i spent most of my life post abuse feeling like i was standing on the edge of a precipice peering into the impenetrable darkness looking for answers. always acting on the thought that the answers lie in following and unpacking the pathology of some mental process which led to a current fixated state of thinking.
but since i have fallen in love with the study of neurobiology, i have taken it out of the realm of mental and begun to understand it as a function of the ingrained neural wiring patterns of the brain. and they are not really playing tricks on us. they are just firing synapses according to the way thought and feeling perceptions compute and form their circuitry which we reinforce every moment until we do something to change their regular paths of behavior.
i liken it to this old joke about the dog who will not be house trained. the master comes home every day from work to find that the dog has soiled the carpet. angry, the master opens the window, picks up the dog by the scruff of the neck, and tosses it out the window [don't worry it's a first floor window.....]. this happens repeated day after day. then one day the master comes home from work, sees the same thing, begins to go through his regular process, but on seeing his approach, the dog runs to the window, opens it, and proceeds to jump out.
that's what happens in our brains. eventually the neural transmitter take over, and since the power of decision is no longer necessary, it is removed from the process, which ultimately become involuntary.
in terms of the social connection, i did the same thing. my brain never fully developed that social connectivity, because it was never imparted originally by my primary caregiver, and thus no paths were in place to expand upon, to generate greater potentiality. as a result the dysfunctional patterns of attachment that were wired in me as a result of a lack of contingent relational interactivity, left me in such a state as to interpret all new situations i encountered throughout my life as being strange, and therefore a threat to my sense of well-being and security. without having developed a palette of flexible responses in relation to strange situations i encountered, i was left to, like the dog who throws himself out the window after soiling the carpet, to fall back on the old regular and now involuntary reactions that had been reinforced though out my life.
understanding this as the primary shaping criteria for many of my actions, reactions and seemingly selective behaviors helps me to take an active part in restructuring my old automatic choices.
in terms of social anxiety, what i have come to realize, is that because i never developed the initial pathways that would lead to expanded social connections, and because these were further impeded by the experience of sexual abuse which interrupted my mental capacity to engage in relations that did not fit the model established by my abusers, i would be destined to keep repeating what was already a pattern established in my brain, that being withdrawal.
patterns of withdrawal provided the solution for a security that could not be found in my attempts at connecting with others. sure, i used my mind to trick myself into developing the talents of my own natural resources, but i always lived my life hiding behind my puny powers as a shield to protect me from participating in the larger culture. as long as i felt strong and powerful in my vocational role, then i didn't need anything else.
until, that is, i began to sense a gnawing unidentified anxiety that told me i was missing something. adn the something i was missing was my connection to larger causes than those in my own narrow world.
it was realizing that that turned on the switch for me. in my own tiny safe world, i had climbed many mountains. i chose the ones i knew were conquerable. i learned how to avoid withdrawl in my own small circles.
but now i am being beckoned to greater causes than my own safe one. and this is where i must begin to deny the tendency to withdraw from the new strange situations that present themselves daily, and challenge myself to muster up the courage to approach new situations without the accompanying fear and trepidation that precipitates a sense of dreaded rejection.
as i realize that i begin to create new wiring, giving myself the smallest goals each day: see a stranger as a potential friend, see a new situation as an opportunity for expanding my limitations. and all of a sudden old depressions subside, and spring arises in the brain as it blossoms once again in new realm of possibility, where hope and creativity nest unimpeded.
patterns of withdrawal can be eliminated when replaced by the new approach practices. it is scary, and challenging, and yes, it takes a loooong time, but at some point i have to become the champion in the conquest and triumph over all that the experience of sexual assault and abuse has levied in my life. as you say, we must do it ourselves. but i submit that we not change our minds, but our brains, and the mind will follow.