One of the most challenging things of coming to terms with C-PTSD is the knowledge that you will almost certainly pass at least some of your issues over to your children.
This happens for a few different reasons, like:
1) You often aren’t aware of all the ‘stuff’ that you’re doing wrong, or not doing right as a result of your own C-PTSD for years and years, which means you pass along a lot of funny ideas, fears, knee-jerk reactions and unhelpful behaviors to your kids before the penny even drops that something is not quite right, here.
When many people start to make the link between their own experiences in childhood and their C-PTSD tendencies as adults, it can hit them like a hammer-blow to realize that they’ve been treated their own children in many of the same unhealthy, C-PTSD-inducing ways.
2) The C-PTSD itself causes us to lose perspective about ‘how bad’ we’re really doing, as parents.
Don’t forget that C-PTSD is often characterized by:
So then on top of dealing with our own C-PTSD, we often then get caught in a double-bind of having to deal with searing guilt, shame and self-loathing about the fact that we may have not treated our children 100% perfectly, and passed many of our C-PTSD tendencies on to them.
SO HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH THIS IN A SANE WAY, AND GET PAST THE OVERWHELMING FEELINGS OF PARENTAL GUILT AND SHAME?
Here’s what’s worked for me:
1) Put God firmly in the picture.
There are no ‘accidents’ going on here. Everything is planned down to the smallest, minute detail, and God has designed the situations that both we and our kids needs, in order to really meet our full spiritual potential.
(Clearly, this doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card to abuse your children whenever you feel like it, as part of their ‘spiritual tikkun’. There is a huge difference between trying and wanting to treat our children properly and occasionally falling down (like we all do) and making absolutely no effort to acknowledge and tackle our negative character traits, and how they are impacting our children.)
Just like our C-PTSD issues ultimately brought out the best in us, and helped us to develop some humility and hopefully also a much stronger connection to God, it will do the same thing for our kids, too.
2) Accept the reality of the situation without running away.
This is to counter our ‘extreme perfectionist’, who wants everything to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time, and who gets very upset with us (and our children….) if we can’t deliver that on the parenting front.
Again, perfectionism is a key C-PTSD-induced trait. Real people aren’t perfect. Being ‘imperfect’ is 100% fine, as long as we don’t start blaming ourselves for being awful people and beating ourselves up all the time for ‘ruining’ our kids.
If / when we fall into those tendencies, we’ll start feeling even more frustrated, angry and bad-termpered, which will ironically cause us to lash out a whole bunch more at our kids (and ourselves…).
So accept your imperfection as happily as you can! ‘Perfect’ parents are the ones who are doing the MOST damage to their kids.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can admit your imperfections to your children and regularly apologize to them when you’re out of order, your kids will grow up emotionally healthy, even if you’re not a 100% ‘perfect’ parent.
3) Identify how much of your parental guilt is justified, and how much is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback.
When you start blaming yourself for ‘ruining’ your kids, or start feeling toxic shame or guilt for being a ‘bad’ parent, it’s crucially important that you recognize that this reaction is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback, and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
You can read more about emotional flashbacks HERE, but the main thing to remember is that the horrible feelings we feel when we flashback are usually NOT related to the situation we’re dealing with in the current moment.
Sure, we FEEL like a monster, like a disgusting human being, like a piece of trash, because we forgot to pick the kid up on time, or had a ‘rage fit’ at them for spilling the juice. But really, we just ‘flashed-back’ to the overwhelming feelings we had from childhood, that are now ‘dressed up’ in the present situation.
The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can move out of the ‘flashback’ space, calm down, apologize, and get on with life in a much more equitable manner.
One of the hardest things for a C-PTSD parent is that we’re often governed by instinctive, and intense knee-jerk reactions to situations that then also traumatize and sensitize our own children in an unhealthy way.
To give a common example of this: C-PTSD people are usually hyper-vigilant and ‘on edge’, fearing danger and disaster around every corner.
A C-PTSD parent can easily freak-out about the danger of broken glass, for example, in a way that then creates a lot of trauma around ‘broken glass’ for the next generation.
And so it can continue….
The key is to separate the REACTION from the SITUATION, and to try to calm things down as quickly as possible. This is definitely work, but it can be done, and even just having the mindfulness that you’re freaking out irrationally can be very helpful to recognize, and also to share with your children.
4) Don’t forget that kids are our mirrors.
And then use that knowledge to have more compassion for yourself. Inside, you still feel like a confused, lost, lonely small kid sometimes, especially when you’re caught in a flashback. Use that knowledge to have compassion on yourself when you’re losing it.
Recognise that when you’re yelling at your kid, or blaming them, or guilting them, or whatever it is - you’re really still just yelling at yourself.
The more compassion you have for yourself, and your human frailties and issues, the more compassion you’ll naturally start to have for your kids, too.
If they’re struggling, that’s a sign that on the inside, you’re also still struggling. And it’s not your fault or their fault, it’s just a ‘message’ from Upstairs that there’s still some work to do to fix the problem.
So the main person to work on and worry about is YOU, not your kids. Once you’re nicer to yourself, you’ll automatically be much nicer, gentler and more accepting of your kids, too.
5) Don’t fall into despair.
Don’t give up! These issues are very difficult, and have been going on literally for generations. But when God is in the picture, EVERYTHING that’s broken can be fixed, albeit with a lot of struggle and prayer.
Again, the rule of thumb is that if you believe YOU broke something, believe YOU can fix it. When it comes to our children, we CAN fix it, but sometimes we have to eat a lot of humble pie, and do a lot of apologizing and a lot of acknowledging our flaws and issues before we get there.
Our children are very forgiving, and they genuinely love and accept us. The problem usually is that WE are not forgiving of ourselves, and we don’t genuinely love and accept ourselves.
That’s the C-PTSD reality.
But don’t despair of having a good relationship with your children. Sure, they will have their problems and struggles as a result of our imperfect parenting - that’s the way God made the world.
We are all down here to work on ourselves and to fix our character flaws.
But don’t let the inner critic tear you down for that, because it’s a normal and natural part of the world that every parent will mess up their kid in some way.
If you can show your kids how to practice acceptance, awareness, humility, and self-compassion, and how to connect back to God when the ‘troubles’ strike, then you are giving them the biggest present of all.