Q - I saw something on social media recently which has got me wondering if I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I haven’t had an accident, but I do have the symptoms of always being on edge and expecting something bad to happen, having nightmares, and having flashbacks to the years of my mum and dad either beating or belittling me.
I know this stuff happened over 20 years ago but I’ve been living in a daze for as long as I can remember. It’s as if I’m in some sort of emotional limbo – until I get angry at the slightest thing and lash out.
I feel cut off and detached from people and have few real friends and no partner or kids. I always feel like I want to run away – but I don’t know what from, or where I want to run to! Might all this be due to PTSD and if so what can I do about it?
A - There are different types of trauma – both physical and emotional – and our brains are affected and shaped by them, which in turn affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
PTSD is usually associated with a one-off trauma such as a assault, accident or near-death experience – (which can include a difficult labour and dangerous birth when the mother's health and life were at risk).
There is also a form of trauma called Prolonged Duration Stress Disorder - which has now become better known as Complex-PTSD and Childhood PTSD.
You’ve mentioned having had an abusive childhood and so it seems safe to assume that you have been emotionally and physically traumatised by what you had to endure.
Complex PTSD is characterised by having been trapped in a situation – such as an abusive childhood, ongoing domestic violence, being kidnapped, human sex-trade trafficking or slavery.
As a child we can’t escape or defend ourselves. The fight-flight-freeze -flop-fawn response causes us to become flooded with the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol.
If we can't fight back or escape, we might then
‘freeze or flop’ as we give in and surrender to what we can’t prevent.
When this happens regularly it sets us up to become hyper-aroused and less able to think straight or calm and soothe ourselves.
Those stress hormones can cause damage to our body and mind!
The extent to which this affected you will also have been influenced by who you had in your life back then that you could talk to, and have your feelings understood and validated.
To be able to tell your story to a stable adult, and to be believed and supported, is a vital stage of healing and recovery.
Feelings of safety, self-awareness, courage and assertion soothe the trauma response.
You will need to soothe your troubled mind and rescue your inner child - who has had to hide away from danger. You can become your own loving parent now and heal your past.
To enable this to happen your brain will need to be 're-wired', and fortunately it has been designed to allow for this process.
The process is called ‘neuro-plasticity, and it enables the brain to be changed by the repetition of new input (in the form of new thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and safer relationshipexperiences).
The brain will have changed when exposed to trauma – and some areas of the brain work less and others are over-working.
The area of the brain involved in processing emotions, particularly when linked to fear, is called the Amygdala. After trauma this part of the 'emotional' or 'limbic' brain is over-active and awaiting the next threat.
Conversely there is reduced activity and even shrinkage in both the Hippocampus ( which distinguishes between present and past memories) and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (which regulates the negative emotional responses to stimuli).
The symptoms of PTSD are:-
Hyper-vigilance – and avoidance of anything that might trigger the expectation of further imminent trauma
Flashbacks – when we are reminded of the traumatic experiences we must avoid repeating. We are catapulted back into the feeling state we were in when the trauma occurred. Sometimes we have visual flashbacks too
The feelings of being 'on-edge' and ready to run and escape
Nightmares and night terrors – when the sub-conscious mind tries to process the trauma. If the trauma was extreme and life-threatening we may have blocked out our dream or nightmare processing and repressed the memories deep in our psyche.
Complex-PTSD includes these additional symptoms:-
A negative self-image and self-concept
Difficulty staying in the present day and time – altered consciousness and bouts of amnesia and dissociation
A feeling of not belonging in your family or in the world
Nausea, headaches, muscular tension and body pains
Disordered thinking – jumbled thoughts and timeline of events
Emotional disconnection and dis-regulation – numbed feelings with chronic underlying irritability and outbursts of rage
Self-harm - including workaholism, gambling, porn and sexual addiction, and alcohol and drug dependence or abuse
Relational problems – and a tendency to lack any trust in others, and to be withdrawn, passive and to feel helpless
Insomnia – and over-thinking instead of slowing down the brain for sleep
Social phobia and/or agoraphobia – to avoid people who might hurt you
Childhood Complex-PTSD also includes:-
Identifying with the abuser and repeating abusive or bullying behaviours
A harsh and punitive inner critic (internalised from parents/abusers) which squashes your happiness, authenticity and spontaneity
Projection of badness onto others and then hating or oppressing them to gain feelings of power and superiority over them
Relationship become either clinging with an anxious dependence, or a shut down and denial of relational needs with an avoidance of emotional connection to prevent further hurt and betrayal of trust – and becoming a loner and keeping people away
Defensiveness - as a protection from criticism, insult or disdain
Inflexibility in opinions and habits
Feeling exhausted – the inner battle between the real and false self/selves is physically and emotionally draining
Believing that you must deserve to be treated badly
Inability to cry and grieve for lost childhood, or conversely being very sensitive and too easily upset - and the flood-gates open at the slightest trigger
Lack of self care – not feeling worthy of care or comfort
Day-dreaming, lost in a fantasy world and an inability to focus – particularly at school or other learning environments
Emotionally flat and tuned out – the core feelings are of 'abandonment depression', and perhaps then creating chaos and drama to prove your existence and power, and your need to be significant and noticed
Digestive ailments and eating disorders – food intake is controlled, gorged and rejected, and the gut is tense and tight
Feeling deeply unlovable and empty inside – and using substances and behaviours to try to fill that echoing emptiness
A tendency to rehearse and prepare for the worst catastrophe – in the hope of somehow reducing its impact
Super independent – and not relying upon anyone else or trusting them to help or support you
Perfectionism – to hide core toxic shame - 'If I'm perfect, and not a nuisance or a burden then others will like me and want me around'
People-pleasing and co-dependence – a wiping out of own needs in the service and care of others to gain some self-worth and to feel wanted or needed
Very sensitive to being looked at – fear of being judged harshly and rejected. 'The Look' from an abuser would have conditioned the child into a state of frozen compliance to avoid further punishment
Hypochondria – acute fear of dying sparks excessive anxiety about any health problem
Chronic worrying and obsessing – even about things that you have no power to change
Repetition compulsion – the sub-conscious urge to keep repeating abusive scenarios in the hope of changing the ending or to re-enforce self-loathing and powerlessness
Self-disgust at perceived flaws, deficits and weaknesses
Shallow breathing and hyperventilating – due to anxiety and stress in the body which stays alert for fight-flight-freeze-flop-fawn responses needed for the next anticipated attack
Negatively comparing ones self to others – and always feeling like the loser, underdog and imposter
Being too much or too little – and not being able to hold the balance and moderation in your life
Complex PTSD can range from mild neurosis to full blown psychosis – depending upon the impact and duration of the traumatic experiences.
When a survivor learns how to thrive they become better able to function in all areas of their lives.
The first step to recovery from the impact of trauma is Self-awareness – of knowing what the underlying cause of the problem is and how and why it’s been affecting you as it has, and the impact this has had upon those around you.
Then comes Education and Learning new skills that will enable you to get the Emotional balance, clarity and Control back into your life – allowing you to Transform into the person you’re able to become… free from the after effects of past trauma(s).
(These are also the steps of my S.E.L.E.C.T. Your Life © approach to healing and recovery)
It’s never too late to change, and to heal our emotional wounds, re-parent our inner child and make peace with the past.
You have taken the first steps already… and now the choice is yours whether to continue ahead.
You now have the power that you lacked as a child, and you can repair your own wounded soul… I call it ‘Care & Repair From The Inside Out’ ©
It may be that your previous adult relationships have each been impacted by your early trauma and consequent attitude, beliefs and behaviours.
In my opinion relationally based traumas need the presence of an ongoing healing relationship – whether personal or professional. This must be a long-term and well-boundaried relationship to allow for the repeated challenges of working through your trauma response thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
This approach to healing and recovery from trauma really helps us from a neuro-scientific point of view (the way the brain functions and changes from being in relationships), as well as the good feelings we get from having a genuine emotional and empathic connection. Our painful story heals in the presence of caring people.
(For more information about how relationships are affected by a troubled childhood you can get some free information from my website link below.If your parents are still affecting your life there’s also some help for this available from my website.)
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR
If you childhood trauma still interferes with your life, you'll find a page of free resources to help you to overcome a troubled childhood and difficult or toxic parents and to make peace with the past – including a questionnaire called 'How To Tell If You Need To Sort Yourself Out' – please see www.maxineharley.com/free-resources There are also online self-help courses to help you to 'sort out' yourself, your relationship, your children and your business brain! (only £37 each – or £27 if you use the code TENOFF at the checkout)
Therapeutic self-development mentoring – helping women to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours... helping them to stop the past from messing up the future – and to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better in their lives.
Ten online self-help workshops (only £27 each) – helping you to help yourself with Psycho-Emotional-Education. The ten online workshops are entitled:-
'How To Be Happier'
'How To Be More Confident'
'How To Calm Down & Think Straight'
'How To Balance Your Mind Body & Weight'
'How To De-Stress Your Life'
The 'new paradigm in therapy' which reveals and revises your unhelpful sub-conscious beliefs which are stopping you from having the life you want and deserve.
You can change your life in 24 hours when you change your S.C.R.I.P.T. (c) Sub-Conscious-Rules-Influencing-Present-Time