Over the last few years, I’ve been having an ongoing ‘discussion’ with my teens about the limits of being able to do what they want.
I’ve noticed that a lot of parents seem to be ducking the whole issue of teaching teens how to figure out healthy compromises with other people by adopting two maxims, namely:
While I can understand that attraction of both these things in theory, in practice they really don’t work to create healthy, open relationships with teens. Let me try to give an example from my own real life, to see if I can show you why that is.
The last few years, both my teens have been driving me bonkers with their ‘staying out all night’ habits. I have a lot of fears, most of which are not rational, so when my kids stay out late, I get nervous about them.
I often can’t sleep until they come home, so when they decide to come home at 2, 3 or even 4 in the morning, that’s a real problem for me, and it fundamentally affects my life. When I don’t get enough sleep, my brain doesn’t function so well, I start to feel ‘out of it’, and if it continues on for too long, it also has a real impact on my physical health.
So if that’s happening every night, or even most nights, it quickly leads us all into a very sticky situation.
Is my need to have my teenage kids in the house by 11pm at night reasonable?
But not always.
Is their need to be out very light at night multiple times a week reasonable?
But not never.
So, over the past few years, me and my children have been steadily working our way up to a compromise situation, where I let them have two nights a week where they can be out later, and I do my best to minimize my psycho tendencies to keep texting them every half an hour to make sure they’re OK.
There’s been some fine-tuning required as we go along. For example, I stipulated in our discussions that the two days shouldn’t be back-to-back unless there are extenuating circumstances (like two ‘can’t miss this’ events back to back); and recently, I also had to add another stipulation that the two ‘late nights’ should be on the same days for both kids, so I don’t end up having to deal with 4 sleepless nights a week on my end of things.
We’ve had a lot of blow-ups and heated arguments leading up to this place of compromise. Initially, the problem was mostly on my side of the equation, as I wanted the kids home at 11pm every single night, regardless of what was going on, or how important it was for them to be there.
That’s an example of my house, my rules, but I quickly learnt that if I tried to apply that indiscriminately to my children, I’d end up doing terrible damage to our relationship, and I’d also just be living with an awful atmosphere at home, 24/7.
Then, one of the kids went through a very rebellious stage (as a reaction to a lot of very difficult things we were going through, as a family) – and started staying out until 4am davka.
In effect, she was living according to: ‘her house, her rules’, and it was very hard for everyone else to cope with it.
After a few months, and a lot of praying (and a lot of figuring out where I needed to apologise to my kid for contributing to the things that had made her so unhappy to be in the house), we were finally ready to get to the next stage, which was to work on our house, our rules.
Which is a very different beast, because instead of having one person acting like a domestic dictator, this version tries its best to listen to all point of views, and to come up with a compromise situation that is acceptable to all parties.
Part of doing that was to sit down, and tell the kid:
Kid, I get you need to go out. But, you need to get that when you go out, I don’t sleep, and if that happens too much, I get exhausted, and even ill. So, let’s sit down and figure out how we can arrange things so we both give way a little, and everyone is happy.
This is a tremendous skill for life.
And it’s one that the kids who grow up in an atmosphere of ‘my house, my rules’ just aren’t being taught.
So the pressure continues to build in the home, until the parents pack their children off to boarding school, or university, or the army, or for a trip around the world where the kid can ‘indulge’ all the things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
And that’s a big part why so many people go completely off the deep end, in so many ways, when they finally leave the parental home.
Because there is no ‘limit’ to butt up against, and their evil inclination is pushing them to throw all caution to the wind, and to over-indulge in all those things they wanted to do at home, but couldn’t.
I’m not just talking about drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs, and other types of obvious ‘vices’. Clearly, lacking healthy boundaries, and being unable to police our own appetites and urges and crazy ideas to just not sleep for three days straight and only eat Haagen Daz for breakfast is not a healthy situation to be in, long term.
But the bigger problem is that these kids are being taught a very unhealthy paradigm of how to manage human relationships and disagreements which you can basically sum up as:
The winner takes all.
Whoever can impose their will on the other – whoever can make the biggest drama, the biggest threats, whoever is in a position of ‘power and authority’, that person can impose their will on the other person 100%.
And if you aren’t that person? Then you can expect to get totally crushed for as long as you are in that unhealthy relationship.
How can we resolve this problem?
Most of this attitude is being learnt in homes where ‘my house, my rules’ is strictly policed, with very little empathy for the kids’ point of view, or compassion for their different needs and wants.
The more a parent can ‘see’ and ‘hear’ where their kid is coming from, the more the lines of communication between parent and child will be kept open, and the greater the chances that a workable, healthy compromise will be found.
The paradigm shifts from my house, my rules, to OUR HOUSE, OUR RULES.
And that's so much better, for everyone involved.
Being able to have compassion and empathy for another person is the basis of good mental health. If we can really show our kids how that’s done – when we’re the ones in the position of ‘power and authority’ – that’s probably the biggest gift, and most useful life skill, we can give them.
And as an added bonus, our kids will hopefully still enjoy being in our homes (at least for visits!) and still enjoy our company well after they are 18 and independent.
Last week, one kid came back and announced there was a ‘funny smell’ in the house that she really didn’t like. After berating me for leaving the dishes to stew in the sink all day (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?), she then grabbed the mop and went into major sponga mode.
This is quite an oddity in my house, as I’m so not into housework beyond the bare minimum required to not spark off a cholera epidemic. Also, I hate, hate, hate the smell of bleach and all those other ucky chemical products that sadly so many of us equate with ‘clean’.
But this kid was adamant: We needed to bleach everything.
Not only that, we needed to throw out all my gentle-smelling (and clearly more expensive…) dishwashing soap, and laundry detergent, to get some ‘real stuff’ in that was ‘normal’ and wouldn’t leave our house smelling like a place for old people.
(Clearly, this kid has never been in a real ‘place for old people’ because if she had, she’d know that bleach is far more likely to be the parfum du jour than natural pomegranate fragrance. But I digress.)
As she scrubbed and cleaned, and washed up, and re-tidied a million different things, and barked out a few orders about things I needed to do to get the house looking ‘normal’ (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?) – I started to literally choke on all the chemical fumes she was mopping all over the place.
And then, I had a choice.
On the one hand, I could put my foot down, and go into that tired old ‘my house, my rules’ routine that has done so much to sour relations between parents and their kids down the generations.
Or, I could decide to practice some self-sacrifice, and allow my kid to turn my home into Clorox central for an hour or two.
I pondered it for a moment, while I stuck my head out the window to breathe – and decided I was going to go for a long walk. Even though it was raining.
My kid clearly needed to sponga like a maniac, and I wasn’t going to get into a fight with her about it.
Over the next week, the weird smell apparently remained.
Every time my kid stepped in through the door, she’d take a sniff, pull a face – and start obsessively mopping and cleaning again.
(Yes I know, what am I complaining about, right?)
Then, she started writing me notes of things we were lacking that ‘normal’ houses had, like a nice clock on the wall; and curtains; and proper cloths to mop the floor with.
I started to realise: There is something much, much deeper going on underneath all this.
And I resolved to go and discuss it with my One Brain women next time I went to see her, in a few days’ time.
Long story short, we figured out that this kid was giving me a strong message that she needed a place. That she needed to feel at home, on her own terms. That she needed to be really seen, and really heard, and not just fobbed off, ignored, squashed or made fun of.
And the way it was expressing itself was by filling my house full of all that ucky chemical stuff I so hate and detest.
Once I realized what was really going on, I came home, and told the kid this:
“Kid, I love you. I really hate the smell of the bleach, but if you need to do this at the moment, it’s OK. I don’t know where the funny smell is coming from, or what’s causing it (because no-one else except this kid could smell anything) – but I will help you to sort the house out anyway you want, to the best of my ability.”
We had a hug, we both felt much happier – and then I had to go out for another walk before the bleach fumes knocked me out.
Two days after this happened, I discovered that one wall of the covered back porch was literally furry with mold.
We use that place for storage, so I hardly ever go there, and it also wasn’t easy to see the mold as there was so many other things crammed into the space.
But the kid had been demanding I clean it up and make a little order over there, so I finally got around to it.
My kids’ room opens out on to that porch, and it seems to me, the source of the funny smell had finally been located.
I scrubbed the walls yesterday, and I’m waiting for the landlady’s permission to re-do it with some mold-resistant paint.
To put it another way: the kid was right.
And it’s amazing how many times that happens, when we parents actually make some space for them in our homes and our lives.
The answer is both absolutely yes, and absolutely not.
Why absolutely yes?
Firstly because so many people today have C-PTSD, whether they know it or not, that having typical C-PTSD reactions to life is really far more normal than most people still realize or understand.
C-PTSD doesn’t just happen when you experience terrible, overt abuse as a child, God forbid. As Pete Walker points out in his excellent book: Complex-PTSD, From Surviving to Thriving, sometimes the hardest cases of C-PTSD occur where no obvious child abuse was happening.
It’s just that the parents were…completely absent. AWOL, emotionally. It was a home, a family, where no-one ever really discussed feelings, where the emphasis was put on keeping up superficial appearances, where children (and everyone else) were always expected to swallow down their true feelings, their true thoughts, and to not rock the boat.
Often, these homes had some sort of tragic or difficult circumstances, or some enormous loss that had been experienced in the past, that had been swept under the rug, and which no-one wanted to talk about or discuss.
So the kids grew up in this hermetically-sealed ‘plastic’ atmosphere where they picked up the very strong unspoken message that having feelings, or trying to express your inner dimension, or talking about anything more than very superficial subjects, was dangerous, somehow, and should be completely avoided.
The best way I can think of to try to put across what happens in these types of homes is via Stromae’s video for ‘Papaoutai’ (‘Where are you, dad?’), in the post below, where the kid is trying so, so hard to pierce through the parent’s ‘plastic’ exterior – but in the end gives up, and becomes an unfeeling robot himself.
THE RISE OF THE SCREEN
Screens compound the problem of emotional neglect and emotional absenteeism, and also cause it. The compound it, because when people feel uncomfortable ‘being them’ around other people, they take refuge behind the screen – the TV, the internet, the text message or tweet.
But of course it also causes the problem, because when a parent is so wrapped up in the SCREEN, they have no time or attention to spare for the kid, who then experiences an emotionally AWOL parent, and in turn grows up with C-PTSD issues caused by emotional neglect.
So, part one is: most people today have some form of C-PTSD, whether they realise or not, and that is what is behind most people’s mental and emotional difficulties today.
So, you’re in good company!
Part Two: Let’s look more at whether someone with C-PTSD can live a ‘normal’ life.
The answer is yes and no.
If you understand that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ for anyone, and that each of us are unique, and that each life will run along it’s unique course, then it stands to reason that you can’t live a ‘normal’ life – and neither can anyone else.
But, if you’re talking more about whether you can still live a fulfilled and satisfying life; and whether you can get to a point where you can diminish the C-PTSD enough to really start enjoying life and being happy, and fulfilling your potential – then the answer is definitely yes.
Again, it’s hard to really go into massive details on a Quora answer, so let’s try to boil things down, to give concrete, solid steps of how to do this, as briefly as possible.
1) GET EDUCATED ABOUT WHAT REALLY CAUSED THE C-PTSD, AND HOW IT’S AFFECTING YOU IN MYRIAD WAYS
The single best way of doing this is to read Pete Walker’s excellent book.
It can be hard reading – and I personally don’t agree with Pete’s approach of keeping hold of his anger against his parents long-term (more on this in a moment) – but Pete does an unparalleled job of explaining the different types of dysfunctional family dynamics that actually cause C-PTSD.
And, he does an excellent job of explaining how most of the ‘melt-downs’ that C-PTSD people have, where they get whooshed back into some very negative and hard-to-deal with states of mind are actually just flashbacks to a child-hood state of mind that was never properly processed.
Pete gives a lot of practical tools to show you how to start processing these ‘undigested’ emotional states, and if you follow his instructions, you will start to see a lot of the C-PTSD symptoms start to abate and diminish in both frequency and intensity.
2) LEARN HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR ANGER AT PARENTS (and the others who hurt you), AND FORGIVE
I can’t stress enough, that stage 2 can only be attempted once you’ve 100% internalized and accepted just how bad it really was for you, as a child, and you’ve validated your childhood emotions and experiences 100%.
If you try to jump to forgiveness before you’ve really bottomed-out how dysfunctional family dynamics and behaviors really caused your issues, and your C-PTSD, you will get stuck in the problem.
There are no short-cuts:
First, face up to what really happened to your ‘inner child’, to your younger self, and make no excuses for the bad behavior that was doled out to. Feel all the upset and anger you need to feel to start to heal, and to ensure that you’ll take care of yourself properly from now on, and give yourself what’s required, emotionally.
Repressed emotions are part and parcel of the C-PTSD.
Once they are released and properly digested and internalized, the triggers that spark them off will start to fade and dissolve – and you’ll find yourself coping with life, and its challenges, in a much healthier, easier way.
And part of doing this is to really feel what you weren’t allowed to feel as a kid, and to experience what was too hard to experience as a kid, and to learn the lessons from it, and to take the steps required to protect yourself going forward.
But - don’t stay in that angry place!
Don’t feel like a victim for the rest of your life, because holding on to all that negativity after you’ve validated it, learned from it, and made the changes you need to protect yourself in the future will only keep you stuck in the past.
And the past is not a place where it’s good for people with C-PTSD to dwell, any more than is absolutely necessary to properly progress through stage 1, above.
OF course, it’s easier said than done to really forgive. Practically, how can we do this?
The first bit of advice is to read another excellent book by Mark Wolynn, called: It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. (see the vid above).
This book brings some of the science to explain how trauma, traumatic reactions and responses, can literally be passed down the genes to descendants, via a process called epigenetics.
To give one obvious example, the book explains how the grandchild of holocaust survivors can ‘react’ in the same way as someone who went through the holocaust, even though they may have been born 50 or 60 years after the end of World War II.
The grandkid literally has PTSD, C-PTSD – but they have no conscious memory of where it’s coming from!
And when the trauma is ‘in the genes’, i.e. coded into the body’s DNA, that can make for some hugely overwhelming, monstrous reactions that seem to come out of nowhere – until you really make the links that Wolynn makes in his book.
THE NEXT THING TO DO IS LOOK INTO FINDING A GOOD ONE BRAIN PRACTITIONER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.
One brain uses muscle testing to ‘find’ where the trauma is actually being stored in a person’s body, and subconscious, and memories, and can literally get rid of specific segments of it in just one or two sessions.
It’s particularly effective for trauma that occurred before the adult brain really developed (or that you’ve inherited, and thus have no conscious recollection of).
Because the One Brain therapist will muscle test to locate what age the trauma occurred at, and if they can’t find it in your lifetime, they’ll go backwards, up to 7 generations, to see which ancestor’s trauma ‘issue’ you’ve inherited, physically.
I know it sounds weird – Wolynn’s book explains the science in an easy –to-understand way, and I can only tell you that I know of many, many people who it’s helped, to get rid of C-PTSD symptoms and triggers that were very firmly embedded, and making their life miserable.
The One Brain main website is HERE.
I've written a lot about C-PTSD here on the website, and you can see some of the pertinent posts about how to overcome C-PTSD below:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
c-ptsd 101: how 'inherited trauma' can give you c-ptsd
c-ptsd 101: how to raise emotionally-healthy kids
c-ptsd 101: how to tame the inner critic
Below, is the 'masterlist' I put together for how to tackle C-PTSD across all three levels of body, mind and soul:
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 grey 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
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
TO SUM UP:
No-one is normal, so give up on that idea.
But, you can definitely live a happy, fulfilled and emotionally-healthy life, once you learn where the C-PTSD is really coming from, how it’s really affecting you, and to learn the lessons the negative emotions are really coming to teach us.
Validate your own feelings and experiences 100% - and then do your best to forgive the people who hurt you (while still protecting yourself 100%, and staying with a realistic picture of the true circumstances and situations you find yourself in).
If you need more help (and most people do), consider One Brain, to help you get rid of the traumatic memories that may be embedded deep in your subconscious mind, or even, inherited from your ancestors.
It’s not easy, but you will definitely see things move and improve if you stick with it, and just keep picking yourself up every time you fall down.
As life seems to be filling up with more and more petty, pointless, bureaucratic rules, and ‘politically correct’ policing of what you can and can’t say, and can and can’t think, I find myself compelled to break more and more of these pointless rules, whenever I can get away with it.
I know, it’s probably not so good, but I was pondering recently why I have a compulsion to cross the road when there’s a red man, dafka, that I never had so strongly in the past. And it came to me that it’s a form of civic protest: I’m protesting the fact that the bureaucrats and PC mob are trying so hard to control every move I make, and every thought I’m trying to think.
Still, it’s probably not a good thing.
I already got caught and let off for talking on my phone in the car (I don’t have a smartphone, just a very basic phone that I put on speaker, but happened to be holding in my hand.) It’s so strange to me, though, because I see people who have their massive smartphones mounted on their car dashboard, or even, in the middle of their steering wheels, and I can’t believe that they aren’t distracting the driver.
Yet massive, talking smartphones that play movies on the dashboard are considered ‘safe’ and ‘legal’, while small phones on speaker you have in your hand are considered ‘unsafe’ and ‘illegal’. I’m not sure why there is a double-standard like this. Either all phone use by drivers is unsafe, or all phone use is OK.
So anyway, it was a Shabbat day in Jerusalem, when the streets are usually pretty quiet and very few people abide by the red man unless they really have to, and I came to a small crossing that led on to a normally busy intersection, that had the red man.
The intersection was deserted, save for an elderly woman in a Fiat Punto, who happened to be waiting at my light. So I looked all around, and took my first step on to the crossing – just as the old woman got the greenlight to drive. I stepped back on to the payment – and she wound down her window and spent a whole minute berating me.
I could see on her face she’d been waiting for an opportunity to berate someone all morning.
“Why?! Why?! Why?!” she screamed at me. “Why are you making me run you over?!”
I mumbled a sorry, but she had no intention of being mollified, and only drove off when she realized the light was about to go red again.
I learnt a lot from that exchange.
The first thing I learned is that people really do only criticize in others what they have a problem with themselves. This old woman clearly also had negative character traits, a problem with waiting patiently, and a difficulty in giving way to other people.
Clear as clear can be.
The second thing I learned is that it wasn’t so much what she said that got my goat – because essentially, she was right, and I was in the wrong.
The problem was totally with how she was saying it.
I understood after the first 10 seconds that she was far more interested in putting me down and venting than she was in pointing out my error for the benefit of humanity.
Again, this is a common issue with people who maintain a façade of being perfect. These people lack empathy and compassion for other people’s flaws and failures because they live in the illusion that they themselves are perfect, ‘good people’, who never do anything wrong.
The third thing I learned is that God wants me to work on my own negative character traits, and particularly the trait of waiting patiently and giving way. Sometimes, it’s so hard to wait at a meaningless red light that takes forever to go green, especially when there are no cars in sight.
But while I chafe at being told what to do by bureaucrats, when God is giving me directions, I do my best to listen. It’s a practice in patience, a test of humility.
And if that’s what’s going on, then I will do my best to try to fight the urge to sprint across the road when the red man appears to slow me down.
Don’t panic when you suddenly discover you have no idea what you yourself really thinks about a whole bunch of stuff, or that you have no idea what you really want to do with yourself, or why.
Instead, just turn your attention to taming your inner critters. The way to do this is to just start noticing how they react to your situations and experiences. Does the thought of having to give a big presentation, or attend a job interview send them scurrying back into their box, or climbing the walls?
What makes them soften up and relax a little? Long walks on the beach? Long talks with someone a little wiser? A little light reading or a hard work-out? As you get to know your critters better, you’ll soon start to figure out that certain people literally have them eating out of their hand, while others put their backs up and get them baring their teeth and growling up a storm.
Relating to your deeper feelings as critters that need to be house-trained can give you a very helpful handle on how to deal with being plunged into feelings of frozen overwhelm or hepped-up over-excitement. But where critters beat dogs hands down is that with a bit of practice, you can actually get them to talk.
Actually, that’s not exactly true. The critters are talking to us all the time, just we haven’t tuned our ears to hear them. But listening to what they are saying can quickly become one of the most profoundly satisfying and useful skills you’ll ever learn in your life. Because critters often hold some of the most valuable pieces of insight and wisdom.
Up until now, you couldn’t hear them because the backseat driver was filling your head with all its dictates, and arguments and worries and concerns. The critters couldn’t really get a look in, unless they went ballistic one day and bit someone’s head off (and let’s face it, that used to happen much more than we like to admit. That’s part of the reason we shoved them in the Porta-Pet in the first place.)
And initially, you may have to take them out for walks muzzled, until you really learn their moods and their foibles, and what sorts of things can set them off and trigger an attack stance. Over time, if you observe them carefully, and really start to listen to what they’re telling you, and showing you with their reactions, you’ll start to build the most rewarding relationship of your life.
The more you care for your critters and tend to their needs, the more they’ll come to trust you, and to go to bat for you when you need them.
Your critters have a much keener sense of smell than you do; they can sense danger - and also snuffle out genuine opportunities and hidden treasures - a million times better than you can.
But you have to be the one holding the leash and taking them for a walk, and not the other way around.
Over time, you’ll discover that you’ve come to know your critters so well, and that you’ve trained them so ably, you very rarely have to worry about them losing their heads and chewing their way through the neighbors’ prize dahlias. Instead, you’ll be able to easily put their talents and abilities at your disposal - as long as you learn their limitations, and respect their requirements.
If your critters hate big, loud, superficial parties, don’t take them to those things even if it seems like a great idea. If they hate being cooped in a stuffy accountant’s cubby hole, you’ll have to find a different job to do, or a different way of doing your job, that will take the critters into account.
If the critters hate sitting through a six hour Thanksgiving feast with your nearest and dearest, you’ll have to decide to either box them back up out the way for the afternoon (and then deal with the consequences of doing that later) or bring them along but leave at the first sign they’re getting a little antsy.
You’ll learn so much about life if you start to listen more to your critters. But that doesn’t mean they’re always right, or completely infallible. When you’re out searching for clues, or trying to track something or someone down, the bloodhound will be invaluable. But no-one sane ever takes their dog’s advice about what stocks to invest.
So don’t expect more from your critters than they’re capable of giving you.
Learn their strengths, respect their weaknesses and you’ll be rewarded many times over.
But don’t expect your backseat driver to like your critters, or the other way around.
One of the backseat drivers’ favorite ploys is to spend a few moments inflaming and inciting your critters, until all hell breaks loose and they’re pooping all over the place and otherwise wrecking the joint. At that point, the backseat driver will try to convince you that you can’t deal with these critters by yourself - I mean, look at the terrible mess and destruction they’re causing!! - and that you really need him, the backseat driver, to get things back under control.
How’s he going to do this? By banning the critters to the back of beyond, crating them up and shipping them out.
That’s how they got into that Porta-Pet crate in the first place, and that’s why they’re going so bug-eyed and wild now you’re finally trying to spring them out again.
From their side of things, whenever the critters have to deal with the backseat driver again, it’ll bring out the very worst in them. Whether they deal by gnashing their teeth, running away or freezing in place - maybe, a combination of all of these things - depends on a whole bunch of things.
But the more you’ve invested in your relationship with your critters, they more they trust you, and the more you really understand and value them, the easier it’ll be to get things back under control again when they do go a little beserk again. And that is inevitably going to happen, because animals inevitably act like animals, not angels.
So to sum up where we’ve got to:
The more you get to hang out with your critters, the more you’ll start to find that you want to hang out with people who like, even love them just as much as you do. Or at the very least, who can tolerate them without blowing a gasket.
There will still be times when you have to Porta-Pet them, but increasingly you’ll find that you’ll want to keep those occasions to a bare minimum, and to also keep those times as short as possible.
Because while you can function superficially without your critters, your critters can’t stay sane for long without you, and they’ll be sure to let you know how much they missed you when you get around to visiting them again.
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.
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