One of the things that I’ve often been asked - and sometimes also criticized about - is why I write so openly on my websites about my own personal struggles.
There have been many answers to this question over the years, but the one I currently like the most is described very nicely in Pete Walker’s excellent book: C-PTSD: from surviving to thriving. There, Pete writes the following:
“A central aspect of the truly helpful relational work was what John Bradshaw calls ‘healing the shame that binds’. I believe toxic shame cannot be healed without some relational help. Several therapists and groups aided me greatly to unbind from the shame that made me hide whenever I couldn’t invoke my perfect persona.
“Concurrently, I learned that real intimacy correlated with the amount I shared my vulnerabilities. As I increasingly practiced emotional authenticity, the glacier of my lifelong loneliness began to melt.”
As Pete Walker encapsulates so nicely, when you’re walking around trying to pretend that you’re ‘perfect’, or always 100% put-together, or always have the answers, or the faith that you’re meant to have, you end up feeling so very lonely on the inside.
Because you aren’t being REAL.
Even if you’re surrounded by millions of friends, and have a fulfilling career, and a big family etc etc, if you can’t be REAL (at least for a lot of the time) - then you will feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
Traumatized people often find it very difficult to let their guards down and be REAL, because they’ve usually experienced so much mockery, criticism, and lack of acceptance. When you grow up in a traumatizing environment, it’s safer to hide your flaws and struggles behind a big wall of aggressive perfectionism than to risk being made to feel awful because you aren’t always perfect, all the time.
Like it or not, Western society promotes and glorifies shaming other people in the cruelest of ways. I think mocking other people has taken the place of the gladiator sports that were so popular in ancient Rome, except now we cut people’s heads off with blog comments, ‘jokes’ and Facebook posts instead of swords and spears.
It’s understandable that so many people dive for cover in the face of this very unhealthy mode of interacting with others. It’s very, very hard to maintain ‘real’ around cruel, superficial, hyper-critical people.
(If you’re wondering how I deal with that myself, the short answer is that I try to avoid these people as much as possible, because otherwise they drive me completely bonkers and push me back into ‘feeling ashamed’ flashbacks within a nanosecond.)
But not everyone is like that. I’m learning the more I go along that there are some amazing people out there, who value and cherish real interactions. I think there are probably a lot more of us than is sometimes obvious, because as I mentioned, a lot of us hide our ‘real’ self away to avoid being attacked and mocked by the psychos.
And that’s one very big reason why I try to write ‘real’, as much as possible, because the more real I can be, the more those other people will also start to feel safe to express their own brand of ‘real’ in the world.
Yes, it would definitely be easier to write from a place of having a ‘perfect persona’ a lot of the time. I’d probably ‘fit’ into more people’s boxes a little easier, and stop pressing buttons in very repressed individuals who find honesty dangerous. I also wouldn’t open myself up to people thinking ‘less’ of me because I’m not perfect after all.
But you know what? The path of pretend perfection kills the soul. So I could end up looking like I was doing better from the outside (maybe…) but I guarantee I’d be feeling a whole lot worse. And a whole lot lonelier. A whole lot more like I didn’t really ‘fit’ anywhere in the world.
Being real is risky sometimes. Being real can sometimes alienate people who aren’t ‘real’ themselves, and who find it far too overwhelming to deal with. Being real means there’s no-where to hide when your flaws and negative character traits come roaring out at you.
But being real is also the way to truly forge deep connections to other people, and to God, and to ourselves. And if that’s the only benefit you get from being real (and I don’t think it is), it’s more than worth it.
Seeing as most of us are probably coming off a week or two of vacation and ‘family time’, I thought it would be timely to devote a post to ‘family outing flashbacks’.
From my experience, these tend to take two main forms:
1) An urgent need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE at any price, and to avoid spending time as a family unit in the claustrophobic area called ‘your home’.
And / or
2) A violent dislike of going anywhere with your family, even for short day trips out.
Family outings contain the seeds of so many potentially traumatic triggers because there’s a lot of factors in the mix that can be very challenging for C-PTSD people, especially around the issues of controlling / being in control, and having to be in close proximity to others who may trigger feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, being invisible, and anger and depression (amongst other things).
And that’s just if you’re the kid!
If you’re the parent, there’s also the big risk that you may find yourself controlling, bossing other people around and ‘laying down the law’ in a way that suits you and what you want to do, but that severely curtails the healthy self-expression of other people in your family.
So, how can we traverse the potential minefield of taking a family outing and still avoid all these C-PTSD-inducing triggers? Here’s some suggestions:
1) Accept that flashbacks are going to happen - As soon as you realize you’re going into a meltdown about your family vacations being a mess, and your family life being stressful, and that you’re not a good enough mother or parent, etc, and that everyone is going to grow up so warped and unhappy because you DID or DIDN’T do [fill in the blank] on vacation…. press pause and acknowledge you’ve gone straight back into flashback mode, and aren’t thinking rationally.
Only proceed with your vacation plans once you’ve calmed down, followed these steps and have moved out of flashback mode.
2) Make decisions as a family and be prepared to compromise - Easier said then done, I know, but healthy interactions are based on the art of compromise. No-one can have it all ‘their way’ all of the time unless they’re a dictator, narcissist or psycho, so be prepared to back down on some of your own preferences.
10 common areas that require compromise and that should be discussed and clarified beforehand include:
3) Figure out WHY you want to go on an outing.
This maybe sounds obvious, but so many people do family outing because they think they SHOULD, and not because they really want to. If after discussing all the details it becomes clear that a family outing is just not really workable or doable at the moment, then don’t do it! If a kid really doesn’t want to go, don’t force them!
If there’s something you really hate doing but you’re feeling pressured into it - either find a way to make it acceptable, or don’t do it.
4) Allow yourself to not go on a family outing.
So many of us have C-PTSD issues around family outings as adults precisely because we often experienced some very difficult, horrible situations while we were meant to be ‘enjoying’ the family time.
If it’s not going to build your relationship with your family, or if it’s going to put you and others under tremendous amounts of emotional stress and pressure, skip the outing and do something else less intense and more productive.
I know ‘everyone else’ is still doing it - but you only have to take one look at the long faces, the stressed expressions, and the arguments and tension going on around all these family outings to realize that often, it’s a much nicer idea in theory than it really is in practice.
I used to struggle with huge feelings of insecurity about my size and appearance when I lived in London. It always seemed to me that ‘everyone else’ was the perfect size 10 (or size 6, if you’re American); that ‘everyone else’ had the perfect hair; that ‘everyone else’ knew how to dress stylishly, while yours truly just always seemed to be about as well put-together as a scarecrow.
But then, God gave me a little break and helped me to earn enough money that I could start buying clothes that were so well tailored, they could make anyone look svelte and stylish. Dressing expensively didn’t remove the problem of my low self-esteem and mega insecurity about my looks, but it helped me shift it on to the back-burner more often than not, which was a huge blessing.
When I moved to Israel, I hit a new clothing issue: none of my ‘stylish’ clothes really suited the hot weather of Israel, or the more ‘covered-up’ way religious Jewish women dress here. I have struggled with my clothing here for more than a decade, and every time I think I’ve finally worked out my style, or taste, either the shop closes down, or stops manufacturing long skirts in favour of mini-skirts, or fashion kills whatever nice skirts were being made last year.
That said, most of the time I don’t think so much about my clothing or appearance, and I very rarely have panic attacks about it these days.
Except for when people come and visit me from the UK.
And when those people also happen to be extremely wealthy, well-dressed, obsessed with labels and anti a ‘religious’ lifestyle, I find my anxiety shooting through the roof again.
I’m expecting a visitation from the UK shortly, and without realising it, it threw me back into a flashback of feeling like the fat, weirdly-dressed outsider again. But I didn’t realise what was going on until I came home in an extremely bad mood, because I couldn’t find anything to wear for the upcoming Pesach holiday.
I felt like everything made me look fat, or frumpy, or somehow not good enough, and that none of the headscarves would really ‘work’ for me etc. Man, I started to feel SOOOOO fat and icky, and then
I got very confused, because I couldn’t figure out how I got fat eating what I eat and doing what I do.
Even though I’m not a hardcore sprouted spelt person all the time these days, I’m still on the ‘healthier’ end of the scale, and I hate most sweet things (baring chocolate…) Could eating four ‘healthy’ chocolate biscuits and a bag of crisps on Shabbat make me fat?
Then, I started beating up on myself for not exercising enough because I can’t seem to get my life together, which segued into feeling bad that my house is so small, so I can’t really exercise at home the way I used to, which segued into me feeling like a complete, 100% loser in every area of life….
Long story short, by the time I got home I felt completely disgusting and horrible, and like I just wanted the earth to open up and swallow the whole mess called ‘my life’.
As I was moping on the couch, my poor husband decided to come home - and got a barrel right between the eyes. Why didn’t he tell me I’d got fat?!? How could he let me get so out of shape without mentioning anything to me?!? Why isn’t our house big enough for me to exercise in?!?! Why
can’t I afford designer clothes anymore?!?!?
The poor guy.
Another long story short, after hearing the whole story and seeing what a mess I was in, he was as bemused as I was.
“You’re really not fat,” he told me. “You’re the same size you always are.”
That’s what I’d thought too, until I went shopping this morning and couldn’t find a single thing to wear. As the meltdown continued, my husband suddenly had a brainwave.
“Rivka, you’re having a ‘flashback’,” he told me, rushing over to the fridge and grabbing the handy ‘flashback’ infographic-thingy I’d printed out and stuck there in one of my more lucid moments.
“This has nothing to do with now, and everything to do with how certain people used to make you feel back in the UK. You just ‘flashed back’ to how awful you felt THEN, and that’s why you’re feeling so bad NOW.”
Don’t you hate when the husband is right?
But right he was, and after five minutes, I begrudgingly acknowledged that he’d hit the nail on the head. I worked the flashback through, and I started to feel much lighter and happier again.
Just to be on the safe side, I also decided to cut back on the chocolate biscuits and to try to exercise a bit more as well, but today’s episode showed me two things:
1) Flashbacks can severely warp our sense of self, and our grasp of reality
2) Superficial, money-obsessed people from the UK (and elsewhere….) are really, really bad for me.
But at least now I know what’s going on, so I can stop ‘the flashback’ before it destroys my happiness and relationships.
One of the most fundamental things to understand about C-PTSD – and basically any issue that is causing an individual to have some intense ‘friction’ with other people – is that any person who frequently beats themselves up is almost certainly going to be beating other people up, too.
Pete Walker, in his excellent book: C-PTSD: From surviving to thriving, gives a very insightful explanation for why this occurs:
“The ‘inner critic’ is the part of your mind that views you as flawed and unworthy. The outer critic is the part that views everyone else as flawed and unworthy….The outer critic… uses the same programs of perfectionism and endangerment against others that your inner critic uses against yourself... Via it’s all-or-none programming, the outer critic rejects others because they are never perfect, and cannot be guaranteed to be safe.”
Perfectionism, where we hold ourselves and others to impossibly-high standards is pretty self-explanatory. By ‘endangerment’, Walker means that C-PTSD people are always on the look-out for ‘clues’ that other people are going to ultimately be as toxic and damaging for them as their very difficult relatives were.
Of course, everyone, even nice, relatively sane, kind, generous, patient people will have a ‘off’ day, and occasionally react in a less than optimal way. We’re all humans, remember, and NO ONE is perfectly-mannered or switched-on all the time.
The problem for C-PTSD people is that because their primary caregivers were overwhelmingly ‘negative’ and damaging to be around so much of the time – i.e. genuinely caring, attentive and empathetic behaviour was very much the exception, not the rule – they view every imperfect ‘lapse’ as a sign that really, that otherwise ‘nice’ person is going to end up treating them just as badly as their difficult, abusive or absent parent did / does.
This is such a hard proposition for most C-PTSD to deal with (especially when they haven’t yet figured out that they actually have C-PTSD….) that it makes regular interactions with other people far too scary. It’s much easier to rubbish everyone else, and focus on their faults, in order to keep a ‘safe’ distance, than to let your guard down, and risk getting sucker-punched again.
Which is why so many of the C-PTSD people who are at the very beginning of their healing process frequently find it so very difficult to maintain good relationships with others, for any period of time.
Of course, this can be fixed! So don’t despair, and don’t give up of turning things around and developing much more forgiving, genuine, authentic and healthy relationships with others, but the starting point of the healing journey has to be awareness of what’s really happening because of the C-PTSD, and why.
The take-away point from this post is that for as long as you’re continuing to expect unreasonable perfectionism, and to be very hard on yourself, you will inevitably also be incredibly hard on other people and their ‘normal’ lapses into imperfect behavior – including your kids and spouse.
THE FOUR STRESS TYPES
Another thing to add here is that your main ‘stress’ type – i.e. FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE/FAWN – will also very much affect how the dynamic between inner / outer critic really plays out in your life, in real time. (See the infographic.)
FIGHT types nearly always polarise over to constant ‘outer criticism’, and controlling behaviours of others, and very rarely acknowledge that this is attitude is a corollary of having an enormous inner critic at play. Fight types are very prickly, to prevent people coming too close, but will also expect 100% compliance for their wishes, viewing anything less as complete betrayal and ‘abandonment’.
(Yes, that’s why ‘fight’ stress reactions are typically underneath so many so-called ‘personality disorders’ and anti-social behaviour.)
FLIGHT types tend to flip the most between the two poles of inner and outer critic – and are typically the ones most caught up in ‘comparisons’ with other people and competitions to see who’s doing the best or worse. When they’re ‘winning’ – they’ll be highly judgmental of others. When they’re ‘losing’ – they’ll be highly critical of themselves.
FREEZE types often fall into making blanket statements about the whole of humanity being bad, untrustworthy, rotten and unfixable. Again, this is a defensive move which gives the FREEZE C-PTSD person the justification they need for retreating away from the outside world, and wrapping themselves entirely up in their own misery and imagination. (Again, ‘FREEZE’ types are typically identified as having issues with depression.)
Again, the outer criticism is married to a very harsh ‘inner critic’ that makes the FREEZE person feel completely worthless and pointless.
FAWN types rarely risk making openly critical statements of others, whatever the justification. They tend to be the most self-critical of all four groups. But, that doesn’t mean that FAWN types only ever beat themselves up, because as we’ve learned, if you’re regularly beating yourself up, than it’s GUARANTEED that you will also regularly be beating others up too, especially your kids and spouse.
Because FAWN types hate confrontation, most of their ‘outer critic’ attacks will be conducted via passive-aggressiveness, where other people are ‘silently blamed’ and railed against for causing all the issues.
Passive-aggressiveness can be very tricky to deal with, as it’s often so hidden away. Here’s some of the more common examples of passive-aggressive behaviour identified by Pete Walker:
Again, the main take-away point from today’s post is simply the understanding that ‘inner critics’ always come along with ‘outer critics’ – and that both are unhealthy ‘evil inclination’ behaviors. Being able to evaluate ours, and others, behaviour is clearly a very crucial skill required for good emotional health.
That’s the whole idea between the Jewish concept of making a daily accounting of our thoughts, words and actions, to see which ones may have been a little ‘off’, and require some work, or rectification. But healthy, compassionate self-evaluation is worlds away from beating ourselves up for not being perfect.
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.
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.
The single biggest thing that’s prevents us from dealing with the painful circumstances in our lives, and growing from them, and healing from them, is a lack of acceptance.
This lack of acceptance impacts us in two main ways:
For as long as we keep buying in to the ideas that our parents are ‘perfect’, or that our family life was ‘wonderful’, or that we somehow ‘deserved’ all the slaps, insults, manipulation and emotional neglect that were doled out in our childhood, that keeps us away from accepting ourselves, our true selves, that has an alternative view of things.
Inside each of us, there’s a small child that still can’t understand what they did that was so wrong that they had to go through whatever they had to go through. Young children idolize their parents as a defence mechanism, but when the parent is the source of pain instead of the source of comfort, denial of what’s really going on, and what was really experienced, becomes the adult child’s biggest emotional obstacle to living a happy, healthy life.
This is for two reasons:
It’s also true that parents can’t always supply what’s required. Accepting the limitations of parents, many of whom are also still trapped in the ‘fantasy world’ view of what they actually experienced as children, is also a big part of acceptance.
But the one doesn’t cancel out the other: Kids deserve all those things, and parents are frequently unable to provide them. Accepting both parts of this equation leads to true inner peace and healing, (especially for us parents.)
There’s another, deeper, degree of acceptance too, and that’s accepting that whatever horrible things occurred, whatever bad experiences we had, it was all part of God’s plan for our life. When this spiritual acceptance is absent, people can get sucked into a vortex of bitterness and anger that can be very difficult to exit. Spiritual acceptance teaches that whatever is broken can be fixed. Whatever is lacking can be filled - but only if God is in the picture.
Without this spiritual acceptance, it can also be very difficult to accept ourselves, especially when we hit our own faults and flaws. When a person can’t accept and acknowledge their own flaws and issues, that’s when they expect others to ‘overlook’ the problem and act as though everything is fine.
And we’re back into that pattern of not accepting reality again, except this time we’re the one asking others to put our need to see ourselves as ‘perfect’ ahead of their own need to recognize the very flawed reality they're experiencing.
Acceptance of reality is the key to getting everything to change. And that’s only truly possible when God is in the picture.
I’m part way through reading ‘Psychiatry Under the Influence’ by Rob Whitaker, and it’s shocking reading. In a nutshell, the book sets out how from the 1980s on, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided to pursue a ‘disease’ model for mental illness, they basically jumped into bed with Big Pharma to ‘create’ discrete mental illnesses that Big Pharma could ‘cure’ with their latest on-patent pill.
Psychiatry eagerly embraced the ‘disease’ model for mental illness - you know, all that stuff that tells people their brains are ‘broken’, and that they have a chemical imbalance - for two main reasons: money and power. ONLY psychiatrists can prescribe psychiatric drugs, while ‘talk therapy’ can be done (often much better and much cheaper) by any number of counselors, coaches, social workers and I don’t know who else.
Psychiatry was steadily being run out of business by all these alternative avenues to healing mental and emotional difficulties before 1980, and the APA knew that something had to be done, fast, to prevent its members from losing their incomes. Enter: the disease model of mental illness.
The whole DSM III was redrawn along pseudo-scientific lines, to back-up the false premise that mental illnesses could be broken down into discrete ‘diseases of the brain’, which could ONLY be treated by the psychiatrist’s prescription of the right little pill.
But right from the start, the disease model had precious little science backing it up. What it had - in spades, thanks to all the funding of studies and clinical trials and ‘information sessions’ by Big Pharma - was a huge number of psychiatrists getting paid big bucks to talk up the ‘disease’ model of the brain, and to completely twist the research around that showed that psychiatric meds didn’t work better than placebo - and often, caused even more problems to patients, particularly over the longer term.
These money-hungry psychiatrists really couldn’t lose: Big Pharma was paying them money to conduct (bent) research into the disease model of mental illness that would (falsely) show how psychiatric drugs were the only way to ‘cure’ these problems - which would lead to millions of people showing up at psychiatry’s door, to get their wonder cure pills.
Who cares that there was no science, or evidence, backing up all the claims of a ‘chemical imbalance’ causing everyone’s mental illnesses?! Who cares that the pills didn’t work and were often trailing destruction in their wake, including increased risk of suicide, increased risk of serious brain damage like tardive dyskinesia, physical illnesses, weight gain and a bunch of other things that could and did seriously compromise the patients’ quality of life?!
There was money to be made - huge money - in convincing more and more people that their brains were ‘broken’, and that psychiatry and Big Pharma were the only way to fix the problem.
That’s why with each new edition of the DSM, hundreds of new mental ‘diseases’ have been added to the list, because each new ‘disease’ requires a new pill to cure it. But you should know: there is hardly any science, precious little evidence, to prove any of these new ‘diseases’.
While proudly trumpeting it’s pseudo-scientific basis to anyone who dares to question the ‘disease’ model of mental illness, the APA and psychiatry continues to move the goal-posts and to create new illnesses out of thin air, that have precisely zero research to back them up. Even worse, the vast majority of the people sitting on the DSM committees that draw up the criteria for all these new ‘diseases’ are also on the payroll of Big Pharma.
The self-same people who are ‘creating’ new mental illnesses with the APA are then being paid enormous sums to run clinical trials of pills that are going to ‘cure’ them - and man, are they going to make sure people know that the pills are the only way to go, even if it means falsifying and doctoring the so-called ‘evidence’ to prove it.
And the result of all this is utter confusion and misery.
More and more people are now being convinced by the marketing initiatives jointly undertaken by the APA and Big Pharma that they are mentally ill, have broken brains and require pills in order just to function as normal, happy human beings, in what must be one of the biggest quackery operations ever known.
At the same time, as the number of ‘diagnoses’ continues to mushroom - with hundreds more being added to each new iteration of the DSM - even the professionals have no idea what ‘disease’ most of their patients have, resulting in one person often being given 6 diagnoses for one problem - and a pill to go with each one.
And then to top it all off, the pills don’t even work for the ‘disease’ they are supposedly meant to be curing, and often leave the person taking them addicted, anxious and in a deteriorating state of physical and mental health.
But who cares about all that, because the psychiatrists and Big Pharma are continuing to rake in the cash!!!!
Modern psychiatry is completely and utterly corrupt.
When God is out of the picture (as it is with the medical profession generally, and psychiatry in particular) the worst unethical abuses and immoral activity can flourish so easily. All mental illnesses are rooted in the soul, and affected by the emotional environment a person finds themselves in.
If they are in a loving, nurturing and caring environment, they thrive mentally. If they aren’t - they’ll often experience any number of mental issues and emotional problems. Things like proper nutrition, adequate sleep and enough exercise also have a part to play in staying healthy, body, mind and soul.
But you won’t hear about any of that from most psychiatrists these days, who are so invested in the completely false ‘disease’ model of mental illness in order to pay their mortgages and keep the punters rolling through their doors.
When is the corruption going to end? When are people going to wake up to what’s really going on with modern medicine and psychiatry? When are we going to put God back into our healthcare picture, instead of relying on little pills to get us through life?
Who knows. But it can’t happen soon enough.
A little while ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine from the motherland, who used to be one of the most creative, deep, spiritual and loving people I think I’d ever met. Of course, being ‘deep’ like that doesn’t come easy, especially in today’s world, and this person had gone through a lot of depressive periods and other forms of emotional turmoil.
Depression sucks, and is a very hard situation to accept and deal with. BUT - and it is a big but, depression also comes for a reason, a very good reason, and the key to resolving it is to accept what’s actually triggering it off in the first place, and to take steps to properly deal with it.
Depression is triggered by a couple of things:
There’s just one problem: accepting that your mum / dad / sister / husband etc is the one making you feel like you want to just disappear out of the world for good, or like you don’t exist in the world, and that no-one really loves your or cares about you, is not easy.
In fact it’s usually so difficult to accept that your ‘nearest and dearest’ are literally making you emotionally ill and even suicidal with their emotionally neglectful and / or abusive behaviour, that most people prefer flat-out denial and Prozac.
Thankfully, the pharmaceutical companies and corrupt psychiatry have an alternative theory for depression that is much easier for most people to swallow: it’s just a chemical imbalance, silly! Take this little pill, continue to carry on hanging out with your abusive family members, and don’t worry about a thing!
There’s just one problem with this theory (OK, I’m lying. There’s actually loads of problems with this theory, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…) - it’s completely false. There’s not a single shred of scientific evidence to back up any claim that any emotional difficulty, from the most severe issues like schizophrenia, all the way through to depression, anxiety and ADHD are caused by any ‘chemical imbalances’.
(There’s so much to say about this issue, and I’ve written about it in more detail elsewhere. Try HERE for a good first place to start, and also use the search box on this site to find more articles on this subject.)
But the point of this post is this: When someone takes a pill, even a prescribed pill, to make their emotional pain go away, then they have become a drug addict. Spiritually, there is no difference between a drug addict who’s shooting up heroin, and a drug addict who’s downing a bottle of Johnnie Walker, or smoking their pot, and a drug addict who’s throwing back the Xanax, Zoloft or Prozac.
Let’s remember that PRESCRIBED DRUGS are killing 30,000 people a year in the US alone, with the late popstar Prince being one of the more recent victims of prescription medicine gone mad.
When I saw my old acquaintance, all the light in her eyes had gone. Even in her worst times, her eyes had shone with pain and sadness, but also with feeling, humanity and spiritual depth. That light now was gone. What had happened?
The answer was: Prozac.
After years of fighting off all the ‘helpful’ advice from other people about how to handle her depressions, she’d finally caved in and gone the drug addict route of dealing with the problem. It was just that much easier than acknowledging how dysfunctional her family life and relationships actually were.
Of course, she didn’t say that. All she said is that the anti-depressants were working a treat, and she felt great, really good, the best ever, actually. But the light was gone from her eyes, and I just couldn’t catch hold of my old friend any more in anything more than the most superficial way.
Because the first thing that disappears when you take pscyhotropic drugs - even prescribed drugs - is your connection to God, and your soul.
But that’s not all: whatever we don’t fix in ourselves simply gets passed on down the line, and compounded, for our kids. When people are drug addicts, they emotionally neglect their nearest and dearest. When people are drug addicts, they become emotionally abusive to others, simply because they’ve lost their normal human sensitivity to what is appropriate behaviour.
As well as the spiritual coldness, my old friend had also developed a mocking manner of speaking to others, too. After five minutes of trying to talk to her, I really just wanted to run away as fast as my legs could carry me, because she made me feel really, really uncomfortable.
Ahhh, what a mess our world is. When God is out of the picture, so much suffering and destruction occurs in the void. My old friend feels ‘great’, but she’s now treating other people like dirt, and is completely oblivious to that fact, because the pills she’s taking have dulled her true feelings, including her empathy and compassion.
Anti-depressants are meant to change how the brain works. That’s the whole point. Changing how the brain works is also a classical description of brain damage, and there we have the problem in a nutshell: anti-depressants cause brain damage, and change people’s personalities.
Not for the first time in my life, I saw how Prozac doesn’t just ‘disappear’ the external signs of depression, it also ‘disappears’ the essence of the person themselves.
But when God is in the picture, it can always come back.