In our superficial world, so many of the people who should know better - like fitness instructors, naturopaths, and other ‘alt-health experts’ - like to make a very big deal about healthy eating. On the one hand, they are absolutely right that the quality and quantity of the food we eat does profoundly affect our feelings of health and well-being.
MSG, for example, is known to strip the myelin sheaths from nerves in the brain, which can literally lead to brain damage. Also, if we aren’t absorbing enough B-vitamins (which is not the same thing as just eating enough B-vitamins), that can also leave us feeling very tired, depressed and overwhelmed.
So yes, eating healthy is definitely a good thing, and should be followed as much as possible without developing any fanatical food tendencies.
But here’s the thing: no part of the body is more responsive to emotional stress, and particularly trauma-induced emotional stress, than the stomach and the alimentary canal. That means that repressed emotions are nearly always at the bottom of eating issues, so ‘willpower’ by itself simply can’t fix the problem at its root.
I’ll set out a little of the science explaining what is going on physiologically in the body and why at the end of the post, but first, let’s take a look at some of the common ways this link between eating habits and C-PTSD can play out.
EMOTIONAL NEGLECT AND OVER-EATING
If someone grows up in a home with emotionally-absent parents, it’s very unlikely that any expression of strong, negative emotion (especially by the child) will be tolerated. This is usually because the parents themselves are disconnected from their own negative emotions, and find themselves being triggered into a very distressing fight-flight-freeze-fawn response when faced with their child’s strong emotions.
Their inner critic (aka the evil inclination) will also waste no time piling on a whole bunch of toxic shame and fear on the triggered parent, causing them to react in a very harsh way to their child’s display of negative emotion.
If the parent is a ‘fight’ type, they’ll lash out with angry words, fists, or both. If ‘flight’, they’ll literally run away from the kid, and remember something ‘urgent’ they have to do. If ‘freeze’, they’ll turn their music / movie up to full volume, or do whatever else they need to do to ‘drown out’ the problem like pouring a whisky or popping a pill. And if they’re ‘fawn’ types, they’ll nip next door to go and baby-sit for their poor, struggling neighbour instead of dealing with their own poor, struggling kid.
Point is, when a kid gets taught that feeling strong emotions, and especially strong negative emotions, is somehow dangerous, bad, ‘wrong’, or will unleash punishment upon them, they quickly learn to stop doing that.
There are many ways that strong negative feelings can be pushed down, or ‘repressed’, but two key habits are holding the breath, and trying to ‘self-soothe’ the negative feeling with food, instead. But because the feeling is being pushed down, instead of being acknowledged and aired-out, it can sometimes take an awful lot of food to try and keep it ‘under the surface’!
When this same ‘negative feeling’ is triggered in someone with C-PTSD as an adult, they will automatically reach for the cake / chocolate / carbs to continue trying to keep it ‘down’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with willpower, and everything to do with a triggered reaction to stress that causes a ‘negative feeling’ to emerge, that the person has learnt must be squashed at all costs.
Once the person with C-PTSD slowly learns how to acknowledge the negative feelings they are repressing, and learns safe ways of expressing those feelings in a way that won’t overwhelm them, the need for the food disappears by itself.
LOSS OF APPETITE AND FEAR
Another very common trauma-based reaction to eating occurs when a traumatised person loses their appetite. This is a physiological reaction to fear, and again, people with C-PTSD are often hair-triggered to over-react to perceived threats in their environment.
While someone who doesn’t have C-PTSD won’t be taken out by their boss’s bad mood, a traumatised person may well take it as a sign that the boss doesn’t like them, and that their job is on the line etc, with all the attendant fear and stress that will then trigger internally.
FOOD IS THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO ‘SELF-SOOTHE’
I’m giving just two of the more common ways C-PTSD can affect our eating habits here, but psychiatrist John Bradshaw really summed things up when he said: “Almost everyone who grows up in a dysfunctional family has an eating disorder.”
The main point of this post is that if you’re having serious issues with food, it’s almost certainly a sign that there were aspects of your childhood and your family dynamics that left you traumatised, and with some form of C-PTSD to deal with.
Food is the first way we were able to try to ‘self-soothe’ when we felt abandoned, bewildered, lost, hurt or terrified as a very small child. As adults, we need to try to unclog all the negative feelings that are hiding underneath our issues with food, and to teach ourselves how to ‘self-soothe’ in healthier ways.
(At the end of this series on C-PTSD, I will do a post, or even a couple of posts, discussing the practical ways to do this, BH.)
FOOD, STRESS AND THE VAGUS NERVE
Ok, so now we’re ready to understand a bit more WHY the digestive system can get so out of whack when we’ve been traumatised. The plain English version is that when we get stressed / fearful / threatened / attacked our bodies tense up as a result, and the first place that ‘tenses’ is the alimentary canal.
That’s why people can get butterflies in the stomach, stomach aches, or diarrhoea when they feel stressed / scared / anxious.
Biologically, there’s a long nerve in the body called the VAGUS NERVE that connects the brain, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines. This vagus nerve governs the body’s viscera, and it reacts very strongly to the cues we’re given from the external environment, such as faces, expressions, body language etc.
Researcher Stephen Porges first coined the term: ‘neuroception’ to describe the physiological process of evaluating the relative danger and safety we feel in our environment that primarily occurs in what’s called THE VENTRAL VAGAL COMPLEX, or VVC.
When we’re socially engaged with others in a positive, healthy way, the Ventral Vagal Complex sends messages to our heart and lungs to slow the heart rate and breathe more deeply, helping us to feel calm, peaceful, happy and relaxed.
But, if we experience some sort of ‘threat’ or danger, the first place that registers is on our faces and in our voices: we start sending out ‘help!’ signals to our environment, to see who is going to respond, step in, and help us to feel safe again.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
If no-one responds to our first cries for help – in whichever way they manifest themselves – then the body’s Fight or Flight response comes online next.
This is regulated by the Limbic System, and is under the jurisdiction of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The heart beats faster, we breathe more shallowly to innervate our body with oxygen, preparing us to run away from the problem or fight it off.
If this next stage doesn’t work to solve our problem and help us escape the ‘danger’ or threat we’ve identified, then the last ‘emergency’ physiological reaction (FREEZE) kicks in, which is governed by the body’s: DORSAL VAGAL COMPLEX. This system of nerves goes down below the diaphragm, to the stomach, kidneys and intestines.
It dramatically reduces the body’s metabolism, leading to a state of FREEZE, dissociation or collapse. To quote Bessel Van der Kolk, writing in The Body Keeps the Score:
“This system is most likely to engage when we are physically immobilized, as when we are pinned down by an attacker or when a child has no escape from a terrifying caregiver…Once this system takes over, other people and even we ourselves, cease to matter.”
THE BIOLOGY of C-PTSD
When someone is being traumatized, or when they are having a ‘flashback’ to an experience of being traumatized, as very commonly happens with adults with C-PTSD, this is how the body responds:
First, the frontal lobes of the brain shut down, which is what’s sometimes called ‘disengaged executive functioning’. At the same time, the body’s pituary gland starts sending out messages to the whole of the body that it has to be primed to defend itself, and protect itself at all costs.
These messages are sent to:
1. The facial muscles – that contort into a threatening, angry expression designed to ‘scare off’ attackers.
2. They thyroid gland.
3. To the heart, lung and larynx, priming these organs to start producing more oxygen (shallow breathing) ready for fight-or-flight.
4. To the stomach and GI tract – effectively stealing the energetic ‘juice’ required for non-essential digestion of food, causing the stomach processes to slow down or stop completely.
5. To the adrenal glands – triggering the release of stress hormones. All of this causes some severe disruption to the body’s healthy functioning, leading to any number of unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even unbearable physical sensations, feelings and issues.
The traumatized person can be so busy trying to ‘manage’ their physiological symptoms and pain – which have often been going on for years and years, so that they often don’t even register their ‘permanent stomachache’ etc consciously – that it leaves very little energy over for anything else, both physically and emotionally.
Again, to quote Bessel van der Kolk: “Attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and other autoimmune diseases….
“Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scars.”
And of course, small children are the least able to move or do something to protect themselves, which is why so many of the people who grow up in dysfunctional families develop C-PTSD, and why so many people with C-PTSD have eating disorders and other digestive and physical issues.
Before we continue with our discussion about C-PTSD, I just wanted to talk a little about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, which will help you understand one of the most puzzling aspects of dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals.
On some level of another, emotional disturbance occurs when a person isn’t acknowledging the truth of who they really are, how they really behave, and what they really think.
Now, this characterizes all of us from time to time. All of us have things we’re in denial about, or facets of our personalities that we’d rather not acknowledge, or things we do that we try to play down or minimize. That’s human nature.
The more emotionally and spiritually ‘transparent’ we are, the better our emotional and mental health usually is - and vice versa. By the time you get into the murky area of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-social Behavior Disorder (AsBD), Disassociative Identity Disorder and schizophrenia, for example, that healthy ‘transparency’ has become so opaque it’s literally led to a breakdown in the affected person’s grasp of reality.
When a person can’t honestly accept and acknowledge facets of their own personalities, thoughts and behaviours, they start PROJECTING these things on to other people - which can be completely head-wrecking, until you understand what’s really happening
Here’s an example: a restaurant in Hawaii put up a notice saying no “Trump fascists” would be served on its premises. That restaurant owner is acting in precisely the ‘fascist’ way they’re accusing Trump supporters of doing - which is classic projection.
Multi-billionaire George Soros accusing Trump of being a ‘wannabe dictator’ is also a classic case of projection. Now, I’m not saying that projection and emotional disturbance only happens by liberals and left-wingers, because it’s a problem that crops up all over the place. But what I have noticed is that there an awful lot of ‘projection’ stories hitting the headlines in the wake of Trump’s win, as one emotionally-disturbed celeb after another is using Trump’s win to vent their own emotional issues.
Of course, projection also happens much closer to home, too. If you want to know what an emotionally-ill person really thinks about themselves, pay close attention to all the insults and put-downs they start shooting your way, especially those that are completely off the mark, seem completely out of context or are just plain bizarre.
Say, you’re a gourmet chef and someone starts ranting at you that you couldn’t even make a decent piece of toast. The chances of that statement being true about a gourmet chef are practically nil, so you know you’re dealing with a pure piece of projection. But the projection can be much harder to spot if you’re being accused of a problem you really do have yourself.
For example, if you’re being accused of not doing enough ‘soul-searching’ by someone with zero interest in spiritual issues, that’s obviously projection, but it could also still have a crumb of truth in it. Some effort will need to be made to figure out how much of that statement is pure projection, and how much is actually relevant.
Another point to make about projection is that whatever we’re accusing other of doing (at least directly, to their faces) is nearly always an indication of something we ourselves need to work on.
The more I’ve been trying to work through my own issues like arrogance and anger, for example, the less those traits are disturbing me when I see them in others, and the less likely I am to comment on them in a critical way.
God created the whole world as one big mirror, to show us what we ourselves need to work on and fix. Any trait or behavior you see in someone else that hits a nerve is something you yourself need to deal with, and work on. If it’s not agitating you, it’s not your problem in the same way, even if it’s still objectively nasty, bad and mean behavior.
You could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop there.
In the meantime, here’s some rough rules of thumb for dealing with projection:
I personally now almost enjoy my abusive correspondence (almost….) as each fresh batch of emails gives me a clearer picture of their state of mind, which is sometimes even entertaining (almost…)
The last thing to say about projection is that God is still hiding messages for us inside all the projected statements from the emotionally-disturbed people we know, but it’s very rarely the ‘face value’ message of what we’re being told.
One of the things that every good trauma counsellor has identified about people with C-PTSD (which remember, could well be most of us in 2017) is that they have a very strident, aggressive and unforgiving ‘inner critic’.
According to the more enlightened Western psychologists like Pete Walker (because the less enlightened ones are still peddling the myth that severe emotional problems are caused by chemical imbalances, and not reactions to severe trauma), this is how that poisonous ‘inner critic’ came about:
(The following is taken from Pete Walker’s website. Click HERE to see the full article):
Psychogenesis of the PTSD Critic
A flashback-inducing critic is typically spawned in a danger-laden childhood home.
When parents do not provide safe enough bonding and attachment, the child flounders in abandonment fear and depression.
Many children appear to be hard-wired to adapt to this endangering abandonment with perfectionism. This is true for both the passive abandonment of neglect and the active abandonment of abuse.
A prevailing climate of danger forces the maturing superego to cultivate the various psychodynamics of perfectionism and endangerment... When anxious perfectionist efforting, however, fails over and over to render the parents safe and loving, the inner critic becomes increasingly hyper-vigilant and hostile in its striving to ferret out the shortcomings that seemingly alienate the parents.
To put this into plainer English, Walker is describing that when a child doesn’t have the sort of ‘good enough’ emotionally-available parenting we described back in THIS POST, they are overwhelmed by internal fears, not least of which is the fear that they must have done something awful for their parent(s) to be ignoring them and / or maltreating them in this way.
If this situation continues for any length of time, the child tries to figure out what they’ve done to alienate the parents and / or make them so hostile, and comes up with the simplistic solution that if they can manage to be ‘perfect’, and to keep the parent happy at all costs, then the parents will notice them, love them and what them around.
Very quickly, this morphs into a hyper-vigilant ‘inner critic’ that is scared stiff of the dangerous consequences of failing to ‘be perfect’ or failing to ‘please’, which starts to berate the poor traumatized person day and night for their supposed shortcomings, failings and terrible flaws.
This ‘beating myself up and hating myself’ reflex is probably the single biggest source of suffering and pain that a person with C-PTSD experiences. While you can eventually shut out and remove external sources of criticism, hatred and contempt, when you’re carrying your own worst enemy around with you in your head, your suffering truly knows no bounds.
Now, this ‘inner critic’ is not a new concept for believing Jews; we’ve known for a long time that God created each and every one of us with an evil inclination whose main job in the world is to try and trip us up, depress us and really, plain just kill us. We also know that if God didn’t help us to deal with it, that’s exactly what it’d do to us!
But what’s interesting here is that the more enlightened branches of Western psychology are starting to figure out the physiology of the evil inclination.
Again, to put it in very simple terms, when a person grows up in a dangerously abusive and / or chronically neglectful home, their innate evil inclination is strengthened tremendously. Judaism teaches that a person doesn’t even get their counter-balancing ‘inclination for good’ until they reach the ages of 12, for a girl, or 13 for a boy.
So who is meant to be ‘balancing’ the child’s evil inclination up until this point? Answer: the parents!
But when that doesn’t happen, for whatever reasons, then the evil inclination’s hand is strengthened tremendously, and it can begin to run amok.
So, how can we start to tackle and overcome the ‘inner critic’?
Here’s my suggestions:
1. Educate yourself about what’s really causing your perfectionism and unreasonable self-anger, self-hatred and self-criticism. Even just taking notice of the voice of the ‘inner critic’ and tuning in to what it’s actually saying is a huge step forward. (You may want to write its nasty putdowns and criticisms down, especially at the beginning.)
2. Make a practice of relating to yourself with enormous heapings of self-compassion. The reason you feel so bad when you make mistakes, or when you don’t manage to be perfect, or when you do something wrong is because you’re a traumatized person with C-PTSD! So cut yourself some slack, and be kind to yourself. You’ve suffered enough from unreasonably harsh, unfair judgments.
3. Accept yourself unconditionally. This doesn’t mean that you can’t identify things to work on and improve (see the next point), but it does mean that you stop telling yourself that you’ll only be happy with yourself when you’ve achieved X. This is a lie that your inner critic is telling you, to keep you running after impossible perfection, and to keep you feeling bad that you haven’t yet achieved it.
4. Move away from making global statements about yourself as a person, to judging your individual actions and deed. No more calling yourself ‘retarded’, or ‘worthless’, or ‘useless’, or telling yourself that ‘you’ll never amount to much’ - or whatever phrases your own inner critic likes to use. Instead, examine your thoughts,actions and words over the last 24 hours on a case-by-case basis, to see if they were appropriate and reasonable, or require some improvement.
5. Don’t be scared to apologise to your spouses and children, if you discover you over-reacted about something. This is useful for two reasons: first, it starts to dismantle the unhelpful ‘perfection’ edifice that’s been built around you since your childhood, and that almost certainly is keeping the people you most love away from you. And secondly, admitting your faults in a healthy way is one of the single best things you can model to your kids, if you want them to grow up with good self-esteem
6. Talk to God for a fixed period of time every day (ideally up to an hour). The ‘inner critic’ is hardwired into the stress response that is housed in your lower, or ‘primitive’ brain. When you talk to God on a regular basis, you strengthen your frontal lobes, which is the part of the brain that can put the brakes on your knee-jerk ‘stress response’ reactions.
The stronger and healthier your frontal lobes are, the more your innate humanity and ‘higher self’ can shine through, and start to control your stress-response reactions, including the inner critic / evil inclination.
All of these six points can and should be examined and worked on regularly in your daily talking to God sessions.
The last thing to say is that the inner critic will never 100% disappear, because it’s a function of being a human being. Again, this is where even very enlightened psychologists like Pete Walker are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, because while a traumatic upbringing certainly strengthens the hand of the inner critic, it didn’t bring it into being.
God did that.
So that we’d have the challenge of fighting it, and ultimately overcoming it. He knew that we need the ‘grit’ provided by the evil inclination / inner critic to really produce our spiritual pearls in life, and to truly become the amazing people we are destined to be.
So please, don’t set yourself an unreasonable goal of permanently conquering the inner critic, because I’m telling you now it’s doomed to fail. For now, we’re focusing on recognizing the voice of the inner critic, and choosing against all its perfectionism, criticism, self-contempt and blame-and-shame tactics to treat ourselves - and others - with more self-compassion and acceptance.
A person who’s been traumatized enough to develop C-PTSD generally behaves and reacts in a very different way from a person who isn’t traumatized.
Again, if we take a look at our 4 main ‘stress’ responses (below), we’ll see that depending on which stress response the person with C-PTSD has got stuck in, they’ll either react to perceived danger, threats and ‘abandonment’ by others by:
The problem comes when we get STUCK polarized in one particular stress response, and when that stress response is repeatedly triggered by very bland, inane and minor things that truly don’t pose any real danger or threat to us.
So now we come to today’s topic: why traumatized people make mountains out of molehills.
Most people with C-PTSD get that way because they grew up with emotionally-absent parents (who may or may not also have regularly mistreated them in some additional, more tangible, way too.)
When a small child doesn’t have an adult in their life they can trust to ‘watch their back’, or help to soothe and calm them when they’re going through their tough times, or when they are left to fend for themselves and to solve their own problems, this creates a lot of anxiety, panic and fear in their internal landscape.
Imagine how scary even something simple like crossing a road is for a small child, if they’d be left to do it all by themselves without age-appropriate instructions, guidance or support. Small children are naturally full of fears, and it’s the job of the parents to help them to navigate through life, and to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge they need to manage new tasks and situations, and then to thrive.
Even from our own lives, we all know how much easier something is to learn when we have someone on hand to show us, and to answer our questions about what’s going ‘wrong’, or not working problem.
For example, a few years’ back, I tried to teach my self to sew some basic stuff on a borrowed sewing machine, using a ‘how to sew’ book for instructions. Dear reader, it was mostly an exercise in mental torture. I felt so anxious about not knowing how to thread the needle propet knowing how to get the zig-zag stitch to work, where to place the foot of the sewing machine, how to leave enough of a hem - and that’s even before getting down to actually making something! After a couple of months, I gave up.
A few weeks’ ago, I decided to try again but this time, I found a sewing teacher to go to - and it’s made all the difference in the world! Why? Because whenever I hit a snag with the cotton, or the material, or the sewing, I can ask for experienced, patient help to resolve it. I’m not on my own trying to figure everything out, so nothing feels like the unmitigated disaster it used to when I was trying to sew alone.
And the same applies to traumatized people with C-PTSD.
When we’re small, if we don’t have a caring adult to reassure us that the cut on our finger really isn’t serious, we panic that it’s going to go green and fall off.
If we go through a ‘down’ and we don’t have someone sharing their experiences of how this is just a normal, temporary (if unpleasant…) stage in life that everyone goes through, we start to believe that we’re always going to feel this depressed, or bad, or lonely.
If there is no-one there to give us the right perspective about our inevitable failures and mistakes in life, and worse, who even punish us, shame us, blame us and criticize us for making normal mistakes and having normal failures, we will be fear-stricken whenever trying something new, or something we could concievably ‘do wrong’.
(Of course, the trouble is this applies to pretty much everything!)
To put this into ‘real world’ terms, these feelings of panic, anxiety, overwhelm and depression can hit you as an adult whenever:
Once again, the world IS objectively a very scary place for a young child to have to fend for themselves in, so those feelings were 100% normal at that point in time.
But now, that fear, panic and anxiety has hardwired itself into your brain, and is being triggered by even the smallest issues you experience as an adult.
Depending on what your main ‘stress response’ is, you’ll find yourself fighting, running away, shutting down, or trying to frantically buy affection as a result.
THIS is why people with C-PTSD so often find themselves reacting to molehills as though they were mountains. They’ve ‘flashed back’ to a young, immature part of themselves who was never taught how to put things into proper perspective, or how to self-soothe in a healthy way and calm themselves down, and they are stuck reacting to the world in that mode even as a grown up.
So how can we overcome this particular aspect of C-PTSD? Stay tuned for the next post, when I’ll set out some practical ideas for you.
I was going to try to list all the different ways we can mess up our kids, but then every time I tried to post that particular article up, my site crashed....
After the eighth time, I finally got the message: focus on SOLUTIONS, not problems. So i'm shifting the focus of these posts from now on, to describe the problems as gently as possible, and to put the emphasis much more on how to solve them.
This post was going to be about 'emotional neglect', but given the above, we now going to talk about 'emotionally-absent' parents instead, and what you can do to make sure you're present, and giving your children the emotional nurturing they need to grow up happy and well-adjusted - even if you didn't receive that yourself.
When a parent is emotionally-absent from their child’s life, then their kid generally experiences very little in the way of parental warmth and love. When a child has an emotionally-absent parent, they often perceive the situation as the parent disliking them, somehow.
That’s because the parent appears to not want to spend time with their child, and acts as though they don’t really enjoy their company, and has very little to say to them. An emotionally-absent parent may still ask perfunctory questions like: ‘How was your day?’ but their heart isn’t really in hearing the answer, or helping their child to deal with any of their other fears, issues or problems.
As with all ‘absences’ of good, it’s easier to describe what’s missing than what is actually happening.
When a parent is EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE and EMOTIONALLY NURTURING, they do the following sorts of things for their children
I’ll stop there for now, but the single best way to find out if your parent(s) were emotionally-absent or not is to go down this list, and tick the ones that apply. By the end of the exercise, if you’re looking at a lot of ticks - that’s a reasonably-trustworthy indication that you had ‘good enough’ emotional nurturing and support.
If you’re not looking at a lot of ticks, then it’s a fair bet that your parent(s) were emotionally-absent, and that you probably have some ‘inner work’ to do to rectify the fall-out from that. Emotional neglect is often described as being at the ‘core’ of C-PTSD, because it can leave you with very deep feelings of being alone, uncared for and unimportant.
When small children are left to fend for themselves emotionally, it can literally cause them to experience the most excrutiating feelings of gut-wrenching anxiety, panic and emotional overwhelm, instantly pinging them into a very strong ‘stress response’.
If that happens on a regular basis, then the fight-flight-freeze-fawn switch in the developing brain gets flipped ‘on’ permanently, even if no other form of obvious maltreatment occurs.
We’ll return to this topic again in a future post, but that’s hopefully enough of a basic introduction to the topic of emotionally-absent parents for now.
PS: If you went down that list and are now having a ‘parenting meltdown’ about all the things you should be doing and aren’t, take a deep breath, and press ‘pause’ on the self-flagellation. Everything can be fixed! Everything can be rectified! If you didn’t get this stuff yourself as a kid, then you didn’t even know what was missing.
Even just knowing what’s been missing changes everything. Sure, there’s a lot to pray for, but God’s in the picture, and everything can still turn out A-OK.
I’ve been reading a book by Pete Walker called: Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving, and it’s giving me a lot of food for thought for how C-PTSD actually looks and feels in real-life. The book introduced me to the ‘Fawn’ variant of the stress response, which I vaguely knew about, but hadn’t managed to pin down into anything approaching a coherent description.
The following has been inspired by Pete Walker’s book, and I hope it will help you start to work out what ‘stress response’ is your most dominant way of responding to life’s difficult challenges, stresses and people.
Once again, when people experience a lot of trauma or absentee parenting, especially in childhood, it can hard-wire their brains to react to stress (or things that are incorrectly perceived as ‘stressful’ or threatening) in a detrimental, ‘abnormal’ way, even as adults.
Secular psychiatry has tried to label most of these ‘abnormal’ responses to stress as all the mental illnesses and emotional disorders listed in the DSM, and likes to tell people that their brains are basically ‘broken’ due to genes or biology, and can’t be fixed.
But that’s simply not true! The brain is plastic, and these learned responses to environmental triggers can be unlearned, and replaced with much healthier reactions, thoughts and beliefs. But the first part of the process is to recognize: 1) What caused the initial problems and 2) How you are now reacting (or over-reacting) as a result of the traumatic experiences or emotional neglect you experienced in your formative years.
So read on, to find out what’s your dominant C-PTSD-inspired reaction to stressful triggers, situations and people.
PLEASE NOTE: Most people have one or two dominant ‘stress’ responses that they typically fall back into as their main mode of reacting to stressful triggers and situations, or perceived threats. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also have some of the other stress-reactions, some of the time.
Is typically characterized by:
HOW THESE FOUR Fs AFFECT US IN THE FACE OF PERCEIVED THREAT OR STRESS
Your main stress response mode was set as a child. Once you realized that fighting / running away / numbing the pain / keeping danger away by keeping others happy seemed to work best in your particular circumstance, that become your default stress response.
BUT - emotional health requires an admixture of all four responses in the face of perceived threat or danger.
Sometimes, instead of fighting we need to back off and let go of our grudge, in order to resolve a situation. Sometimes, instead of spacing out and blanking, we need to gird our loins and DO something about the problem we’re facing. Sometimes, instead of giving in to other people’s demands, we need to stand our ground and police our boundaries. Still other times, we need to take a time-out from the rat race and stop being so busy doing, to sit quietly and contemplate our needs and feelings.
The other thing to say at this stage is that when someone has C-PTSD, their stress responses are typically extreme. They will be triggered by far more stimuli, they will feel far more overwhelming and intense, and they will continue for much, much longer than is ‘normal’ or healthy, sometimes lasting for weeks or even months.
But remember, all of this can be fixed, once you understand what’s really going on.
I've been having a lot of troubles posting up entries this week.
BH, it will be resolved shortly.
Thanks for your patience
Over the last few years as I’ve been doing more and more research, in both Jewish and secular sources, about what’s causing the epidemic of emotional illness the world is currently engulfed in, I’ve discovered that ‘trauma’, that most over-used word, is at the heart of most people’s mental health problems.
While most people in 2017 probably have a rough idea that going through a disturbing, dangerous, or severely damaging experience can very well leave an emotional scar on a person’s psyche, most of us still have no idea what trauma actually is, what it actually does to people, or how it manifests itself in our everyday lives.
To try and fill that gap, I’ve decided to do a few posts on Spiritual Self-Help that explains all this stuff as simply as possible. I have a feeling that once more people start to get exposed to descriptions of trauma, and especially what’s called ‘Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’, or C-PTSD, in plain English, a bank-load of pennies may start dropping all over the place about what is actually causing so many of the problems in our own lives and families.
I’m deliberately going to keep these posts simple, easy to read, and brief.
The ideas themselves are big, and can require a lot of energy to digest. We’ll build each post, each definition up slowly, until hopefully you’ll have a whole picture of what trauma is, what it does, how it affects you, and what you need to do to start healing it and really enjoying your life again.
Today, let’s start with the first building block: What causes trauma?
Answer: The type of trauma that is severe enough to lead to emotional illnesses is caused by a life-threatening experience, or an ongoing chronic situation of mistreatment, neglect and abuse which causes the person (usually a child) to feel utterly helpless to defend themselves, and completely unprotected in what they perceive to be a dangerous world.
To put this in different words, trauma can be caused by:
I’d love your feedback on what would be helpful to you, so please drop me an email or leave me a comment with what could help you the most, on your own personal journey to better mental and emotional health.
While there is always SO much more to say about the subject of personality disorders, both on what causes it (trauma…), what heals it (primarily, a strong connection to God and the more spiritual dimension to life), and the terrible pain and suffering it can cause others (leading to more trauma, mental illness and personality disorders…) this last word on the topic, for now, is the key to really ‘leaving the cult’ of narcissistic personality disorder once and for all.
So what is this magic formula for emancipation?
In a nutshell, cultivating the strong belief that: you are not a victim.
Now, I don’t write these words lightly. There’s a stage every ex ‘cult’ member goes through where it’s actually good and healthy and part of the healing process to recognize the wrongs that were done to you, and the emotionally-ill mind games you were trapped in, and all the guilt trips, and destructive criticisms and blame games you were made the scapegoat for.
You can’t leave the cult if you don’t acknowledge just how bad cult behavior, and cult thinking really actually is. If you try to short-cut this part of the process, you’ll end up excusing things you shouldn’t, and justifying all sorts of evil attitudes and cruel actions, and then as soon as you whitewash those things, you’ll inevitably carry on doing them yourself. That’s human nature.
So stage one is definitely to recognize just how bad things were around your NPD relatives (and others), and to acknowledge and validate your own, very real, pain and suffering.
And depending on how bad things were, and how badly your own life was messed up as a result, that stage can often take a pretty long time - even years - to properly process and digest.
But that angry, raging, furious place you have to pass through in order to leave the cult is NOT the place to stay, long-term.
Because here’s a little secret you should know about people with personality disorders and other mental illnesses: Every single one of them justifies their crazy, horrible, selfish and destructive behavior, and has a million excuses why it’s ‘OK’ for them to do it.
Every single mentally ill person out there feels like a victim - of life, of their parents, of circumstances, of horrible siblings, of racists, of anti-semites, of nasty neighbours, mean classmates, grasping employers, lazy colleagues, unreliable friends, the tax man, the other guy….
The list goes on and on.
And the way ‘victim think’ works is that as soon as your evil inclination has convinced you that you’re a victim, it’s a piece of cake to convince you that you DESERVE to treat others horribly, and to be treated specially, and not have to take anybody else into account in your mad rush to get what you need and want, because life owes you big for all the suffering you’ve already been through.
This state of mind is present in all mental illnesses, to one degree or another, but has pride of place in Narcissistic Personality Disorder-ed people. Every single narcissist out there, whether they admit it or not, feels like a victim, and that any ‘bad behaviour’ you could ever ascribe to them is only and ever in response to being victimized by others.
To put things another way, staying in a place of perpetual victimhood paves the way to developing full-blown mental illnesses like NPD, and that’s really not where you want to end up.
So how to resolve this feeling of being a perpetual victim? Again, I should state upfront this is a process, and often a long one. It’s not straightforward, it’s not linear, and there’s often a lot of going forward just to fall back again. That’s life, in all it’s imperfection. But it IS still possible to see some big changes and movements very quickly, by doing some or all of the following suggestions:
But I want to leave you with this: The main reason God put you through all this terrible, horrible stuff with your NPD relatives is because He wanted to give you a reason - a big, unmissable reason - to get back in touch with your soul, and with Him.
If your life hadn’t been so hard and challenging and painful up until now, maybe you’d live your time out in a completely superficial bubble of materiality. God doesn’t want that for you. He wants you to dig deep, and to start asking some hard questions about what life is really for, and why it’s so hard.
There’s really one solution to the problem of NPD people, and that’s get God involved in the process, ASAP. If you do that, sooner or later, the clouds will part, and you will find the way out to true happiness, acceptance and peace of mind.