Even though one of the most revealing discoveries researchers in Complex PTSD have found is that emotional neglect can be as damaging as domestic violence, our advanced society should equip itself with the necessary knowledge in distinguishing PTSD and CPTSD in order to anticipate the, still unknown to modern psychology, behaviours the invisible injuries create.
You are not your trauma!
As I mentioned in my previous articles, “Suck it Up and Get Over it Princes!” and “PTSD: Your Condition is Not Your Conclusion” I myself am dealing with the effects of PTSD as well as the non-stop psychological blows, aka CPTSD, caused by a narcissist. On the latter, me living under the same roof with a narcissist since 2009 is something that I became to understand in the second week of Nov. 2020. Unfortunately, by means of experiencing this psychological abuse for such a long time, I have developed a behavior that looks like narcissism but is far from it. Going Grey-rock is the professional term for this behavior. In Nov. 2021, I started to realize that I might have been living under this umbrella my entire life. But this is something for another article.
Anyway, for years I lived with this question screaming in the back of my mind, “Why me?! Why did I have to battle through these dozens and dozens of nasty events for years?” Then, in the last months of 2021, it suddenly hit me…by means of all that I have experienced, I, like many who are facing the rollercoaster effects, seem to have huge advances. And so I, recently, started to write about PTSD, CPTSD, and related topics and set a goal for becoming a psychotherapist for adults and first responders who are dealing with PTSD and CPTSD (this goal is still in its infant moments meaning, I still have a long path to travel).
I hope that my personal story, thoughts, and self-study concerning PTSD, CPTSD, and narcissism, might be of some support for those who are battling those nasty and terrifying demons…from the in- and outside.
PTSD, CPTSD and Cognitive Distancing
So, how can we recognize the differences between PTSD and CPTSD? Well, from a clinical point of view: PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition officially recognized in 1980 to describe exposure to one or two relatively brief but devastating events. Complex PTSD, recognized in 1994, describes exposure to something equally devastating but contains myriad psychic blows occurring for a very long time which simply do not seem to stop. On the latter, this can be emotional neglect, humiliation, (cyber) bullying, physical violence, criticism, among others, which can cause a disrupted attachment with someone.
Now, when we pour it more in a personal bowl it suddenly becomes more chaotic and sometimes even surrealistic because your thoughts and emotions do not always seem to communicate with each other in a coherent manner. Not that you are unable to glue an emotion to memory, on the contrary. Sometimes it simply feels more as if your emotions and thoughts do not correlate with the images from your past. It might even feel as if you are watching a movie while experiencing the synthetic emotions described by the reviews. This can be highly confusing but can be simply explained as, your brain experiencing a form of ‘cognitive distancing’.
But why does your brain do this? In a nutshell, when merging the emotion with the memory, reality kicks in and creates a feeling of discomfort. You could think in this of a therapist confronting a client to the horrifying details of a traumatic event over and over again, a psychological shock therapy but without sending the electrical volts through your brain.
Your brain wants to survive, you want to survive. And so, you, almost automatically, step into this state of cognitive distancing to avoid this feeling of discomfort. Speaking from my personal experiences, don’t worry about it. Just scroll, so to speak, through those images and emotions when you are ready to do so and, at your own pace. One day everything will fall into place like a puzzle which makes it much easier for you to view back, to speak about it and, accept that this event, or events, is a part of you as a human being.
A ‘taboo’ topic.
When we are looking at the moment(s) in which someone tries to explain the hard work in straightening the path of an unhinged roller coaster caused by PTSD and/or CPTSD, the social reactions are very real, often cruel, and sometimes have a dangerous outcome like people committing suicide or, committing murder.
It is all very scary, more so because many experts publicly keep quiet and follow the scientific method. I fully understand that many experts do not want to make mistakes by writing incorrect literature but, this silence has, without a doubt, the power to create narrowness and thus a huge gap in sharing research findings with peers what in turn leaves therapists groping in the dark for fitting treatment.
Keeping quiet in a personal scene (not being open with a client or, not responding to ‘a knock on the door’), is an incorrect way to respond and might even be experienced by some as an indirect behavior in ‘ghosting’, a behavior described, by some mental health professionals, as a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.
Therapists acting only robotically or objective during a session is, in many cases, increasing the effects of confusion with their client(s). People who are visiting you as a therapist might feel that they are not really heard which awakens the more negative emotions and increases the chance that they will stop talking in total. This turns the cause/source of this whole tragedy of people committing psychological or physical self-harm, into an even bigger taboo or mystery. And so, lots of people are looking unnecessary into the abyss of their own psyche, wandering the world as undiagnosed sufferers of e.g. ‘Complex PTSD’. And even though many feel, know, that this isn’t a good path to walk, modern psychology simply does not have a term to capture the problem that connects with your ailments. And so, the treatment you are seeking, feel comfortable with, is simply not provided.
Straightforward? The understanding of a second or third party. And with ‘understanding’ I mean the variation in behaviors and ways of thinking. Just as events are not all the same, people, their thoughts and behaviors are not the same, even though they all fall into the same jar labeled ‘trauma’.
It is not an easy task to overcome your anxieties, your dreams, your emotions. But, and this we need to keep in mind, it is also not always easy for family, friends, colleagues, to understand and react to the visible behaviours of someone who is dealing with PTSD and/or CPTSD. Let alone them reading the subtle reaction of you saying “I am doing fine” when they ask “How are you doing?” Hearing a contra intonation in your voice can get highly confusing not to say that is might be very scary for some to react to you. For some people, it’s like watching someone not reacting while touching their psychological skin that obviously has been burned and bruised. And, it creeps them out.
Therefore, it is important for you to learn how to voice your thoughts and emotions in your own words and, at your own pace. And yes, it might be that some people, of who you have always considered being a friend, are walking away after a while. But let’s be honest, do you really want to explain the same thing over and over again, staying in that same scene, in that same experience what is giving you these nasty emotions? Do you really want to convince the minds of those people who are doubting your experience(s) because some details are a bit blurry for you? Do you truly want to, need to, convince others for hours, days, weeks, that your brain has gone into a self-protection-program meaning, there are some gaps in your memory?
No, you don’t! If these people feel the need to walk out on you, let them. You already have enough to deal with and that is where your focus should be…on the journey of your personal healing process and, at your own pace.
So, what is creating people to turn their backs, to create a huge distance? Personally, I think that it’s twofold. It could be that these people are dealing with certain ‘demons’ themselves but, whatever the reason might be, are scared to speak about it and thus try to avoid any confrontation.
Another possibility might be is that, by means of the media providing only scientific information, what is only scarping the surface of PTSD and CPTSD and known already for decades, many instantly think that as soon as you say that you are dealing with these psychological injuries (working on overcoming it), you are mentally ill and thus ‘trouble’ or an ‘insecure factor’ on the work floor. This is not the case at all, better said…that’s BS! Sure, you will go through several unpleasant and rough moments in which you, among others, show and express strong emotions and deep thoughts, but that is far from being you causing others troubles. A psychopathic serial killer knocking at your front door…now THAT is trouble!
So again, these friendships you have lost, or might lose, over time, and this might sound harsh…weren’t friendships in the first place. Those people who stuck/stick with you during the tough moments, those you could/can call in the middle of the night, are the people you want to have in your life because…they are honest. They understand emotions, have patience, and are willing to listen. These are the people who know how to have healthy relationships regardless of whether it is a private or work relationship.
CPTSD might be the cause
A frequently asked question, “What is the cause of people harming themselves?” From a personal but psychological point of view, I think that PTSD is not causing people to commit suicide but hiding the emotions and scares caused by the mental abuse aka CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is the stress, anxieties, panic attacks, negative thoughts, among others, experienced but can, in many cases, be reduced to almost zero with the proper guidance from a therapist and/or with the support from family and friends. Or completely under your own power.
CPTSD on the other hand…even though this condition contains from the same ingredients, so to speak, is experienced on a more intense level by means of it is kept being fed (being maintained – non-stop) with dozens of smaller psychological blows over a long period of time which amplifies the already existing anxieties caused by PTSD.
This psychological abuse is, unfortunately, often only noticed in the moment the actions of the perpetrator are leaving behind visible evidence e.g. a black eye or a broken limb (domestic violence). This is because many victims are scared to speak about this form of abuse or, feel ashamed. But the invisible injuries of PTSD can also be converted into CPTSD when someone is left alone (no reaction/a dismissive silence from ones surrounding) or, the opposite reaction from one’s surroundings namely, belittling someone because they are going through a rough time.
A final word
Odd as it might sound to you in this very moment, your voice can inspire those who are still fighting their demons in silence. So, be brave and try to break the silence by voicing your story, your experiences.
Because, at the moment one’s mind is constantly occupied with the external dangers, they become highly alert (similar behaviours can be seen with those who have been, for instance, kidnapped and held captive for a long period by psychopaths). By means of this ‘high alertness’ the feeling of being on the edge, being in danger, every second of the day, is creating e.g. severe panic attacks, sleep disorders, deep negative thoughts, which are, eventually, being converted into people desperately wanting to flee the continuous incoming psychological pain in one way or another.
Sadly to say but the very fact is that some people experienced this huge psychological pressure for them to be convinced that their only a way to escape the CPTSD in PTSD, aka the non-stopping psychic blows, was committing suicide.
So, personally, I am of the opinion that 7 out of 10 times, CPTSD is the cause for people to harm themselves psychologically, e.g. not speaking about their experience(s) or substance abuse, or physical, e.g. cutting themselves or, taking their own lives, not PTSD.