For as much strategy as we put into our life and the way our days unfold; there is that possibility that something comes along that either derails plans or shatters expectations. There is a moment, smaller than the space of a breath, where something is decided in your brain. Are you in danger or otherwise unsafe? In the person with C-PTSD, the body reverberates a resounding “YES” and then years of our conditional responses flood forward, over riding our present moments and rational thought.
In the way that our military veterans can be triggered by fireworks or a car backfiring; where the physical stimuli can transport that person to a different place mentally, a challenge ensues on the basis of what their reality is in that moment. Those affected with CPTSD suffer in much of the same way in the form of Emotional Flashbacks: the sudden and often prolonged regressions to the frightening and abandoned feeling states of childhood. The majority of these flashbacks do not have an identifying memory, but is the culmination of stress responses and defenses from surviving an abusive or neglectful childhood.
When I was first with my husband and we were settling in a new house with our baby, he was the one who worked outside of the home. I began to notice a pattern when he would come home from work. I would feel the most awful dread and I would take my son and go upstairs to the hallway and wait. I would start sweating, my heart was racing and I felt sick to my stomach.
What was I waiting for? And what was that reaction all about?! My husband is a kind and gentle man. He had never even raised his voice to me prior to my noticing these behaviors. It began to come back to me slowly.
This was what I did when my dad came home from work. I would hide from his sight until I could hear what his mood was when he came home. If he came in slamming things, I stayed hidden. If he sounded in a good mood, I would slowly make an appearance. My safety was dependent on the mood my father was in after being stressed over work. So, even when I was expecting my husband, when I heard his car pull in, it created that shift in my brain and my brain said “No. You’re not safe. He’s home, Go Hide” The “He” became interchangeable without my even being aware of it.
I am going to venture that most people are not aware of these triggers or the shift that takes place.
We walk around feeling thrown from circumstance to circumstance, we are consumed with fear, get disproportionately angry at ourselves and others, are overwhelmed, numb, paralyzed from action, we self-destruct, we can be suicidal, we self-hate and we feel such toxic shame that it stops us from seeking and accepting true love and healing.
Love and healing we Deserve!
However, In the space between someones action and our expectation, we are emotionally transported back to the abandonment feelings of our childhood. The lack of parental comfort or protection, no invited closeness or warmth, no empathy for your mistakes. The indescribable feeling of nobody caring for you at a soul level and having the majority of your attention be negative and scarring.
Emotional Flashbacks are a key symptom of Complex PTSD. There are four areas of defense our brains use to protect ourselves from what we perceive to be a dangerous situation.
- Fighting or over-asserting yourself. You misuse your authority or “power”.
- Fleeing by putting all of your energy/drive into work, sex, relationships in a compulsive manner. The abuse of uppers, is also in this category.
- Freezing by disassociating, numbing, sleeping excessively, over fantasizing, tv binging and abuse of downers.
- Fawning: Engaging in a co-dependent relationship with a narcissistic boss or abusive partner.
Do you recognize yourself in any of them?
All of them?
You are not alone.
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