I believe hypervigilance is the word for what I’ve got going on these days. I’m still coming to terms with the idea that I spent two years being very close with (and investing a fair level of trust in) someone who was fundamentally manipulative and deceptive. That my normal, and usually functional, skills of listening and empathizing and perspective-taking and seeing the things people do in the best possible light were used to take advantage of me. So it’s unsurprising that I’m having some pretty fierce struggles with trust.
Thankfully, I’m not feeling constantly on edge or paranoid. I’m still able to trust the people close to me and experience their love and kindness. But there is a piece of my brain that is always aware of the potential dark side. “That thing he said was lovely and sweet. Notice what it is doing to your emotional state, and how easily it could form a path for manipulation down the line.” I’ve had voices that said this before — I’ve been anxious about vulnerability and manipulation my whole life, which is partly why this is so devastating. But before I would always say, “Yes yes, but that’s not what’s happening here.” Now, I can’t say that, and sometimes when I try I start to freak out. I had a weird, stupid fight with Shaun this weekend, because a car almost ran us down while walking through the city, and he said he wished he’d keyed it as it passed. I don’t condone property damage as retaliation for dangerous jerkassery, and neither does he: he was pissed and riding an adrenaline surge and agreed later that he wouldn’t have actually done it or believed it was justified. But I lost it, extrapolating to the very worst possible implications of what he’d said and unable to let it go. I believe words like “morally reprehensible” were tossed around. We talked it through later, so that’s fine. But what sticks with me is the memory of trying to get to my usual place of “give this person you know and love the benefit of the doubt re: not being horrible,” and my entire body going, “NO.” Apparently that’s not a thing I’m able to do right now.
I have a mental map of what it would look like if each of the people close to me was actually a sociopath: things they said and did that I’d re-interpret as being signs I should have picked up on; kind and lovely things they said and did that would turn out to be part of an agenda; beliefs that I would have to re-evaluate. That’s a super-weird thing to admit in words, and it’s probably kind of weird for People Close To Me who are reading this. Sorry. I don’t dwell on these maps and I certainly don’t believe them, but they’re there. Previous to all the shit going down with our former household, I had this kind of map for exactly one person: him. Every interaction I had with him, after our first failed breakup, was viewed through this weird double lens: this is what this would mean if he were the person he claims to be; this is what this would mean if he were secretly a callous self-serving liar. I scolded myself a lot for having such a detailed mapping of this person’s secret sociopath self, and when it turned out to be scarily accurate, apparently my brain decided I needed to have one for EVERYBODY. Not sure how that logic works, but my brain is firm on it.
In general I’m able to co-exist with this hypervigilant piece of my brain. It doesn’t bother me too much unless I try to silence it altogether. Then it throws a royal freakout. I know it’s trying to protect me from being hurt, so I’ll let it stay around until all of me feels safe again. I will let the people I love and trust prove that they’re worthy of that love and trust over time. In the grand scheme of things, it could be so, so much worse. But it still kind of sucks.