Do you have a gnawing feeling that all is not well – even though you might be successful in many areas of your life?
Do you isolate and often despair? Do you have trouble regulating your emotions and feel guilt and shame for no apparent reason? This might be because you have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD/CPTSD or Childhood PTSD).
Do you recognise any of these statements as being true for you?
- You rarely feel safe – you feel that something awful might happen at any minute. The catastrophe you expect often involves a fall from grace – a humiliation and loss of all that you hold dear.
- You can’t relax, you are permanently tense or rigid.
- You are drawn to people who are emotionally unavailable, people who are disengaged.
- You have difficulty controlling your emotions.
- You suspect that other people are hostile and are out to humiliate you.
- You isolate and dissociate because you find other people difficult.
- You think about ending your life – you would rather not be here.
- You have non-specific feelings of shame or guilt.
- You have constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
- You feel as if you are damaged, bad, or worthless.
- You feel as if nobody can understand you – you feel unheard.
- You indulge in destructive or risky behaviour, such as self-harm, alcohol misuse, or drug abuse
- You are prone to workaholism – to gain money and status and to keep busy to escape from yourself.
- Things are going well and then you run away or sabotage yourself.
- You feel as if you are different or strange.
- You have trouble with physical affection and being touched.
- You are oversensitive and take things personally.
As many as 1 in 5 of us suffer from Complex PTSD.
What is Complex PTSD?
PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder describes a condition that is the result of exposure to a devastating event or a few events (war, extreme violence, rape for example).
CPTSD describes a form of trauma that is experienced repeatedly, usually over prolonged periods of time from the ages of 0 to 15. The trauma can be emotional neglect, humiliation, bullying, disrupted attachment, anger, violence or witnessing violence for example.
Trauma lives within us. It comes with us to work and shows up in our relationships. It can create havoc.
Research shows that emotional neglect in outwardly high achieving or ‘normal families is as damaging as active violence.
Coping Mechanisms and defences
It’s useful to recognise your coping and defence mechanisms. PeterWalker in his book Complex PTSD: from surviving to thriving has come up with four useful categories, but people are complex and nobody fits into one category perfectly; they overlap and you might recognise yourself in two main ones.
Fight – Flight – Freeze – Fawn
These are normal responses to a threat or danger, but those of us who are repetitively traumatized in childhood often learn to survive by over-relying on one or two of the responses. Over time a habitual defence behaviour serves to distract you from the unbearable, intense feelings – the disconnection, low self-worth, fear, shame, rage, grief and/or depression and worse.
We use the defences as protection against further re-abandonment or feelings of being attacked, unseen, and unappreciated. We can’t afford to be vulnerable.
Because we can’t pinpoint an event as in PTSD, we can feel confused and ashamed – and this feeling of shame can dominate and limit our lives and stop us from seeking help.
Don’t let your childhood hold you back
We can recover – we can become whole
I want to share with you strategies for coping and recovering from Complex PTSD, so that your childhood doesn’t stop you from living and enjoying the life you deserve. Here are some general things to help you begin a recovery journey, learn new ways of thinking and feeling, regulate your emotions, connect with others, trust life, and trust people and yourself.
- Firstly, we need to stop being brave and recognise that we have been hurt.
- Then, with courage, we recognise the impact of CPTSD on our lives and recognise that we have come through the difficulties – we face the past and the pain.
- Recognising our behaviours is important – the coping mechanisms and defences that we have developed but are now preventing us from breaking free of the painful patterns, growing and experiencing life and love to the full.
- We can, bit by bit, stay with the uncomfortable feelings even when we are triggered by people and situations.
- Then we need to love ourselves – remembering the child that has been suffering because of the absence of love. We can learn how to do this and how to re-parent ourselves with compassion and care and become whole.
So you must not be frightened … if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.
Here are some things that have worked for me:
- Reading about CPTSD
- Writing a journal – any type of journal to suit you
- Physical work – Yoga, walking, swimming, running, tai-chi
- Being in nature
- Talking with safe and supportive others
- Self-care and self-compassion
- Allowing yourself to cry
If your childhood is holding you back get in touch to discuss coaching.
Here are some excellent resources:
Bessel Van der KOLK (2015) The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma