I’ve been thinking a lot about the missing stair analogy of late. For those who don’t know it, it’s the concept that people learn how to warn other group members of a specific member’s vile behavior. After a while, because “everyone knows,” they become like a missing stair everyone knows to step over. Except everyone’s not an insider.
Growing up in a household with abuse is like that missing stair, except it’s the missing doorknob to go outside, the missing section of the floor between you and the monsters, and the missing stair (which leads to different monsters). You learn pretty quickly what escalates vs. what does not and how best to cope—which doesn’t mean that it’s all good by any stretch of the imagination.
When you get out into life, having routed around the doorknob-floor-and-stair problem all your life, you really don’t know how to deal with the fact that the world is full of people whose houses have fully-functional stairs, doorknobs, and floors. It had never occurred to you that floors should be actual floors. And they think you’re pretty strange for that odd jump you do five stairs below the landing.
Some of the problems out there—that poor bastard is missing a whole roof—are even worse.
Sometimes your coping strategies will get you into more trouble, especially when you interact with people you think get you but are broken in differently horrible ways.
I remember not long after leaving Scientology, I was dealing with all of these missing-stair-like problems unraveling at once. As I described it one day, I felt like I’d teleported suddenly into a different emotional landscape where I was blindfolded, everything was in an unfamiliar place, and all the furniture was pointy.
That shift was permanent, and it took some time to get used to, but I remember the imagery that went along with trying to describe it.
Really, I stopped putting up with missing stairs.
Photo credit: Niklas Sjöblom