Welcome to the second edition of Dissident Dialogues! Paid subscribers enjoy immediate access to this interview as it’s unfolding in real-time (“rolling” means it’s a work in progress). I will publish each new Q&A as we progress through our conversation. Once we reach the conclusion, I will make the final version available to the public.
Meredith Miller is a holistic coach, author, and speaker who helps people self-heal after narcissistic abuse and other toxic relationships. Her mission is to bridge the gap between trauma and purpose. She teaches mindsets and tactical tools to help with recovery.
In 2020, Meredith began speaking out about the psychological abuse patterns—from the micro to the macro—she was observing in the New Normal world. Her holistic perspective on the global events underway can help us understand the baffling behavior of others while offering inner solutions for addressing our collective and individual trauma.
MAA: You are a holistic coach with a focus on trauma, narcissistic abuse, and toxic relationships. At your Inner Integration website, you confide that you are “a survivor of over three decades of psychological and sexual abuse.” And yet you radiate joy and exemplify your mission of bridging the gap between trauma and purpose. Can you take us through your journey from trauma to purpose? How did you bridge that gap in your personal life before you began to help others do the same?
MM: For decades, I lived as a captive. The word captivity might evoke an image of physical confinement. However, captivity can also be a state of consciousness, and one that can endure long after a person has left a relationship or situation involving abuse.
Psychologically, neurologically and spiritually, I was trapped in that perception of reality. That’s why I call it a psychoneurospiritual state of captivity. It felt like there was no way out. Even after I would leave abusers, I couldn’t shake off that state. Now, looking back and observing from a very different level of consciousness, I realize I must’ve thought that was just normal life because it was all I had known.
A person who married into my family and eventually found out about the pedophilia of my grandfather and one of his brothers said, “All families are dysfunctional, but some families are really fucked up.” My family was the latter. Though on the surface, you might see something that more resembled a Norman Rockwell painting.
The worst part about the abuse is when people pretend it didn’t happen. When I learned the term gaslighting, that’s when my whole life started making a lot more sense.
I came from a family where the legacy of abuse was passed down, generation after generation. It was mostly unspoken, as if the silence about the abuse somehow meant that it didn’t happen or it wasn’t real. It was impossible for me to communicate this to anyone, or even articulate it to myself, because it was disguised as normality.
Often when people hear the word “abuse,” they think of a battered woman. But that’s just one face of abuse. In the case of physical abuse, the victim can show bruises and scars as proof that something happened. Some forms of abuse are more overt and obvious. Other forms of abuse are more like death by a thousand cuts. Invisible abuse is much more subtle, hidden, and covert. It’s often disguised as love and kindness. This is why it’s called “crazy-making.”
If you try to talk to other people in the abusive family system about what’s going on, you’ll usually end up feeling like you’re the only one with a problem. When people are dependent on abusers and the abusive system, they will defend the abusers and the system, minimizing or normalizing the abuse. That’s called enabling.
It’s a lot like being in a cult. It’s very isolating because other people don’t understand it, including most therapists and psychologists. It’s not usually part of their training.
When you’re a kid and you sense that something is off, there’s no way out. You have to find a way to survive within your environment, so you develop dysfunctional behaviors to cope with the stress, and that develops into long-term relational patterns in adulthood. For me, that was people-pleasing and codependency. I learned that it was easier to comply, but I had no idea how much that would cost me in the long run.
When I was nineteen, I managed to escape the environment. However, I had emerged into adulthood naïve, unprepared for life, and incapable of recognizing abuse because it felt familiar. So, naturally, even though I thought I was free at last, I fell into abusive relationships over and over again in all areas of my life. The pattern was present in my intimate relationships, friendships, at work, with neighbors, etc. It got worse over the years and decades with every repetition of the trauma. Unresolved trauma compounds over time in the human spirit, mind, and body. Trauma doesn’t add up like addition. It’s more like using the exponential function.
Trauma doesn’t add up like addition. It’s more like using the exponential function.
In my twenties and thirties, I began to study and work in holistic healing while doing lots of inner work on myself. However, I was still stuck in the victim reality loop. I felt like I was running on a gerbil wheel, exerting a lot of effort, yet seemingly getting nowhere.
I worked through some layers of the childhood sexual abuse with practitioners of hypnosis and energetic bodywork as well as during my acupressure emotional balancing training.
However, the more covert psychological abuse was still a huge blindspot in my growth process until my late thirties. This was the stuff no one taught or talked about. As an external reflection of my flattened self-worth, I was barely making enough income to hold my head above the poverty line. There were moments when I was doing okay, but inevitably the bottom would fall out again.
Each time that happened, I’d have dread attacks, curl into the fetal position in bed, and feel like I didn’t have the right to exist. That kept me in survival mode and even drove me to accept horrible living situations by misreading perceived acts of kindness in moments of desperation.
Since I grew up in a family where abuse was disguised as love and home, that became the programming in my nervous system. In adulthood, the only way to rewrite those faulty programs is to face the truth and label what happened, weave all that together into a deeper understanding of the Big Picture, process the emotional residue surfacing from the body, and then integrate the learning. This happens layer by layer over time.
It’s a long process, and it’s brutal. Along the way, there’s still the occasional neurological betrayal that takes place. I was astounded by how powerful the old programming was, even once I had learned the red flags of covert abuse. I still leaned into it a few more times because it felt like love and home.
The conscious mind, the part that memorizes knowledge and facts, goes offline when the neurological programming of trauma gets triggered. It’s like reliving the past superimposed upon the present moment. The trigger reaction is automatic. That’s why people get into repetitive abusive relationships without realizing what’s happening until it’s too late. This is why I spent decades of adulthood repeating the same kinds of trauma and not understanding why it kept happening to me. Every time I was devastated by another abusive relationship, I turned to the original abuser, which only made it worse.