both consciously and unconsciously. You actually become objectively better human beings. You each
become better at being kind and respectful, at understanding, learning and achieving goals, at honouring commitments, seeing other points of view, engaging in healthy activities, connecting with community and the planet etc etc. You each
become more like the sort of person you want to become - but at the same time, you're already valued for who you are right now.
If a relationship makes it harder for you to be you and to grow and to contribute to the wider community, then it's not a healthy relationship.
If I was put in your shoes, I'd not marry this guy (but I'm not in your shoes!). You intended may be a fundamentally OK but immature person with their own baggage to work through, who's not yet ready for a healthy relationship, and won't be unless he does some serious soul-searching on his own and for the right reasons. Or, your intended may be the sinister sort of person who picks up vulnerable young women who come from traumatic backgrounds, trauma bonds with them (the difference between trauma bonding and healthy bonding is worth knowing), and after seeming like the knight in shining armour, once completely secure of you, throws the switch and becomes possessive and abusive and your worst childhood nightmare all over again.
This happens all the time, to lots of real people from dysfunctional backgrounds - and it happened to me, in my first serious relationship when I was in my early 20s (thankfully, not married, no children and eventually got away). The problem is, when your birth family was violent and abusive, you're a prime target for bullies and narcissistic romantic partners when you're young - because it's a familiar pattern, and because people who grew up in respectful, loving environments are better at recognising and calling out this sort of stuff, and at having relationships which aren't fundamentally based on trauma bonding. When you're not from a respectful, loving family, you have to learn that either the hard way, or educate yourself on the ins and outs of human dysfunction.
This is the resource I wish I'd had as a teenager: https://littleredsurvivor.com/
This is also very useful: https://theinvisiblescar.wordpress.com/
It's probably more useful to thoroughly understand and work through your family of origin stuff, than to work on the current-relationship stuff, because it's our family of origin that's shaped us so much originally (and much of it unconsciously, for us, and against our own wills and covert ideals), and all that holds the hidden key to the patterns you see in your early romantic relationships (20s is still early
). Also, to keep finding healthy, safe, decent people to hang out with, and to minimise your contact with people who are destructive to your wellbeing and emotional health.
This thing you said: Not to mention, because of my childhood, I want to raise my own future children with the kind of father that doesn't get aggressive. I want them to be raised with an experience that cements "violence is not the answer".
...I think that's a really important idea you've got. Isn't it funny how our own maternal instincts can tell us things about the men we may be attracted to, that's not in their favour? The deciding crunch factor in my leaving my first serious romantic partner (dysfunctional relationship) at age 24 was thinking to myself one day, "I'm never going to have children, because I wouldn't want them to live like this." And then a little voice at the back of my mind said, "So why are you accepting that for yourself?" Wow. Point taken - that was it for me. Now get that very live and strong maternal instinct of yours, and put it to your own service - and mother your own self, and the little girl you once were, and be to her the kind of mother that you ought to have had.
Love and best wishes
Sue PS: Still awake?