I have been mistreated. I don’t think anyone would deny that. As a child, I was treated poorly because I didn’t have a choice. I was trapped. I could not escape. As a young adult, I was mistreated because I had been taught I was worthless, so I didn’t know how to kick nasty people out of my life. I kept trying to make them happy like I did in childhood. Now I know better. I don’t allow mistreatment any longer. Even my 9-year-old children know I have boundaries and sort of respect them most of the time.

But there is another side to this story. As a survivor of complex trauma, it is easy to focus on all the ways I have been victimized. It is easy to feel like an innocent player in this game of dysfunction. But the reality is different. It is true that as a child, I had no part in it. But as an adult, I was a survivor. And survivor means survival. It means my main goal as a child was to stay alive. And as an adult, the main goal didn’t change.

I put all of my energy in to my survival. Granted, it was mainly my inner parts. And with my recent discovery of my dissociative identity disorder, I am aware I didn’t always have control over what they did. That being said, my actions were motivated by one goal … to stay alive. So what did that look like?

I didn’t have time for friendship. Don’t get me wrong. I had friends. But I would never contact them. If they didn’t reach out to me, the friendship would just fade away. My closest friends were people I interacted with for business or other obligations because in those cases, I felt like I was doing something productive. Having a conversation about life, children or personal stuff never made the priority list until recently. And to be fair, this is a work in progress.

I was mean. It wasn’t just about time. It was about my defenses. In a way, I didn’t want people around because I never knew when I would explode. If my inner defender was triggered in some way, that poor person was going down. If my defender was triggered, the situation was life or death, and others’ feelings were not considered.

I said what I believed the other person wanted to hear. This has always been my strategy. Learn the person as quickly as possible. What do they like? What do they want from me? What makes them mad? And do everything I can to keep them happy. This leads to all sorts of inconsistency and to be honest, lying. I was accused of being fake on multiple occasions, but safety came first.

I did not prioritize fun activities in my life. I found no joy is hanging out with others. Of course, since I was always trying to meet their needs, that makes sense. There is no fun in that. I was always looking to do the next productive thing, the next thing that would take me to the next destination I needed to be. The phrase “Life is a Journey” was a joke to me. I didn’t have time for any journey. I had to get stuff done. I had to stay safe. I had to check things off the list to make sure there was no more mistreatment. If it didn’t meet those needs, it wasn’t on my list.

My priorities in life made sense considering my past, but unfortunately, they were messed up. And it led to very little positive interaction with others. The only people who responded well to my excessive people-pleasing were people who wanted to take advantage of it. And that is how life went for me until I started building awareness and shifting priorities.

Doing what it takes to survive doesn’t have to be a way of living. It has been possible to make changes in the way I view life. But it has required a brave honesty about how I have interacted with others. I have to balance my own history of childhood victimization with how that history has affected my part in adult relationships. I have to balance my undeserved self-blame with taking responsibility for my life. I have to accept that in my adult life, people treated me in accordance with what I allowed at the time. And I have to accept that inner and outer change is possible.

Actually, it is empowering to know that I can make change happen. Otherwise, it feels completely hopeless.

So I keep moving through my own recovery. I keep allowing more and more truth to shine through. Some truth is about how I was mistreated. Some truth is about how I was mistreating others. But I have to become who I was meant to be . I have to let go of those old patterns and the shame that comes with them. It is not these interactions that showed my true character. It is this path of recovery and my willingness to change that shows my true self. And there is no shame in that.