Trigger Warning – Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Cannot Help and Yet Continue to Fight Against Daily

Clearly the author of this list, Amy Morin, hasn’t heard of Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD or Complex PTSD, just to name a few trauma-induced personality disorders. Many of the behaviours on this list are symptoms of those disorders, as people who suffer them are given no choice but to do whatever it takes in order to physically survive the situations they have no escape from, or control over.

While the things she advises in this list are, of course, stepping stones to freeing your psyche from the burdens that disable your ability to analyse and recover from life’s difficulties, the tone with which it is written is extremely offensive when you consider that millions of people in the world suffer extensive trauma on a daily basis – trauma which often results in the manifestation of those disorders previously mentioned – these are not disorders that one is born with, they are disorders developed following trauma.

That is the key message that must be heeded here. People who suffer these disorders didn’t have a choice in their abuse, and they don’t have a choice in the symptoms they experience as a result of that abuse.

I think it is incredibly irresponsible for a “licensed clinical social worker”, as Forbes describes Amy Morin, to completely disregard the personality disorders which are comprised mostly of the “13 things” in her list, when mental illness is still so incredibly stigmatised in society.

I’d love to see Amy Morin read this list, out loud, to the face of childhood sexual assault victims, or those who have grown up in or endured abusive environments for years on end, where every ounce of power was stripped from them, forcing them to adapt their thoughts and behaviour permanently, in order to survive.

Recovery from these disorders requires the sufferer to spend every single moment of their day fighting instincts they were conditioned to experience in order to survive their physical, mental and emotional traumas – instincts which are no longer required when the traumatic situation ceases, but instincts that remain part of their psyche and their body for the rest of their lives, thus impacting the way in which they interact with and navigate the world.

Recovery requires the sufferer to ACCEPT and FORGIVE themselves, whilst REWIRING EVERYTHING THAT THEY HAD TO BECOME IN ORDER TO PHYSICALLY REMAIN IN THIS WORLD. They have to take responsibility for what was done to them, as well as the way they reacted. They have to take responsibility for keeping their natural instinct at bay as it is generally not appropriate for their current situation and can have a profound effect on the people in their lives.

So you’re sort of right, Amy Morin: mentally strong people don’t 1. “waste time feeling sorry for themselves”. What they do is feel sorry for the horrendous abuse they had to endure at the behest of someone else. And then they turn themselves inside out keeping the effect of that away from other people, whilst recalling that abuse over and over and over.

They don’t 2. “give away their power” – their power was stripped from them – they never had a choice in the matter.

They 3. “shy away from change” because they are terrified by change -their lives have been spent following strict rules of survival, and many “changes” they experienced quite often signalled a new form of abuse, often in the form of gaslighting.

They 4. “waste energy on things they can’t control” because their abusers ensured they didn’t HAVE control. Many of them NEVER had control, so when they escaped their abusive situation, they had no idea how to make decisions for themselves, they were used to being controlled at all times so they find tiny things that they can control and they focus intently on them.

They DO 5. “worry about pleasing others” because pleasing others was what may have downscaled their beatings from “life-threatening” to “permanent scarring”, for example.

They 6. “fear taking calculated risks” because every single chance they took to escape their abuse resulted in some form of “punishment”. Everything, except allowing the abuse to continue, is a risk to people who have endured trauma. Clearly, allowing the abuse to continue is also a risk, but it’s one they know better than freedom.

They certainly 7. “dwell on the past” because despite being conditioned to believe that they deserve everything committed against them, there is a voice inside that screams at them, asking them to explain why they “allowed it to happen”. There is a voice that doesn’t let them wholly accept that they deserved their abuse – a voice that tells them “something isn’t right”. And they dwell on the past because in most occasions, their abuse wasn’t acknowleged, either by the perpetrator or those who could have helped them. The ongoing effects of that abuse also aren’t being acknowledged as something they can’t control, rather they are being blamed for being a bad person because others do not understand why they act in certain ways. Even when the abuse by the perpetrator ceases, the behaviours learned in order to survive, remain, and these behaviours do not fit with normal, healthy relationships. The victim is viewed as a perpetrator as their behaviour can sometimes unfairly affect the people in their lives. Consequently, they spend much of their time explaining their past, to justify their current behaviour.

They most definitely 8. “Make the same mistakes over and over”, because safe environments feel unsafe. The whole “Better the Devil you know” scenario. They spend the remainder of their lives in a state of hypervigilance, waiting for the penny to drop, for the rug to be pulled from under them.. if they’re in a situation they know (abusive), it feels like home, despite “home” being the least safe place for them. They are conditioned to accept abuse because they’ve been conditioned to believe they don’t deserve otherwise.

Some of them 9. “Resent other peoples’ success”, particularly those suffering Borderline Personality Disorder, because they can’t fathom what is so intrinsically wrong with THEM, that they were made to suffer at the hands of someone else. Many things feel like a personal attack. When you haven’t done anything to deserve the horrendous way you’ve been treated, you in turn can’t understand why others have a seemingly blessed life, free from hardship.

Many 10. “give up after failure” because their entire everyday life is spent in a state of “trying”. Trying to please their abusers, trying to avoid the next beating, molestation, or phrase that might trip your paranoid, psychotic partner into gaslighting you to ensure your continued compliance. Trying to navigate the world with a head full of trauma. The idea of trying something outside mere physical and mental survival is overwhelmingly exhaustive, and to be frank, not a goddamn motherfucking priority when simply making it to the shops without breaking down is something that takes 2 hours of intense “talking yourself up” to accomplish. Any sense of failure carries with it the weight of every other failure they have experienced throughout their lifetime.

A lot of them 11. “fear alone time” because being alone means being left with memories. Being left with self-hatred. It means staring at walls because you don’t know how to make plans because someone made them for you for 5 years and if you dared to make a decision for yourself, you were punished. A lot of them also fear being with other people, or being around a particular scent, or sound, or time of year, because it triggers horrendous memories and emotions that overwhelm them.

Some of them 12. “feel the world owes them something” because nobody protected them from the trauma in the first place. It isn’t always that people ignored them, many simply weren’t aware, and the abuser ensured the victim had no voice with which to seek help. Once they leave that abusive situation, and begin to comprehend what was done to them, they get angry, and they  demand recompense from whoever they can get it from.

Many of them 13. “expect immediate results” because simply comprehending their life, their abuse, the effect it has had on their psyche, is a long and exhaustive process, and they are desperate for the pain, anguish and exhaustion to disappear. They want to be normal, to be happy, and it feels extremely unfair that despite all they’ve gone through, the only way to reach a sense of normality, where their instincts and lives can become part of the world again without it wreaking more havoc, is a long, drawn out one where they often have to examine their abuse in detail and wonder whether they’ll ever reach the end of that road. They want immediate results for the other aspects of their lives because simply existing as they are takes everything they have.

While I do see where Amy Morin is coming from with this list, I feel very strongly that she has done a sincere disservice to people who not only have to suffer the results of their abuse on a daily basis, but also the stigma that surrounds the resulting mental illness, and the incredibly difficult task of surviving life, even when they have managed to escape the abuse.

If a person genuinely wishes to help me in my recovery, I ask them to first and foremost do some research on Complex PTSD.  I am happy to answer questions and clarify the ways in which this affects my life, as the purpose of recovery is to establish and maintain healthy relationships – healthy for me, and healthy for the other people involved.

Mental illness is already difficult enough to live with, without the stigma attached. I’d like to see the world working to break down this stigma, rather than reinforcing it. 

People cannot help their mental illness. That doesn’t take away their responsibility to manage it to the best of their ability. Blaming them for being who they are, however, helps no-one.

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15 thoughts on “Trigger Warning – Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Cannot Help and Yet Continue to Fight Against Daily

  1. She sounds incredibly out of touch and I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact she is a clinical social worker. Then again, we have several social workers who are some of the most judgmental and hateful people working in our hospital, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t read the original article, but based off your recap I feel like she just sat down and made this stuff up– like you said, it completely dismisses the effects of trauma which can often result in mental illness. People just do not understand that connection– EVERY TIME I talk to someone new about working in a psych hospital they ask “why” people go “crazy” and when I tell them about how trauma affects the mind they are blown away. It’s a totally new concept to people who aren’t in the inner circle. So, like you said– we need to do something about the stigma. And her article is not helping.

    • Thanks so much for commenting Aussa, I was hoping to get your point of view on this.

      Breaking down the stigma wall is one of the most important jobs we all have, otherwise we’re never going to reach a point where mental health is accessible to everyone, and recovery a real possibility.

      Mental health isn’t just an issue for those who suffer from disorders, but every single person in their world…

  2. Very true. I thinks she’s talking about resilience mostly. Which is an important life skill, for the abused it’s one we have to learn as adults. It takes a lot of time and effort to acquire resilience. It seems to me she expects us to wake up one day and say ‘today I’m going to be resilient’ which, as we know, is totally f**king ridiculous. It also undermines the experience and validity of those with mental health issues. Thanks for writing that.

    • Thanks for commenting.

      I certainly see the points she was making, and I don’t inherently disagree – many of them are required places to get to in order to progress through the recovery and management of trauma.

      I just wish that when lists like this were being compiled, the authors would preface them with a disclaimer that states that this list does not pertain to those suffering mental illness or recovering from trauma, as unfortunately, lists and sentiments such as these are offered by well-wishers in an attempt to help us “get better”.

      What would help, would be if people researched the actual illness before commenting, and then they would gain a little more understanding of the reasons we can’t just wake up one day and say ‘today i’m going to be resilient’.

      I don’t go up to someone diagnosed with cancer and tell them to try harder to get better…

    • In addition to that – it’s been 15 years (today actually) since I married my abusive boyfriend, who then continued to be a verbally abusive, and violent behavioral husband. Doesn’t matter he never really hit me. I wish sometimes he did, I probably could have hated him more, seen the evidence of the abuse in the flesh, instead of excusing his “bad mood” on external reasons like a hard day at work, or too much to drink.
      Those memories are fresher than what I ate for dinner last night, and still cause my heart-rate to scream up the upper echelons of the maximum limit.
      Some memories deserve to be erased..

      • 15 years today, ugh!
        *hugs and happy thoughts*

        Glad you made it out of there physically, glad you’re still fighting the mental fight to get through it… sorry you have to 😦

        xx

  3. Thank you so much for this. I read this list the other day and was so sad because according to it, I’m not strong. A lot of why it took me so long to seek help was I was trying to not feel sorry for myself. I was trying not to dwell on the past. We’ve got so far to go in the way of smashing stigma related to mental health.

    • Thank you for commenting, Clair.
      The inspiration to write this came when someone else I know who also has C-PTSD expressed their feelings about that list, and they were just the same as mine.

      One of the biggest things I struggle with is whether or not I am “allowed” to feel the way I do. The moment that’s questioned, my resolve crumbles and I return to that sycophantic little “yes sir” girl I was whenever my feelings were invalidated.

      And that’s exactly what this list does to anyone suffering mental illness – it invalidates their experience and their illness, reinforcing every single roadblock thrown in their way by people who may mean well, but are ignorant of the illness, as well as those abusers who put us here in the first place.

      Speaking out like this always makes me feel a little bit sick once I’ve pressed “post”, and there were some issues when this automatically posted to my Facebook which then had me questioning other things, so it really does make me feel better knowing that this post has given comfort to someone else.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      • Agree fully and yes, absolutely on feeling sick once I hit ‘post’. Every day is one step closer to feeling better xx

  4. Right on point! This Amy lady sounds like someone who learned from a text book instead of life experiences. If you have not experienced it there’s no way you can fully understand the devastating impact PTSD can have on your quality of life on a daily…and nightly…basis. I’m so proud that you are my friend.

    • Thanks Ed,

      I think it’s just tough enough as it is, dealing with the stigma surrounding it, that we don’t need people within the mental health community (or those who counsel people) writing articles like this *without* recognising that there are instances in which these behaviours are part of a diagnosis.

      But… without that article, I wouldn’t have had such a strong reason to articulate my feelings, and maybe now someone who doesn’t suffer these illnesses has a better understanding of exactly what goes on behind the scenes for those of us who do…

      xx

  5. Unfortunately, business magazines like Forbes are rife with this sort of stuff and it really should carry a disclaimer. As Lark Mee alluded to in his comment (hello! I enjoyed our drink on the water), resilience research has been big in recent years, and offers some interesting insights – why do people react to similar circumstances in such different ways (for instance, Holocaust survivors)? Unfortunately, this sort of format – top 5/10 tips, which reels in all those lovely google hits – strips the complexity and nuance from the discussion and makes it seem like resilience is something you can just grab off the supermarket shelf like any consumer product (and by implication, anyone who hasn’t got this quality is just not trying hard enough). And then Forbes adds its own spin to appeal to its alpha male or female audience of executives or would-be executives: it’s telling that they use the term “mentally strong” instead of “resilient”, as if a person’s most important task in life is to build a fortress around any pain or vulnerability and pretend it’s not there, and as if an effort of will is all it takes to overcome. Executive coaching is huge because many people get into positions of power and are confronted, often for the first time, with their own emotional unfinished business or fault lines – say, a tendency to stress, burnout, early experiences catching up with them, or they hit a crisis where life feels completely meaningless; often they’ve been too busy using work as an emotional narcotic, have forgotten how to feel and are surrounded by sycophants. Many want quick fixes, and mags like Forbes are all too happy to oblige with these little nuggets of supposed wisdom, which are like emotional crack cocaine. It is much harder to tell the real story – which defies consolidation into a bullet list – ie., if you have a very painful past how do you get to this state of grace without suppressing and denying that past? That’s a story worth telling but we will alas, probably not find it in Forbes unless it’s a rare first person account.

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