Finally, we’ve arrived at the core post of this whole journey: how to properly acknowledge, tackle and ultimately overcome C-PTSD.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that the spiritual self-help approach to mental and physical health issues always need to tackle the problem across the three levels of:
Most of the posts I’ve written about C-PTSD have been focussing on the mind / emotions level, but let’s see if we can now pull everything together to give a clear picture of how you can tackle C-PTSD,
and with God’s help, eventually overcome it.
TIPS TO TACKLE C-PTSD AT THE BODY LEVEL
The key thing to remember here is that traumatised people are physically very stressed and tense people.
The more primitive parts of their brain is continually sending them messages that the world is a scary, threatening, dangerous place, which means:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD BODY:
NOTE: If someone experienced any form of physical abuse, then even touch can be a very triggering event for them. In these situations, ‘pet therapy’, or having a safe bond with a dog, horse, or other ‘loving’ animal can be an important first step to desensitising the C-PTSD body to physical touch.
(Click the blue for more details and / or information for how to do each of these things):
Other things to try include:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD MIND / EMOTIONS
We’ve covered this a great deal over the last few posts, but let’s pull it all together now.
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
But that’s not all! Taking the time to centre and ground yourself every day, and to talk to God about everything that’s going on in your life also strengthens the functioning of your frontal lobes, which acts like the ‘brake’ on your more primitive impulses and feelings.
The stronger your frontal lobes get, the harder it is for your primitive brain to ‘hijack’ you and send you spinning off into an emotional flashback. So the more you talk to God, the safer you’ll feel, the more ‘in control’ of yourself you’ll feel, and the easier you’ll find it to ride out and overcome the five C-PTSD reactions listed in the previous section.
To learn how to talk to God, download your free guide HERE, or buy the How, What and Why of Talking to God HERE.
Before we return to our discussion about the more standard aspects of C-PTSD - and especially, what can you actually really DO, in real time, to start dealing with it and ameliorating it, I just wanted to spend one more post looking at inherited trauma, and encouraging you to think about whether you're really just dealing with someone else's problem, without even knowing it.
The following list of questions comes from Mark Wolynn's site, HERE.
Take a look down the list, and if you start to realise that you're answering 'yes' to quite a few questions (or even just a few 'biggies...) then explore the option that you may well have some inherited trauma to work through and deal with.
If that's the case, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Wolynn's book: It didn't start with you, and work through his exercises.
If you want to find the answers to what may be slowing you down or holding you back in life, God will certainly show them to you if you even just take the tiniest step towards finding the truth.
Three Generations of Family History
Below are some family history questions to consider before we work together. You don’t need to write anything down or send anything in advance. You may need to do a little research, however, by asking your parents or other family members. Don’t worry if there are answers you can’t get. What you already know will be enough.
The short answer is that TRAUMA CAN BE INHERITED.
There's two ways this can work. Way one is actually now the basis of a whole scientific field in and of itself known as epigenetics.
(Click the blue to go through to a simple explanation of what epigenetics is, in more detail.)
For the purposes of this blog, we can say this: only 2% of the information contained in our DNA is 'fixed'. The other 98% is changeable, and considerably affected by outside circumstances, especially traumatic or difficult circumstances that we - or close family members - experienced that wasn't processed, and got 'embedded' in the body somehow.
To give one example of this:
Say someone has a relative who went through the Holocaust. It's such an unspeakable tragedy, the person could never really access it or work it through. But their whole life can now be lived as a 'response' to what they experienced, i.e., they'll hoard food even if they're wealthy, they have a tremendous fear of bad things happening to people, they trust no-one, they are hyper-vigilant and always on guard for things to turn 'bad' or dangerous, etc.
These behaviours all trigger the stress response we've been discussing over the last few points, and very quickly, that person's physiology is 'hardwired' to react to the world as a scary, dangerous, horrible, traumatic place.
They then hand down these physiological 'reactions' to their descendants, who never went through the Holocaust but live their lives as though they did.
There's a great book called: "It didn't start with you: How inherited trauma can shape our lives and how to break the cycle" by Mark Wolynn that describes this phenomenon very nicely.
Here's the bumpf from the back of his book, which sums up what we're discussing here:
It Didn’t Start With You shows how the traumas of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents can live in our unexplained depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, obsessive thoughts and physical symptoms—what scientists are now calling “secondary PTSD.”
Documenting the latest epigenetic research—how traumatic memories are transmitted through chemical changes in DNA—and the latest advances in neuroscience and the science of language, It Didn’t Start With You is an accessible and pragmatic guide to breaking inherited family patterns.
WHAT IS INHERITED FAMILY TRAUMA?
Simply put, many of us relive the tragedies from previous generations and rarely make the link.
Examples from the book include:
It didn't start with you - blog
THE SOUL DIMENSION TO C-PTSD
So, the physical mechanism of epigenetics - where the expression of our genes is changed by our circumstances and inherited trauma - is one way you can inherit C-PTSD. But the other way is 100% spiritual, and we'll talk about that in the next post.
We're covering a lot of ground pretty fast with these posts, so I decided to 'sum up' most of what we've learnt so far about C-PTSD before we continue discussing how you can know if you're affected, and most importantly of all, what to do about it all!
Even just having the knowledge that you're not 'crazy' or 'bad', and actually are just very traumatised by your life experiences makes an enormous difference to the way you start to relate to yourself and your 'issues'.
The key here is to crank the self-compassion to the max, because self-compassion is really the key to starting to heal from C-PTSD. Try to see yourself through God's eyes, and know that the 'real' you is actually only good and kind, and really wants to build the world anyway it can.
Once you start to get a handle on how your C-PTSD is preventing you from accessing and expressing the 'real' you, you just came a huge step closer to getting out of C-PTSD prison...
the one minute definition of c-ptsd:
C-PTSD is a severe form of PTSD that is characterised by the following five things:
• Emotional flashbacks
• Toxic shame
• Vicious ‘inner critic’
• Social anxiety
In contrast with ‘regular’ PTSD, the flashbacks most sufferers of C-PTSD are NOT visual, but are usually a regression to an overwhelming state of mind or feeling state from childhood.
See HERE for a post on how to tame the 'inner critic'.
The most common types of emotional flashback in C-PTSD are overwhelming feelings of:
Emotional flashbacks occur on gradient. Some can literally paralyse the C-PTSD person on the spot, while others will be experienced as a more ‘low grade’ sense of being lost, worthless, anxious, or ‘down’.
FLASHBACKS AND FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT
Emotional flashbacks usually trigger the fight-flight-freeze-fawn stress response, causing a person to snap instantly into ‘danger’ mode, where their either experience hyper-arousal of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) - (fight of flight) or in more ‘overwhelming’ cases, move straight to the exaggerated parasympathetic response of FREEZE.
(Fawn fits somewhere between the two, with the ‘fawning’ of a flattery-prone personality attempting to forestall danger by appeasing it, in any way possible.)
See HERE for more about fight-or-flight, and to start figuring out which 'reaction' you tend to most have to stress.
FEAR FLASHBACKS CAN LEAVE YOU FEELING:
DESPAIR FLASHBACKS CAN LEAVE YOU FEELING:
• Don’t exist
TOXIC SHAME FLASHBACKS CAN LEAVE YOU FEELING:
• Can’t do anything right
‘ALONE’ FLASHBACKS CAN LEAVE YOU FEELING:
While there is often a ‘primary’ feeling underlying an emotional flashback, each flashback usually contains a mixture of shame, fear, depression and ‘aloneness’.
See HERE - for how to stop emotional flashbacks in their tracks.
If I was writing these things in a more logical order, I probably should have done this one a little earlier on, because it’s so crucial to understanding the mechanism of how C-PTSD actually operates in real life, and how it can take your ‘emotional legs’ out from under you.
Let’s remind ourselves first about what causes C-PTSD:
It’s when you have an experience, or more usually a number of experiences, where you feel threatened or abandoned by your primary caregivers.
Small kids are very simple creatures, with very simple needs. They are also very vulnerable, and very reliant on the adults on their lives to fulfil those simple, basic - but still absolutely crucial - needs.
When that doesn’t happen, when a small kid experiences their primary caregivers as being ‘absent’ from the picture when they really, really need their help (which happens with emotionally absent parents) AND / OR experiences them as ‘dangerous and threatening’ (which happens with abusive parents) - the small kid experiences some huge emotions of fear, shame, and abandonment.
These are the main overwhelming ‘flashback’ states that this small kid kind of gets stuck in when they grow up as an adult with C-PTSD, and that then automatically triggers their preferred fight-flight-freeze-fawn response (what Pete Walker calls the ‘4Fs’, in his book: C-PTSD: From surviving to thriving).
As we’ve also learned previously, many C-PTSD people feel overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, depression, people-pleasing behaviours and anger a great deal of the time, especially if they haven’t yet figured out what’s really causing the problem.
It’s comes with the territory of C-PTSD that not only is your ‘4F’ response (or responses…) to ‘stress’ more intense than for other people, and also lasts longer, but it’s also much more easily triggered for a C-PTSD person, than for someone who wasn’t traumatised in the same way.
DISSECTING HOW C-PTSD FLASHBACKS WORK
OK, so now we’ve set out the stall again, let’s try to dissect what exactly a C-PTSD flashback is, and what it does to you.
Say, you’re trying to get the lid off the spaghetti sauce jar, and you can’t. Unbeknownst to you, this small problem is enough to trigger a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness that immediately segues into a ‘flashback’ feeling of when you were small and felt so abandoned, useless and powerless.
Typically, what now kicks in is your ‘inner critic’ aka evil inclination, who usually starts up with heaping doses of abusive name-calling and degradation, like:
“You’ll always be a failure!”
“You can’t do anything right!”
“What sort of loser can’t even make pasta for supper?!”
Etc. Very often, these will be the same sorts of things you were actually told in childhood, either by other people, or by your own evil inclination, that was going all out to make you feel even worse than you already did.
Now that your ‘inner critic’ has painted the situation in the worst possible colours, and pointed out how terrible it is that you can’t even make pasta (making a ‘mountain’ out of a molehill); and / or made it seem like you are completely incapable of taking care of yourself or others in any useful way, that usually kicks off some more huge feelings of fear and shame.
Fear shows up whenever we feel we aren’t ‘safe’ or that we’re in terrible danger (like, of starving to death or having our kids taken away by the social services, because we can’t even make pasta for them….)
Shame, (and I’m really talking about toxic shame, here), shows up whenever our self-esteem has been given a huge battering, and we lose all confidence in our abilities to do, or even to just be.
As a result of all these overwhelming feelings of fear and / or shame, we launch straight into our 4F response, as follows:
FIGHT TYPES - will get furiously angry at the jar, at themselves, at the people they’re trying to make supper.
FLIGHT TYPES - will suddenly remember they have something else urgent they need to do, and will find a way to duck making the pasta.
FREEZE TYPES - will head to the couch, and do their best to ‘escape’ the problem by zoning out, feeling terribly depressed, going to sleep, turning on the TV, aimlessly surfing the net, downing a whisky, popping a pill.
FAWN TYPES - will leave the pasta sauce to spend the next 2 ½ hours 'self-abandoning' by being a shoulder to cry on for their suffering friend.
Of course, I’m generalising wildly, but you get the idea.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT….
What happens next is that if the C-PTSD person doesn’t work out what’s really going on, they will now add ‘opening lids’ to their long list of subconscious things that should be avoided at all costs, if they don’t want to feel bad again.
And this is the way that more and more very mundane ‘triggers’ accumulate, that can really start to have a huge impact on the daily life of someone who has C-PTSD.
HOW TO STOP A ‘FLASHBACK’ IN ITS TRACKS
1) NAME THE PROBLEM: Say out loud: “This is a flashback, it’s from the past, nothing ‘bad’ is happening now.”
2) REASSURE YOURSELF: Tell yourself that you’re not in danger, and that you haven’t done anything wrong. You aren’t going to get into trouble with your parents.
3) ACKNOWLEDGE THIS IS A PASSING PHASE: While the feelings of fear, shame and overwhelm used to seem as though they would last forever when we were small, as adults we know that these feelings are temporary and won’t last forever.
4) IDENTIFY THE FEELINGS UNDERNEATH THE ‘FLASHBACK’: This is crucial for reconnecting to that small, terrified ‘lost’ part of yourself that you’ve actually just ‘flashback-ed’ to, and for helping him / her to start feeling better. Here’s some common examples of the real feelings that are hiding underneath a flashback: small, overwhelmed, scared, ‘no-choice’, powerless, stuck, petrified, sad, heart-broken, lonely.
5) COUNTER THE ‘INNER CRITIC’: Again, this takes some practise, but as soon as the inner critic / evil inclination starts trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, and paint the situation in the worse possible colours, or make out like you are the most disgusting, awful person in the world - close them down! Tell yourself: “This is my evil inclination talking, and it’s trying to kill me…”
6) GET ANGRY AT YOUR ‘INNER CRITIC’: When you were little, you couldn’t stand up for yourself, or put things in the correct perspective. As an adult, you don’t have to accept the insults and lies that your evil inclination is telling you! Fight back and defend yourself! Insults and abusive comments are completely unacceptable - even when they are coming from yourself!
7) ASK GOD FOR HELP, AND FOR EMUNA TO KNOW THAT EVERYTHING IS COMING FROM HIM, AND IS REALLY OK: While I’ve put this down here at 7, you can do this at every stage of the process. Connecting to God like this can instantly stop a flashback in its tracks all by itself.
8) FOCUS ON YOUR BODY AND YOUR FEELINGS, INSTEAD OF YOUR THOUGHTS: This will bring you back to the ‘present’ and get you out of your flashback mode. Take a few deep breaths, stand still or sit down and stop rushing around, if you feel scared, or ashamed, don’t fight it. Accept that feeling these feelings is part of your healing process, and that they won’t last forever.
9) ASK GOD TO SHOW YOU WHO OR WHAT TRIGGERED YOUR FLASHBACK, AND WHY: This is another crucial part of the healing process. Once you figure out what set it off (in our case, the feelings of powerlessness that came from being unable to open the spaghetti jar), just knowing that means that you’ll be able to do things differently or better next time around.
10) BE ON YOUR OWN SIDE: Reassure yourself that you are really good, and that all those negative feelings you were feeling in flashback mode - like something terrible is about to happen to you; like you’re the most disgusting person in the world; like you are the biggest waste of space on the planet and don’t deserve to be alive, God forbid - aren’t real, or true.
Be on your own, ‘small kid’s’ side, and tell yourself that you are allowed to make mistakes, that you struggled mightily growing up, through no fault of your own, and that with God’s help, it’s all going to turn around for the good very soon.
This is not going to get fixed in five minutes, and you shouldn't expect too much from yourself too soon, or start beating yourself up when you can't deliver on the overly-ambitious timetable you may have set for yourself.
This is long-term work, so please give yourself the time and space it requires, and relate to yourself with as much compassion, caring and love as you can, when you catch yourself reverting to ‘flashback’ mode.
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