Trauma, Anxiety and Men

Today I want to talk to you about the way that my anxiety and trauma are intimately related, especially in the way that I relate to men.

This morning’s session with my Psychologist inspired this post. Because they said something so incredibly validating. I was doing what I always do in therapy, ranting about this and that. And I got caught on the topic that I experience anxiety differently to how I think the rest of the world experiences. Or at least how it is portrayed in the media that the rest of the world experiences it.

E looked at me and said “Jess, that is because your anxiety comes from trauma. It is not generalised anxiety.”

My mind was blown. This was something I had been trying to articulate for years and she just summarised it in one perfect sentence.

This epiphany of sorts came from us discussing my rapidly increasing obsessive compulsive tendencies. She asked me where I thought they were coming from. I answered that I had never felt safe in my childhood home (due to sexual abuse). And now I am living in my own home I am becoming obsessed with my new found safety, trying to maintain it at all costs.

The anxiety surrounding these obsessions and compulsions is deeply rooted in my trauma experience. I check the locks because I am scared of monsters getting in. And potentially letting the monsters from within out. It is all about trying to protect my sense of safety. And not just my safety now. It is about trying to protect the safety of the little kid I used to be. The one such horrible things happened to. I am obsessed with no one hurting them again. I check the locks for my younger self who was too short to lock the door.

I just shed a bit of a tear then. I’m not crying, you’re crying!

It’s not just my checking anxiety that is influenced by trauma. There are many situations in life that cause me anxiety that are very similar to one’s that don’t. But the key distinguishing factor is my trauma.

For instance, I do not become fearful when I am alone with or sitting next to women or non-binary buddies. I’m not socially anxious. But when I am alone with a man or in close proximity to one I feel my chest tighten. My mind becomes painfully aware of the energy and space between him and me. My breathing labours. My mind races with the knowledge that they could just reach out and touch me. My skin tingles. And I freeze.

Another example is that I become very anxious in crowds. Not for the reason many others might. I am not claustrophobic (although this is often how I explain it away to people). I am anxious about my body brushing against the bodies of men. Or even about the intentional way many entitled men will trace my waist as they shuffle past me.

Now let’s get one thing straight. I am not a man hater. In fact I love chatting to blokes. One of my favourite things is to talk the boys about the footy. But the thing that underlies all of that is that I am utterly terrified of men. I am constantly on guard among men. Hypervigilant.

And before any of you try telling me that I am making harsh generalisations about men AKA “not all men”. I’d like to remind you that this is a trauma response. And it only takes one man to hurt a child for that child to struggle to trust men again for the rest of their life.

So where does this leave me? Anxious, traumatised and terrified of men. Yepp. And for the way that I experience anxiety, all three of these words mean the same thing to me. Maybe they should invent a new word for I am experiencing? MENinigistis? I’m pretty sure that’s inflammation in the spinal chord but I couldn’t resist the pun.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad my Psychologist equipped me with a new way of explaining my anxiety. Now I can say “Hi, I’m Jess. My anxiety is caused my deeply rooted sexual trauma concerning men. As such, please don’t touch me without my express consent. Nice to meet you.”

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