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Flinch Mechanisms

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An old friend once told me I had an overdeveloped flinch mechanism. He wasn’t wrong.

It wasn’t said in an insulting manner; rather, he was ruefully sympathizing. We’d had a bit of a falling out from what had seemed a very promising friendship, and when we tried to analyze what happened it came down to us both flinching.

As fond as we were of each other, the friendship never fully recovered. He “flinched” by rejecting the friendship, I “flinched” by letting him… and holding him at arm’s length ever after. We both came to regret the flinch and managed to remain friends, but it wasn’t the same after that. We’d broken a crucial aspect of each other’s trust, and we were never really able to let each other in after that.

I do indeed have a very hair-trigger flinch response to anything that seems like it might sting, when it comes to relationships of all sorts. It comes back to childhood trauma. This is something I’ve discussed at length with my therapist because it’s a major contributing factor to the anxiety and depression I struggle with. My parents were adept at using a child’s very natural fear of abandonment to control and manipulate. Don’t get me wrong – they were good parents in a lot of ways. But they were also fundamentally broken people who didn’t really know how not to be broken. My dad tended to withhold himself from people as punishment. My mom responded to any criticism whatsoever, or any attempt to step back from her in any situation, by threatening to leave and “you’ll never have to see (her) again”.

It’s bad enough when you say that to another adult. When you say it to a little kid, it’s horrible. Between this and being a child of divorce anyway, suffice it to say I grew up learning that you cannot ever trust anyone to actually be there with you in the long term.

And to exacerbate all this, I’m HSP. That link contains more info but in a nutshell, all of my sensory inputs are cranked up to 11 all the time. This applies to physical senses – sound, light, smell, etc – as well as emotional senses.

I wonder sometimes if I am actually expecting too much… but then again, I’m not really expecting anything. I try to be circumspect about my thoughts and feelings (knowing they are cranked up to high all the time) but then, I’m told I’m “difficult to read”. I want to tell people what they mean to me, but I’m hyper conscious of not wanting to make them feel pressured… and then I’m told I’m unfeeling. And then there’s that damn self-talk. Am I enough? Am I too much? Should I say more? Should I say nothing? Can’t people just tell me what the fuck they want me to know instead of making me guess? I’m not good at guessing what other people want from me, because my default view is always “Nothing, and they wish you’d fuck off”. Which isn’t the case, but there’s that “flinch” again. Can I learn to just live in the moment without anticipating the need to flinch?

No. No, I can’t. I’ve learned a lot of useful coping mechanisms for calming my monkey brain. Biolateral music/sound. Conscious breathing. Mindful meditation. All of these have helped me to live a more focused, grounded life and to get outside of my own head enough to actually function. If you struggle with anxiety I highly recommend any and all of these.

But I’ve never learned to fully trust that other people will stay, and while some do, the rest don’t just often enough to make it so I have no idea how to learn.

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