My armor developed years ago as a way to protect me from abuse. I think my armor was the way my brain resilience manifested itself. My brain created pathways so that I could handle the world around me. But that wasn’t enough. I needed protection until I get someplace space, and my brain provided that. At first, my armor felt foreign. Then I became used to having it. Throughout my entire life, I had my outer armor to protect me.
I want to know who I am without that armor. It used to have a purpose; to protect me from abuse. I am not in that situation anymore, but I still have the armor. Do I need it? Is it helping me? It was like my therapist read my mind when she asked me why I keep the armor. I created that armor to protect myself as a child growing up in an abusive environment.
I have been pondering this question for weeks, and have written and re-written this particular post, only to walk away to write about something else entirely. I think what has been going on is that I am avoiding answering that question. I don’t want to think about what the answer means for me. But I have recently received some excellent advice to go deeper into these issues. And here I am, rolling up my sleeves to dig in pretty deep.
What I Think
I have to admit that when my therapist asked me why I still have the armor to protect me, I got very defensive and angry. In my head, I thought, ‘what do you mean, leave my armor behind? I need that armor. I am no one without it.’ In case you couldn’t tell, I am very, very afraid of removing my armor and leaving it behind. Without my armor, I am no one.
My armor developed as a defense against the sexual and emotional abuse that I grew up with. Without scientific evidence, just lots of Googling, I am convinced that my brain developed resilience. My brain went through that process to reroute around the parts that had been designed differently because of abuse. To get a deeper dive into that topic, you can check out My Father Broke My Brain and Rerouting Brain to Build Resilience Superhighways.
I can remember being in a very dark place (the day that I attempted suicide for the last time). I think I was ten, maybe eleven years old. I still don’t know what happened within me that day for me to realize that suicide was not the path I was supposed to take. I want to think that was the day my brain started to reroute around the different developed areas of my brain. No matter the reason, it was then that I began to think clearly, without the intense emotional fog.
Abusive Tidal Wave
The question became then, if not suicide, then what would I do? I had to do something to get myself out of that situation. I felt stuck, broken, as I was unable to move forward. I knew that I did not want to be broken anymore. As we all know, wanting something and starting down the path towards that goal are two different things. Not to mention that I was still in an abusive environment.
I don’t know about for others, but for me working on myself meant standing up for myself and pushing back on the emotional abuse. That meant instead of making myself small, I had to step forward into the tidal wave. All that did was increase the abuse. You see, when you start to challenge the family system, the system (abuser) pushes harder (the abuse increases) to get you to stay in your role within the family system.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t try. I did. I am like a bull in a china shop for a reason. I go head first into it and assess the damage afterward. After doing that a couple of times, I realized that I was coming out of it more damaged than anyone else. I was a little tiny ripple standing against a tidal wave. And that tidal wave would crash over me, only to recede and strike again. There was only so much of that I could withstand without completely breaking. I needed a new strategy.
The New Strategy
My armor was that strategy. It started as an accidental strategy. I didn’t have an awareness of it starting years before that dark moment when my brain started to shift, but it did. When I was sexually abused, I created a shell around myself. I would curl around myself, like an armadillo, the outer armor protecting the soft underside.
Eventually, it would get to the point that the outer shell or outer me, and the soft underside or inner me, would separate. When bad things were about to happen, my innermost self would leave—hiding away so it wouldn’t get hurt. Split off, and hide so that it wouldn’t get hurt. And that is how my armor started to develop. It is the outer me protecting the inner me.
I also realized that when no one sees you, the innermost you, they don’t know what you care about. The abuser can’t use what you care about against you. Emotional abuse is all about control and leverage. Emotional abusers will use any angle they can to keep you in line. Your favorite pet, best friend, etc., whatever that is. But when they don’t know what you care about, they can’t use that against you. That was another reason for the armor. It was to decrease the manipulative power of an emotional abuser.
Drop the Armor?
I am still not sure that I want to drop my armor. I am not sure that I can. Really. It isn’t even that I don’t know who I am, okay, it is that a bit. It is also if that inner me is still there somewhere (I assume she is) she won’t have any tools to handle the world. Why would I let myself out unprotected? I would not. Or at least, I don’t think I should.
Is the fear of not being able to handle the world an excuse? Maybe. I am not sure yet. I do know that having stopped drinking; I am more sensitive to external stimuli. If I drop my armor, the world would be on super high volume. I imagine that other things will suddenly become TOO MUCH. I don’t think I can handle that.
My armor has served me so well over the years, why should I get rid of it? If I decide to remove it, can I even do that? Since I believe that my armor is part of my resilience, then it has become a part of me. It is no longer a separate entity. Can I rewire my brain again? If I do, who will I find beneath those layers of protection? Who, indeed?