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The Surprising Ways You Are Stuck In Recovery

How long before I am healed?

That is the most common question I am asked during consults. Will it be 6 months? 2 years? A decade still?

How long before I can move on and start my life? So much time has been “wasted” already. 

The Path Of Recovery

Of course, I don’t have a specific answer. None of us do. I can explain what types of relief and transformations and tools you can gain in 5, 10, 15 sessions, but it’s not the number of hours you spend in front of a coach, it’s the investment you make in yourself; taking the insights and strategies learned in session and applying them in the moments of your life that really suck. 

That’s why the work is so hard.

Most of us are blessed with keen personal insight. I am always impressed and fascinated by my client’s self-awareness. Many of you have read the books, done therapy for years, and done a lot of self-investigation already. 

This self-awareness has been so profoundly transformative in and of itself that we think just having knowledge of what happened to us, how it affects us, and why we are held back is enough to make us “better”. 

If we know so much, why are we still stuck?

It is because our body is still trying to survive.

We can KNOW what we need to do, and not be able to actually do it. This isn’t weakness. This is human. Because taking a strategy or tool that sounds easy in theory, breaking it down and using it when the triggers feel like they are taking over, is not just hard…it’s physically SCARY for your body.

Why? Because trying more adaptive and recuperative healing methods means you are shedding and leaving behind your former coping strategies. You feel exposed. Unprotected. These strategies were there because they kept you safe. 

But they kept you stuck, too.

To stop using them feels like going into a battlefield without your armour because your armour was getting too heavy. We KNOW what we need to do intellectually. But it FEELS insane and unsafe. 

Survival Mode “To The Rescue”

Some types of armour live on and in us, like “tattoos” of protection painted across our bodies. These are the survival modes we find ourselves in, often without realizing it. 

Trauma detaches us from our bodies. Fragments us. The recovery work of trauma is “re-creating autonomy, agency and active participation in our lives” (that is the brilliant insight of my friend and mentor, Heather Morgan). But when we are in survival mode, we cannot actively participate. We are not in control, and thus we do not have agency or autonomy. 

It is hard to even recognize that you are in survival mode, precisely because survival mode takes you away from the awareness of self. That is how it protects you. It is like being in “shock” to prevent you from feeling immense pain after getting a nasty wound. Except with trauma – especially attachment trauma – the wound is raw and gaping throughout your whole life. The pain is omnipresent. As a result, you need to stay away from yourself. 

The Five “F’s”

These are the 5 ways we stay away from ourselves. 


You may see yourself in many of these strategies. We all move in and out of them. There is not one that is “better” or “worse” than the other. These are simply “archetypes” or jumping-off points to help you explore yourself more deeply, They are not clinical categories, diagnoses, or any official psychological-emotional metric. 

YOU get to decide what fits for you and what doesn’t. YOU get to decide the truth about yourself. YOU are in control. YOU have choice. 

  • Fight: You speak the truth. You shout it from the rooftops. You call people out. You feel the rawness of your anger and the injustice. And you fight for change. You are an advocate for others, but you do not settle into yourself or your life. Living your life feels like quitting. You are on a quest for vindication. Your hurt is deeply embedded in you. It is hard for you to move away from hurt and anger into peace because letting go feels like letting people get away with it. So you stay on guard. You live in your feelings. No one can break your barrier into your heart. Your heart is kept safe behind your weapons. You’re fighting for peace, not war. But you are afraid to leave the battlefield to discover what peace feels like. 
  • Flight: You are anywhere but in the present moment. You will do any job, but the one that makes you happy. You will stay in a relationship that isn’t the right one, isn’t the joyful one. You stay safe by avoiding yourself. By avoiding pleasure. Because you were taught how dangerous it was to love yourself. You struggle to believe you are worthy. You are so terrified your family may be right about you, that you do not face yourself ever. When it comes to attachment wounds, flight isn’t about running away from the danger, it is about running away from yourself, your life, your potential. 
  • Freeze: You shut down. You numb out. You are on autopilot for most of your life, but perhaps you function “well” because of it. You take care of others as a way to feel things – other people’s pain and emotions become stand-ins for your own. They are a safer way to feel things because if you were to feel, the intensity would drown you. You no longer really access your own felt experiences. You are an expert at intellectualizing and talking about your pain; you are superb at telling your story. You can evoke such deep emotions in others. But you cannot be with your own. 
  • Fawn: You people please. You contort yourself to be exactly what other people need. You stay safe by not being yourself, but by being perfect for others. You are kind beyond necessity. You struggle with boundaries, but it’s because you are so generous. You prove to yourself and others that you aren’t the cruel, problematic person your family made you out to be. You struggle so much with giving yourself permission for self-care, for your own needs. You have lost touch with what interests you. What do you even like? You wonder “who am I?”
  • Force: This survival tactic was discovered by Heather Morgan of I’ve adapted it for survivors of narcissistic and scapegoating abuse: You are a fixer. You believe you can heal your family, or you can make the sour relationship with your narcissistic partner work. You will try harder. You won’t give up. You stay safe by being the pillar; the rock that keeps everything intact. You have difficulty accepting circumstances. You believe that If you keep trying, you will get the loving, safe, family you deserve. You have a hard time admitting defeat and that dysfunction is not your fault, and entirely out of your control. You feel afraid of change, of risk. Of stepping away. Dysfunction feels safer than the unknown. 

You may have one main survival mode tattooed over your life. And then you may have other ones that hop on board when you face triggers. It’s not uncommon to bounce between different types of survival. 

When we are fragmented, moving between survival strategies can even “mimic” being embodied; being fully alive. Going from people pleasing (fawn) to fight mode for example can feel like suddenly having agency. 

But in reality, there is only the feeling of being stuck, and the desire to get somewhere else. Somewhere that feels more full, more whole, more engaging, hopeful, energized, fulfilling and joyful. Somewhere more alive. 

If you are unsure whether you are stuck in survival, ask yourself: Am I just behaving on autopilot – going through the motions of life – or am I fully feeling and making intentional choices for myself? What does it feel like to let pain course through you? What does it feel like to stand up for yourself? What does it feel like to make a choice that is right for you, even when it disappoints people? What does it feel like to put yourself first? What does it feel like to know deeply who you are or what you want, and then act on it?

Wherever you are at – it is a good start! There is no bad response when it comes to recovery. Moving from freeze to fight is, after all, getting unstuck. Moving from fawn, to force is an act of taking more charge. You are doing well. Keep going. 

Let’s keep you moving through and then out of survival.

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  1. What you say about speaking your truth has been strong to me.
    In the end it’s not about defending and explaining yourself anymore. Trying to convince them about the distorsions about their biased narritives about you.
    I finally found it had no use at all. They are so ingrained in their narritve/believe-system it’s like in a cult/extreme religious dogma.

    To doubt this induced dogma about you would mean they have to doubt their believe-system and question themselfes.
    This is too hard to take I think.

    Result is they will keep blaming and shaming you to keep their ‘psychotic’ views about you alive. To admitt they maybe made some very bad ‘believes’ about you and abused you in their wake would be too hard to digest. Really confronted with the shame about the ways they abused you is too hard to take. Much easier to try to keep you in the ‘scapegoat-postition’ at all times.

    I served well as a designated scapegoat all my live. And this is not something they want to change I learned the hard way. They are just too scared or/and egocentric/opportunistic to ever consider your feelings of pain and loss. While most of them consiously know they are hurting you by intend.

    It’s not only an unconsious process that plays out actively. They are fully aware they wish to brake their ‘enemy’. Their truthteller. They’ll never accept the truth for they don’t want to, for it doesn’t serve them in anyway. Keeping a scapegoat is a lot easier to south themselfes.

    Profound is your message anyone should stop explaining their truth only for the sake of being heard by those willingly ‘blind’ people. Own your truth. You know by now what is ‘gaslighting’ and what’s real. Don’t doubt it anymore.
    The validation you get on sites like this helps a lot to stop wondering and stop doubting.
    You were not crazy but your (narcissistic) family system was.
    And they made you the designated scapegoat.

    A role you’ll never get rid off no matter how hard you try.
    It took me ~20 years to come to this conclusion after the passing of my younger brother recently and the interactions I had with two siblings afterwards. The shame-blame to me started within half a minute during the conversations after years of no-contact.

    I gave up finally and mailed them to never ever contact me again in any circumstances and blocked their phonenumbers and adresses right after. It’s still sad but a relieve. Their final betrayel of me by not informing me in time (only almost 2 months later) about the passing of my younger brother did the trick. I’m finally completely done with them.

    Rebecca Mandeville gave me the insights to push through just in time. I’m very gratefull to her.
    Your blog provides further validation and insights.

  2. I can’t tell you how much your writing has meant to me! Im so grateful I found you on Rebecca Mandeville’s youtube channel, and hope to see more of your writing and videos. Especially your writing, you really have a gift. Thanks much for all you do!

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