So I have heard of soldiers getting flashbacks when they hear loud noises or have someone sneak up on them, and rape victims getting flashbacks during sex or when walking someplace that seems similar to where they were attacked. What is my most common source of flashbacks? Hand washing a big pile of dishes. Yep. Household chores trigger me just as bad as somebody taking off a belt, folding it in half, and lightly cracking it against their palm. I also live in an apartment without a dishwasher and when I am standing there, kitchen sponge in hand, I (like many other people who probably have a more ordinary level of distaste for dishwashing) regularly tell myself that my next home will need to have a dishwasher and a fireplace.
Every time I stick my hands into a big pile of dishes (somehow just a few plates in the sink doesn’t usually do it) I feel yucky. It’s not just because washing dishes is a kind of yucky job. It is because it was my job, one of my daily chores from age 10 to age 15, when my family moved to a house with a dishwasher. For the first three years I was still homeschooled, so it was three times a day, once after every meal. If I waited too long after a meal or didn’t clean a dish well enough or accidentally broke a glass, I often got beaten and berated by my Dad or nagged at, threatened, and micromanaged by my Mom. Dad would sometimes hit, kick, grab, or shove me in front of the sink, sometimes just for being there, it seemed like. Also, there were so many kids it seemed to take forever to wash all the dishes. So now when I wash dishes I often find myself feeling on edge and just kind of hating myself, feeling 12 again. Sometimes I get flashbacks where I don’t really remember anything except the feeling of being grabbed, slapped, hit, or knocked against the counter and cabinets.
I have learned that briefly (and lightly) digging my nails into the palms of my hands will help snap me out of it if I go there. Also, things that help me remember this is not the same situation are helpful, like standing on a nice squishy kitchen rug, using good-smelling dish soap, listening to loud alternative rock, or having someone whose company I enjoy there to help me dry dishes and put them away. That last one is my favorite actually, because it’s really nice, the job gets done faster, and (surprisingly, considering how many people I shared a home with) it’s something that never happened growing up.
I wonder how my parents could expect me to grow up to be a decent wife and mother (as they imagined the role) if they were causing me to be traumatized by household activities, but I have realized that these questions don’t have sensible answers. They weren’t thinking. They likely did what they did because they had no understanding of what it was doing to me and little knowledge of who or what I was. They just felt frustrated that I wasn’t being properly submissive and attentive like they expected a woman-in-training to be. Also, being abusive towards someone else is a brief release and respite from your own pain, because ultimately living this way is happy for no one.
Hi! I just came across your blog and 1) congrats on breaking free from your previous life and 2) your post about PTSD and chores made me think of this post from Unfuck Your Habitat:
While it may not be completely relevant to your situation it may help to know that you’re not alone in this aspect of your life.
Thanks for the link and the nice note. 🙂
Fortunately my issue with housecleaning isn’t quite that bad, but I definitely am still prone to marathon cleaning sessions with certain chores since that’s what I grew up with, and the fact that two weeks’ worth of my laundry now would be about three days’ worth in such a big family as I grew up in. I also was not introduced to modern cleaning products like Windex, 409 spray, or Mr. Clean magic erasers until having roommates. I was like “Wow – these things are awesome!”
My PTSD used to kick in big time at the slightest suggestion of a new “schedule”. As in, regular get-up times, exercise times, mealtimes, and bedtimes. Oh, my. My poor husband.
I hire a cleaning service to keep up with the household chores. My house gets “reset” once a month and it’s worth every penny.
Ha ha, wow, I absolutely hate to have an alarm set for days I don’t have to get up early and I am so bad about schedules that I rebel against even the ones I make myself…
I may end up getting a cleaning service at some point. I figure if I got one I’d probably love it and never want to go back. :p
Hi, I have PTSD from being violently attacked and almost killed in 2013. My worst trigger…doing dishes. It was so bad, my dishes would often pile up for days and days. Unlike you, I was not abused or attacked anywhere near my kitchen, so it was confusing and frustrating to me. My therapist is helping me better understand what it is about doing dishes that triggers these flashbacks. Doing dishes is such a mindless chore. A perfect opportunity for those dark memories to creep in. Music has helped me tremendously, both singing and listening to it during chores.
Thanks for posting this. I have a lot of difficulty with domestic things, and have started to work on it with a therapist. Not sure exactly what is going on for me, why I get so angry. I wasn’t allowed to do chores growing up, and was in many other ways infantilized, so leaving home was fairly traumatic. I didn’t even know how to grocery shop. But I don’t understand why I feel so much resistance and anger when I start to clean or organize my own space. I’m sorry you went through the abuse, and grateful that you chose to share parts of it here. It helps me knowing others have these feelings too.
this is me and my past too