Tag Archives: C-PTSD
Often a physical injury results in a scar. Did you ever think about the fact that psychological injuries also result in scars? They may not be so easy to see like physical scars, but they are there nonetheless.
PTSD & C-PTSD are scars that result from exposure to extreme trauma or multiple traumas. The traumas were so bad they literally “broke” a person’s brain, causing physical changes, that create some very difficult problems to cope with.
Depression is a scar resulting from living through the horrors of emotional abuse. The constant berating, gaslighting & more of emotional abuse created depression that can last even long after the relationship has ended.
Anxiety is a scar that comes from living with someone, either a parent or a spouse who is demanding, highly volatile & unpredictable. The constant feeling of walking on eggshells in an attempt to avoid angry outbursts creates anxiety that can last a lifetime, whether or not the volatile person is still in a victim’s life or not.
These scars are incredibly difficult to live with, I know. I live with C-PTSD as a result of the narcissistic abuse I’ve endured. It is a horrible disorder to live with but for me, the anxiety & depression are probably the worst parts of it. It could be very easy to get caught up in the heartbreaking, discouraging & unfair nature of it all. Honestly, there are some times that happens. However, there are also times it doesn’t happen because of the perspective I try to have on these scars. My hope is this information will help you too.
Scars remind you of what you’ve been through so you retain what you learned. Having survived narcissistic parents, an ex husband, in-laws & countless so called friends & family, naturally I’ve learned a lot. That’s a good thing, because now I spot unsafe people easily. I know quickly either to avoid them or to have firm boundaries in place if I must deal with them. I also know when they are attempting to manipulate me, & avoid falling for their games.
Scars also remind you that you survived something that was meant to destroy you. This can be really hard to remember when you’re facing suicidal thoughts, flashbacks or paralyzing anxiety or depression, but it’s true. The goal of narcissists is to destroy their victim emotionally. (If they can tear a person down enough, that person will be easy to bend to their will, so it just makes sense that is the goal of narcissists.) You survived that! Yes, you still have issues from it but who wouldn’t?! You survived something really terrible, & that is the main thing!
What I think is the best part of all is that scars also are an excellent reminder of God being by your side, through this “valley of the shadow of death,” so to speak. Remember Psalm 23:4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;” (KJV) Your scar is reminder that although you went through something utterly horrific, God was by your side the entire time helping you to survive. He loves you so much, & your scars are a reminder of that wonderful fact.
When you have problems because of the scars you have as a result of surviving narcissistic abuse, please try not to get discouraged! I know it’s hard, but you can do it. Remember the points in this post. Be gentle & understanding with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings & accept them. If you feel things like you’re damaged, a burden to your loved ones or other negative things like that, remind yourself that they are simply old beliefs stemming from narcissistic abuse. And, most of all, lean on God. Pray often. Ask Him for comfort, strength, wisdom, guidance & anything else you can think of. Remember, He was there with you “through the valley of the shadow of death.” He is still with you!
General anxiety & anxiety associated with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or C-PTSD, are very different. Generalized anxiety involves things that might happen. What if I get fired? What if I get into a car accident? Anxiety that stems from C-PTSD is nothing like that. For me, I seldom even know the cause of my anxiety. I just feel crippling anxiety with no clue why.
One aspect of this anxiety that has baffled me the most is sometimes when I wake up, either during the night or first thing in the morning, it attacks. It comes in these awful waves where I feel like the anxiety is going to overwhelm me, then it passes, then it comes back again & passes again. This happens usually for a good half hour at least until eventually the anxiety just stays away until the next time. For quite some time now, I’ve tried learning what this is about with no luck… that is until recently. I wanted to share what I learned since I have no doubt many others live with this obnoxious phenomenon, too. If you’re one of the “lucky” ones like me, I hope this helps you.
After having survived trauma, in particular repeated traumas, your brain knows the worst case scenario. It’s seen some really ugly things, up close & personal, & quite frankly does NOT want to go back to that. Understandable, of course. The problem is the brain will do anything to avoid this, & can take things too far.
The traumatized brain is in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze. Sometimes, the brain acts like it believes danger is about to happen at random, such as I mentioned happens to me when I first wake up. Whether danger is actually there or not, it thinks danger is lurking & triggers the fight, flight or freeze responses kick into overdrive. It’s kind of like car alarms when they first became popular in the late 1980’s & early 1990’s. They were so easily triggered that virtually nothing could make them sound. This is like anxiety in a brain that’s experienced repeated traumas.
And good luck at this point convincing your panicked brain that no danger exists. It knows better because it’s seen some pretty terrible things. It won’t be reassured that there is no danger because of that.
When this type of anxiety kicks in, you can handle it. I know it’s hard, but it’s possible.
Remind yourself of what is happening, that this anxiety is only a symptom of C-PTSD. It isn’t a sign that there is any potential danger. It’s a symptom of a brain that has been broken due to experiencing horrific traumas. Nothing more. Maybe think of it like a toothache. If you have a cavity, your tooth will hurt until you’ve seen the dentist. If you don’t know that you have a cavity, that pain will scare you. However, if you are aware of having a cavity, the pain will still hurt of course, but at least you won’t be scared because you know why you have the pain. When you know what is happening, it can make it much easier to cope with a difficult situation.
Try to understand why the anxiety is so bad. You may not be able to figure that out, but hopefully you can. If you can, then you can calm the anxiety by figuring out a solution to the problem or reassuring yourself that the problem isn’t so bad.
Never forget to pray, too. God understands us even better than we understand ourselves. When you don’t understand why the anxiety is happening or how to calm it down, He will. Let Him help you! He will be glad to!
When you are healing from narcissistic abuse, it can be incredibly discouraging. It sometimes seems like no matter what you do, you still have problems that you cannot fix, which can be incredibly frustrating!
Recently, my husband turned a movie on tv whose subject matter was football. This is not good for me. When I was growing up, my father was utterly obsessed with football. He was so obsessed that his normally civil demeanor turned into something resembling a screaming demon if a game was on. If my mother or I walked into the room, he would yell at us about making too much noise. If I wanted his attention, I had to sit still & quiet until there was a break in the game.
As a result, I absolutely hate football. It stirs up memories of feeling less valuable than a leather bag of air & a bunch of guys playing an over-glorified game of fetch. Just hearing the sounds of a football game makes me angry.
I am in my late forties as I write this. I have tried to let this go. I have tried forgiving my father for his jerk-like behavior surrounding this game, & I think I have. I also understand it is simply the result of some very dysfunctional behavior of my father’s more than a reflection on me. Yet in spite of it all, football sounds still make me angry.
This has been incredibly discouraging to me! I have healed from so much of the abuse I have experienced. So why is this still a problem??
One day several years ago, God showed me this verse….
Philippians 1:6 in the Amplified Bible says,
“I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return].”
Suddenly everything clicked…
On this healing journey, there are going to be issues we do not heal from in this lifetime. God will work with us & on us. He will continue to improve us & heal us. Yet, even so, some things are going to be an issue for as long as we live.
When this happens, Dear Reader, know it does NOT mean something is wrong with you. It simply means you are normal. It can be incredibly frustrating I know, but at least it does not mean you are doing something wrong, or are broken beyond repair. It just means you are a normal human being!
Rather than be upset about this, why not do what you can to accept this as a simple shortcoming & rely on God to help you get through? Remember, Psalm 23:4 says,
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
The valley of the shadow of death is never pleasant of course, but even so, you can get through it. In my experience, it is those trips through that awful valley that brought me closer to God. Also sharing my ongoing issues like this often mean someone who reads my story also can relate & is comforted by knowing someone else understands their struggles. This means something good can come from those dark times! That pain has a purpose! As bad & painful as the bad times are, it truly helps when you know that something good can come from them & your pain was not in vain. If you have trouble understanding what the purpose is, ask God to show you, to help you see the purpose. He truly will not disappoint you!
Those of us who have experienced narcissistic abuse, in particular at the hand of our parents, tend to share many characteristics. One of them is the inclination to minimize any & all traumatic experiences, whether or not they had anything to do with the original abuser.
Some indicators that you are doing this is if you say things like:
- “It wasn’t that bad.. at least he didn’t hit me.” after leaving a relationship with someone who was verbally abusive.
- “Yea, that person held a knife to my throat but all he did was take my wallet…”
- “I know my parents did some bad stuff to me but others have it way worse than I did.”
See the common thread in these statements? Each one minimizes something very traumatic.
Another way people do this is to use the words “just” or “only” often. Think of statements like, “It was just verbal abuse” or “He only hit me the one time.”
I realized some time ago that I have done this same thing. What got my attention was watching a tv show about a serial killer, believe it or not. The killer’s ex wife was interviewed, & many things she said that he said as well as some of his behavior that she described reminded me a great deal of my ex husband! No, he’s no serial killer, but to realize he shared some behavior & personality traits with one was a big wake up call to me. It showed me that in spite of what most people said, that marriage truly was bad! His behavior really was abusive, & he had some serious mental health issues. Yet, when I discussed that marriage, I often downplayed the abuse. Realizing all of this showed me how unhealthily I’ve behaved, & also how many other people do exactly the same thing.
Minimizing one’s trauma is a terribly unhealthy thing to do! It contributes to a root of shame, & toxic shame affects every area of your life. Toxic shame makes you feel unworthy in every possible area of your life. It’ll make you willing to settle for the job you hate because you don’t think you’re qualified to do a better job you would enjoy. It’ll make you settle for a romantic partner who isn’t good for you since you believe you wouldn’t be attractive to someone better. The same goes for friendships. Someone with toxic shame will settle for friends who mistreat you because you don’t believe you deserve a better caliber of friends.
Minimizing also gives other people the message that what you went through wasn’t so bad. This can lead to people having no compassion for you or others who have experienced abuse. Since you act like it’s not a big deal, they will assume it isn’t. It also can send the wrong message to others in similar situations. They may think that since you don’t see the abuse as bad, maybe they’re overreacting to their situation. Of course, this will lead to toxic shame & all of the problems that go along with it.
Dear Reader, I want to encourage you today. Listen to yourself. Do you minimize your traumatic experiences? Do you use “just” or “only” often? If so, STOP! Trauma is trauma, no matter if someone else had it worse than you. Don’t minimize your suffering! Acknowledge it for what it is so you can heal. Minimizing only causes problems!
Anyone who has experienced a relationship with a narcissist knows that they love to reinvent the past. In their version of events, they weren’t abusive. They were just trying to help.
Narcissists aren’t the only ones who are able to reinvent the past, however. Sometimes their victims do as well. I have a very good example of this phenomenon.
I know of someone who was what I refer to as a holiday Nazi. She demanded her adult children, their spouses & grandchildren spend holidays with her, & they had to celebrate on the exact day. There was no acceptable reason not to do this, it seemed.
One Christmas season, her adult children decided they wanted to spend the day with their respective families rather than their parents. Apparently, Mom didn’t approve. She stopped taking her insulin a few days before Christmas & ended up in the hospital either Christmas day or within a couple of days after, I can’t remember which. She told her adult children that she did it because she was too busy baking Christmas cookies that she didn’t have time to take her insulin.
Some time after this fiasco, her son who had heard what she said & even repeated it said that never happened. It was during the time when she was having trouble regulating her insulin dosage.
Rather than admit how manipulative his mother was, & how she would risk her own health just for some attention, he convinced himself that was not the case. He convinced himself that this happened because the doctors hadn’t regulated her insulin need at that time.
If you have done something similar, you’re not alone. There is no need to be ashamed of yourself for doing it. There is, however a need to change that behavior.
Reinventing the past only gives the narcissist power, because their actions are being excused rather than holding them accountable for their actions. Narcissists realize they can do anything, & you’ll pretend they didn’t. In fact, you may even end up blaming yourself for what they did. You won’t punish them for their actions, so this makes them believe they can do anything without fear of consequences. There is no reason to limit their abusive actions.
It also makes the victim feel like they have to tolerate the abuse. They convince themselves that what happened was ok by pretending it didn’t happen as it actually did. This means victims will tolerate a LOT of abuse.
You can change your behavior into something much healthier!
Writing is an incredibly useful tool. I don’t mean writing a book or blogging about your experiences. I mean writing in a journal or writing letters you don’t send. Seeing your experiences in writing helps to make them more real somehow. It’s very validating! Writing also gives you an outlet for getting your emotions out with no fear of anyone judging you, which can be incredibly helpful. It can show you, too, just how much you’ve grown & healed, which is very encouraging. And regarding changing this habit of reinventing the past, writing also gives you a written record of events, so you can’t reinvent anything. If you wrote something down, you can revisit that knowing that is what happened rather than this different scenario you started to form in your mind.
Dealing with the traumatic event also will help you to stop reinventing the past. Reinventing things happens as a way to avoid pain. If you face that pain & deal with it. you automatically won’t try to reinvent the scenario. I know that seems terrifying, but truly it will help you a great deal if you face it. It’ll hurt for a while but not forever. You’ll heal & that situation won’t have power to devastate you anymore. At most it may sting a bit when you think of it. Wouldn’t you prefer that to being devastated?
And as always, never forget to turn to God & trust Him to help you to do what you need to in order to release that unhealthy habit of reinventing the past. xoxo
This post is going to sound a bit odd to many of you, I’m sure, but I hope you’ll read it anyway as I believe it can be beneficial to those in similar situations.
I saw a quote on Facebook that got me to thinking. It was long, so I’ll summarize. It suggested that you talk to nature. Before cutting a tree or plant, tell it what you have in mind to do, & talk to animals with respect. That sort of thing.
Having some Native American Indian heritage in me, I tend to do this. It just seems to be in my blood. I never thought much about it though until reading the quote.
I’ve always talked to my pets as if they were people, & treated them with love & respect. Many people including many at their vet’s office have commented how well behaved, smart & loving they are.
After my mother died, I took over some of her house plants. I’ve never been particularly good with plants, but decided to try with some of them anyway. I started talking to them when I decided to bring them home. I told them I was taking them home soon & I’ll do my best to take good care of them. They’re doing surprisingly well!
Before reading this Facebook post though, I began doing this more, & that even includes talking to inanimate objects. Reading the post only confirmed to me that I was onto something.
When my mother died, & I learned I was to be her personal representative, I was less than thrilled to put it mildly. I hated going into her house for years, I even hated the house itself, because of all the awful memories it held. It seemed every room had some bad memories attached. Knowing I’d have to spend a great deal of time there triggered horrible anxiety & even anger in me. I had no idea how to deal with this, so I asked God for help. He told me, “Talk to the house.” I thought I must be imagining things… then my very logical husband said the same unusual thing a day or two later, even though I told him nothing about God saying that.
One day when I went to my parents’ house, I started talking to it. Obviously, I felt strange, talking to this inanimate object, but I did it anyway. I told the house I realized I was wrong for being upset with it for things that people who lived in it did to me. It wasn’t fair to blame the house for the actions of people, & I was sorry. Let’s get to know each other better. Suddenly I began to feel a lot more comfortable in the house. I’m not angry at the house & I don’t cringe every time I see a location in it where something bad happened anymore.
I also did this with my mother’s car, which is now mine. There were a lot of pretty bad memories of times with her in that car, so I dreaded dealing with the car. The first couple of times I got behind the wheel, I talked to the car much like I did with the house. And you know something? I don’t mind driving that car now. I’m comfortable with the car now.
Like many of us in our family, my mother named her car. Her name is Peaches, so when I take her out I often say things like, “Hey, Peaches.. ready to go for a drive?” I also told her she was getting new tires recently. I do the same for the house, saying hi & good bye, or telling the house what I’ll be doing today in what room.
I firmly believe a lot of us who have experienced narcissistic abuse have similar feelings. Some things & places can offer reminders of awful situations, or even trigger flashbacks. I suggest talking to the item in question. It really can help you! I know it sounds crazy, but isn’t it worth a try? Whatever helps you to remove some pain is a good thing. So please, give it a try.. what do you have to lose?
There is a lot of talk lately about being a minimalist. In other words, not having tons of stuff. Some people even give away of most of their belongings & moving into a tiny house or tiny house trailer.
By their definition, I’m not a minimalist. I need a slightly larger house than that! However, I’ve always been of the mindset I don’t need a lot & regularly clean out some of my belongings.
Since I periodically help my husband with the unpleasant task of emptying his late parents’ home & am in the process of doing the same to my late parents’ home, I’ve realized this minimalist thing needs to be taken up a notch in my life. No, I won’t sell my home & replace it with a 300 square foot tiny house, but I am cleaning out.
I’ve found a great deal of pleasure in downsizing. Recently I went through our entire CD collection. Somehow it grew to just over 300 CDs! Since I’d ripped most of them & safely stored those mp3 files on online storage, I figured this is ridiculous. They take up a lot of space in my small house & I’d like my space back. I made sure everything was ripped & got rid of all but 31 CDs that have some sort of sentimental value. They now fit in a storage box that’s slightly larger than a shoe box! I can’t tell you how good it feels not to have that big collection anymore!
I realized that my paternal grandmother was right. Too much stuff is just more to maintain & clean, which takes up precious time that could be put to more pleasant uses. Some of those uses are hobbies, hanging out with people you love, volunteering… I’d love more time for those things, wouldn’t you?
Too much stuff also can create anxiety. Something about living in a cluttered space makes me VERY anxious, as no doubt it does many other people. Since those of us who survived narcissistic abuse usually deal with a lot of anxiety, that is what made me think writing about this topic may be a good idea.
If you’re considering downsizing, I have some tips to help you get started.
When considering getting rid of an item, ask yourself what function it has in your life. Does it make your life easier? Does it bring you joy? If the answers are no, it may be time to let that go.
When was the last time you used/wore the item in question? If it’s been a while, it may be time to let it go. But, if it’s something you do use, just only maybe once or twice a year, that may be an item to keep. As an example, not everyone needs a deviled egg plate daily, but sometimes it can be useful.
Consider what your life would be like without the item in question. Do you think you would feel better or worse without it? If better, send it to a new home!
If you’re going through items like books, scrapbooks, pictures, movies or music, do you enjoy the hard copy or could you be content with digital only versions? Digital versions don’t take up space like hard copies do & can be right at your finger tips, so they have a big advantage like that. However, some things are irreplaceable, so it would be very hard & even depressing to get rid of them. Use wisdom & balance in these situations. I have a ton of pictures stored online, but I also have quite a few printed pictures from years ago. Also, if you opt to keep digital versions, remember – phones, computers, & external hard drives crash. I recommend using a reputable cloud storage for such things to be sure nothing gets lost. I like Dropbox but there are also Google Drive & other online storage options.
Is the item a one of a kind item? That can make it trickier to give away. If the item has sentimental value because it once belonged to someone you love that has passed on, I recommend keeping it if you can. If you don’t feel peace about that though, find someone special to pass it along to that you know will love it as you have.
I firmly believe in downsizing, balance is the key. Clean out! Give away things that don’t serve you well, but keep things that do serve you & bring you joy. You may be surprised how much less anxious you are when you realize you have a lot less stuff in your home than you once did.
In today’s society, keeping busy, even too busy, is seen as admirable. When people haven’t seen you for a while, & ask how have you been or what have you been up to, “Been busy” is an answer that always seems to get approval. Saying, “Not much” on the other hand gets looks of disapproval.
I don’t subscribe to the admiration of busyness. While I’m not advocating for being lazy & unproductive, I don’t think being too busy is wise in many ways. The stress of it can cause physical & mental exhaustion. That stress also can cause health problems such has high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease & heart problems. Most people are aware that these things can happen.
What I don’t think most people are aware of is that making yourself too busy also can be an unhealthy way to cope with trauma.
After experiencing trauma, some people cope with it however works for them. They do what they can to heal & they move on as best they can. On the other hand though are people who have been through so much pain, they feel they can’t take anymore. They don’t see that facing their pain is going to help them, or they’re afraid of the pain. Maybe they think that it’ll take over & or they can’t recover from it, so they decide to hide from it. Many in this position turn to addictions such as drugs, alcohol, sex or even shopping. Making their lives too busy is a much lesser known addiction, but it is just as dangerous as the others.
A person who is too busy has no time or energy to devote to healing. This enables the person to avoid their pain very well by removing the opportunity even to think about it. Stuffing pain inside is unhealthy! Doing so can cause big physical & emotional problems. Emotions demand to be felt, & if they are ignored, they’ll find other ways to manifest, & chances are that manifestation isn’t going to be a healthy one.
It is much better to face your pain than to ignore it. Yes, it’s painful, but it is much less painful than living with dysfunctional ways of trying so hard to ignore it. Think of it like draining an infected wound. Sure, the draining process is painful & well, pretty gross. Once it’s done though, the wound heals much quickly & may not even leave a scar. Ignoring the wound means it’ll take much longer to heal, if it does heal, & an ugly scar will be left behind.
Traumatic events are like the poison in an infected wound. You can drain your traumatic wound by dealing with that pain. Face the trauma, admit it happened, admit it was terrible, admit you never deserved it, admit you didn’t make anyone abuse you & feel those feelings attached to it. Doing these things will help you so much to heal!
If you’re too busy, however, you can’t do this so easily. You’re going to need to make some life changes first. To begin, I strongly recommend prayer. Ask God to guide & help you in this situation.
Also consider all of the things that are taking up your time. How necessary is each activity? What is your motivation for participating in each activity? Which activities bring you joy? Which ones do you dislike?
Once you know which activities you need to eliminate & which to continue, think about creating more efficient ways to do these things. Let your dirty dishes soak while you run the vacuum so you spend less time scrubbing dishes. Take turns with another parent of a child on your child’s sports team driving your kids to practice. Common sense little time savers like these may not seem important, but they really can add up quickly, giving you more time to relax, enjoy your life do what you really need to do, including working on your emotional healing.
Ruminating thoughts are very common after someone has experienced trauma, in particular in cases of PTSD & C-PTSD. They are when a person can’t stop thinking about their awful experiences.
Like many people, I experienced them once C-PTSD developed, but I still had a slight degree of control over them. Sometimes, I could force them to stop & think of something else. After surviving carbon monoxide poisoning though, my brain was damaged. Part of that damage was no longer having the ability to control those ruminating thoughts. I had to learn new & effective ways to cope with them.
After my mother’s sudden death in April, my ruminating thoughts got really, really bad! At first it was incredibly hard to handle them on top of everything else about the situation. With God’s help, after a few months of this, I’ve gotten a much better grip on the awful ruminating thoughts.
When they happen, I’ve learned it’s best if at all possible to get alone & sit with the thoughts. I let them run their course, reminding me of whatever awful thing they are about. I also allow myself to feel the emotions that the thoughts trigger. Whatever it is, be it anger, sadness, hurt, I feel them. No, this isn’t easy. In fact it’s incredibly difficult, but it is also well worth it. The more I do this, the less frequent the ruminating thoughts on that particular topic are.
Immediately following my mother’s death, I kept having ruminating thoughts about the night the police came to give me the news of her passing. It was hardly a pleasant experience to say the least. I would relive their visit over & over in my mind. At first, I did my best to ignore these thoughts. I didn’t see it could do me any good to think about that night.
As time went on though & the thoughts were still frequent, I realized something had to give. I started allowing myself to think about that awful night, & to feel the emotions that I remember feeling that night. I leaned on God to help me but even with Him, it was still quite painful. However, the more I did this when they happened, the less painful remembering that night became. As an added bonus, the less frequently the ruminating thoughts about that night became. I still remember that night pretty frequently & it still hurts to be honest, but now I think it’s on a much more normal level. After all, it’s only been just under 4 months since my mother died. That isn’t a long time at all, so it’s totally normal considering the length of time, our lack of relationship & the rest of the odd situation that I’d still be very upset about her death.
If you suffer with ruminating thoughts, I recommend that you do the same things I have. Get alone with the thoughts as soon as you can. Let them run their course & feel your feelings. Let God help you to get through them, too. Tell Him what you feel & allow Him to validate & comfort you. It’s going to hurt at first, but I promise, it gets easier as you do it! I also promise it’s well worth the pain you feel at first when those ruminating thoughts come less frequently or even disappear in time. It’s kind of like lancing a boil. That doesn’t even sound pleasant & must be awful to experience, but it must be done in order to release the infection so the body can heal. You’re doing the same basic thing – you’re going through the discomfort of facing these ugly things head on so your mind can heal.
Ruminating thoughts are a miserable thing, I know. They don’t have to cause you unnecessary suffering anymore, however! You can make these miserable things work in your favor. You can use them as a tool towards healing!
Most everyone is aware of the fight or flight response. This describes how a person reacts to extremely stressful situations, such as being attacked.
Fight means you aggressively fight back, because you believe you can defeat the danger. When it happens, you feel intense anger, may cry or punch people or things, you may grind your teeth & chances are excellent your stomach will be in knots.
Flight means you run from the danger, because you believe you can’t defeat it. When it happens, you feel fidgety & anxious. You can’t stay still. You want to run for the hills immediately.
There are two other responses beyond fight or flight that are seldom mentioned. Freezing & fawning are the other two responses.
Freezing means when you’re unable to act in these awful situations. You can’t think clearly. Think of a deer in headlights. That deer sees the danger heading straight for him, but is frozen in place. This happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat the attacker. Freezing literally makes you cold when it happens. Your body feels heavy & hard to move, sometimes it can feel numb as well.
Lastly, there is fawning. This happens when in an acutely stressful situation, you do your best to comply with their attacker as an attempt to save yourself. Like freezing, it happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat your attacker. Fawning is a typical response of those who have been in abusive relationships. People who fawn realized that fighting, flight & freezing didn’t work, which is why they resorted to fawning. They found that concerning themselves with the well being of their abuser was their best chance at diffusing the situation.
While fight, flight, freeze & fawn are very different responses, they all share the same goal: to diffuse or preferably end the situation & protect yourself. A problem is often people get stuck in only one or maybe two responses when each one can be helpful in different circumstances. This is especially common in those with PTSD or C-PTSD. The responses become habitual. The best way I know to overcome this is to recognize what you do in such situations. Considering how you acted, without any judgment of course, can help you to discern which acute stress responses you have used. When faced with danger after doing this, you’re more likely to respond after a bit of thought rather than react as in acting without thought.
Another issue can be for those who have experienced multiple traumas. We can perceive threats when there isn’t one. It helps to learn to slow down your thinking a bit so you can decide whether or not the threat is real. Taking a long, deep breath in then releasing it slowly only takes a couple of seconds, but it can slow your body & mind down enough to help you figure out the situation as well as the best way to respond.
Past trauma can affect your life in so many ways. Learning to manage your responses can be one way to help yourself handle stressful & even new traumatic situations in healthier ways.
I would guess about everyone has heard of flashbacks, but I don’t think all that many people realize there are different types of flashbacks. This post is going to explain them.
The first flashback is the type everyone knows. It’s where the person having the flashback feels as if they are reliving a traumatic event. It’s much like you’re watching a movie in your mind, but it seems so real, it can be very hard to differentiate between reality & the flashback as it’s happening.
There are also emotional flashbacks. Instead of feeling as if you’re reliving a traumatic event, you feel the emotions of a traumatic event flooding back to you. Something seemingly unrelated can trigger this, such as someone using a phrase your abuser used during the traumatic event or speaking to you in a similar manner to your abuser.
Both types of flashbacks also can trigger a sort of body flashback where you feel physical pain that you felt during a traumatic event. As an example, I’ve told the story before of how my mother threw me into a wall when I was 19. I had back pain for 10 years after that, then God healed me. Although God healed me over 18 years ago at this time I’m writing this, if I have a flashback of the night that happened, or sometimes if I just think about it, my back starts to hurt.
Having had all three types of flashbacks, I’ve learned some ways to cope with them that help me, & I hope will help you too.
During the flashback, I find it extremely important to keep myself grounded. People do all kinds of things to make that happen. Some clap their hands loudly, stomp their feet hard or hold an ice cube. I prefer touching something with either a very coarse or very soft texture. Smelling something with a strong scent is helpful too, such as lavender essential oil. A bonus of lavender is it has anti-anxiety properties to it, so not only does it smell lovely but it helps calm you naturally. I actually keep a small vial of lavender essential oil near me at all times just in case I need it. Whatever you choose to do, it needs to be something that basically “assaults” your senses to override the flashback & keep you grounded in reality.
It’s also a very good idea to remind yourself that this is only a flashback. It isn’t real. There is nothing that can hurt you happening right now. You’re completely safe.
Also try not to focus on anything else as the flashback is happening. Instead, focus only on getting yourself through it. Nothing else.
Once the flashback has subsided, chances are you’re going to feel tired. They take a lot of energy, physically & emotionally. That is totally normal. Try to take it easy if you can, & get some rest.
When you have recovered & feel able, I really recommend thinking about the topic of your flashback. If it was reliving a traumatic event, what was the event about? If it was an emotional one, do you know why this flashback was triggered? What happened that made you feel the way this event did?
From there, you can begin to deal with the event however works best for you. Pray, journal, talk to a close friend, a pastor or therapist or a combination of these things. Don’t forget to really feel the emotions connected to this event. You’re allowed to cry or get angry about it! In fact, you need to do so. Feeling the emotions will help to get the out of you & help you to heal.
A wonderful thing will happen as you heal from this painful & traumatic event. It will lose much of its power over you. It won’t hurt so much to remember it anymore, & it’s likely you won’t have a flashback about that particular event again.
This day is a difficult one for me. On November 28, 1990, my mother physically assaulted me.
It was the day before Thanksgiving. I got home from work & as soon as I walked through the door, I could tell my mother was itching for a fight. No idea why. My father could see it too, so he quickly said he got a new model airplane & wanted me to see it (we shared a love of models). I practically ran downstairs. I knew it was best never to give in when she was in that mood, so I was grateful for the means of escape.
We were downstairs for a few minutes when my mother stood at the top of the steps, yelling at me. I’m not proud of it, but I finally had enough when she called my car “a hunk of junk” or something like that. I snapped & cussed her out. It just happened. I don’t think the words went near my brain – they just came out. This enraged her, & she started yelling at my father. “Did you hear what she just said to me!? Are you going to let her get away with that?!” My father quietly went upstairs, & left the house while my mother raged at him.
Meanwhile, I went into my room to grab my keys & purse so I could do the same. As I walked back down the hall to get to the door, my mother stepped in my path. She told me she wasn’t going to let me leave. I told her get out of my way before I make you do it. She blocked the doorway by putting her hands & feet against it. I pushed her aside (not knocking her down, just knocking her a bit off balance so I could rush past her). I ran to grab my shoes & by then she was steady on her feet again. Before I knew it, she was in my face, & slammed me into the wall beside the front door, & held me there. My head was the only part I could move.
Two things went through my mind at that moment…
- The pain was intense as my back popped from my tailbone to my neck. It was this incredibly loud POPPOPPOPPOP sound that felt like it went on forever.
- My mother’s eyes had turned BLACK. Jet black! I’d seen that before & it always terrified me.
Suddenly I blacked out, I assume from the intense pain & fear. When I came to a moment later, I was biting her on the arm. She & I were both shocked at what I had done. My shock wore off a bit faster than hers, so I ran out the door & to my car & sped off in a cloud of tire smoke.
I believe my mother wanted to kill me, & if I wouldn’t have blacked out like that, she probably would have succeeded.
Interestingly, I caught up to my father at a traffic light. We pulled over & I told him what happened. We then went to my now ex husband’s parents’ home since it was nearby. My father later went to his parents’ home in Virginia. I moved in with a friend’s parents that night, & got my things from my parents’ home a couple of days later.
Naturally, my mother never accepted any responsibility in this. In fact, when I had to quit working a few months later, she told people I was just lazy & faking back problems to get out of working. And, in 2014, my father mentioned this incident.. He told me it’s ok, I didn’t have to apologize for busting up his wall. How kind, right?! I never even thought of how the wall was damaged, but he said it was really bad. He fixed it though, so I didn’t need to apologize. I told him I had no plans on doing so! Not my fault my mother broke it by slamming me into it!
This incident along with having extremely selfish in-laws who have demanded my husband & I spend the day with them no matter what (I spent it alone when I refused to go) is why I absolutely hate Thanksgiving. Kinda hard to feel warm & fuzzy about the day when there are memories like this assault & years of jerky acting in-laws associated with it.
I honestly thought I was ok with this incident. (Well, as ok as one can be when they think about their mother trying to kill them & father abandoning them to an obviously raging lunatic.) What makes it even harder, I think, is this year, the dates have fallen on the exact days they fell on in 1990, so in some weird way, I almost feel like I’m reliving that time of my life. I feel some of the same shock & anger I felt when it happened, just to a much lesser degree. I feel disappointment too. In my father for abandoning me that night, in my ex for making it all about how he felt about the incident & not caring about my pain (I think he even spent Thanksgiving with his family out of state the following day, if memory serves correctly), & my friend’s father who found it hilarious I bit my mother. I’m even disappointed in my mother for not only attacking me but using it as one more weapon to trash me to other people then expecting me to act like it never happened. I’m also disappointed in myself for failing to press charges against my mother. The thought never crossed my mind until not long ago when I friend mentioned it.
I’m also less than thrilled that thinking about this has made my C-PTSD flare up. Hardly surprising though. So if there are spelling or grammar errors in here, please pardon me. I tried to catch them all a couple of days after writing this, but it doesn’t always happen with flare ups.
I don’t even know why I’m writing all of this as a blog post. I do promise to keep my writing real but even so, this isn’t like me. Usually things like this I write in my journal, maybe sharing details later once I have had some time to come to terms with whatever the trauma was. For some reason though, I felt I needed to write this in my blog instead. Maybe someone who reads my blog needs to see this. If that describes you, Dear Reader, I really hope this post helps you somehow. ❤
Today’s post is a reminder for everyone who has been invalidated…
Your pain is real, & there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that pain. You aren’t crazy, stupid, weak, “wallowing”, living in the past, looking for attention or whatever other invalidating things you have been told. You have no reason to feel shame for what you’re feeling. Other people have no right to judge you. They aren’t you & they haven’t experienced the things that you have experienced. How can they say that you should or shouldn’t feel what you feel?! They can’t!
You, Dear Reader, are just fine. I know it may not feel that way, but it’s true.
Anyone who has survived narcissistic abuse is going to have some issues as a result. It’s just what happens due to the horrible nature of the abuse. Admittedly it, well, it sucks, but it’s also unavoidable. People lacking compassion & empathy fail to understand this. Or, they may see you dealing with your own pain & it serves as a reminder of their pain that they are working hard to ignore. That is why many people invalidate others- to shut them down so they don’t have to face their own issues & pain.
You’ve survived a lot, & if others can’t understand that or feel they must hurt you for it, they obviously have some problems! You hold your head up high & ignore the invalidating jerks! You go on, doing what you need to do to heal, & pay no attention to the invalidators of the world. You have survived so much, you can survive a person who doesn’t possess the humanity to display basic respect & love for a fellow human being!
I have a knack for remembering dates, including kinda obscure ones, that even having brain damage hasn’t affected. I graduated high school on May 13, 1989, for example.
Two other dates I remember are August 23, 1990 & November 24, 1990. Those were the dates I met & then broke up with a man I was involved with. He made me feel so guilty for breaking up with him that ever year for many years, I dreaded those dates because I’d feel such guilt. Although he was only in my life briefly, the dysfunctional relationship had quite an impact on me.
January 31, 2014, I learned that he shot & killed his boyfriend & then himself two days before. The news came as a complete shock to me since I had absolutely no clue of his orientation or capacity for murder. Keeping in mind my knack for remembering dates, all those dates bring him to mind & every time, make me sad for him, his family, his victim & his victim’s family.
A few times, I’ve mentioned the date in passing conversation & the person I was speaking with told me, “Just don’t think about it.” It sat very wrong with me, even when I knew the person had good intentions, & I’ll tell you why.
“Just don’t think about it” is invalidating. You’re thinking about something that bothers you & are trying to talk it out, yet the other person shuts you down. That is invalidation. Why they do it doesn’t change that fact.
If you “just don’t think about it”, how are you supposed to heal from the incident? If you want to heal, you have to think about it & process the emotions connected to it. Not thinking about it is no help at all!
Not thinking about it also contributes to mental & physical problems. It can create anxiety, depression, anger, high blood pressure, heart disease, & kidney disease. It also reduces the effectiveness of your immune system, leaving you open to sickness.
Obviously, “just don’t think about it” is not good advice & you should NOT follow it!
I’m not saying you should think of nothing but the traumatic event you were told not to think about. Instead, I’m saying work with it. Realize you feel as you do for a reason. Maybe it’s there to let you know now is the time you should face this issue. If so, face it. No, it isn’t easy to face past trauma, but do it anyway! If you face it, it will lose much maybe even all of the negative effect it has over you. It also won’t affect your physical health.
If it’s something you’ve already dealt with like I have dealt with my situation, maybe it’s a reminder to pray for the people involved. I know, praying for a person who has abused you, especially one with no remorse or who has made you out to be the abusive one is tough, but do it anyway. Do it not because this person deserves your prayers, but because God wants you to do it & because it really can help you. Praying for those who use & abuse you is incredibly helpful at releasing the anger & even bitterness you feel towards them. Carrying such things around isn’t good for your health, so why do it? You can maintain boundaries or even no contact while not carrying around anger.
Whatever you feel when something traumatic comes to mind, honor those feelings & know they are there for a valid reason. Accept them without judgement. Face them however you feel you need to do in order to heal. Pray for the abusive person if you can too. Whatever you do though, remember that “just don’t think about it” is terrible advice. Ignore the advice, & take good care of yourself!
Recently I read an article about symptoms of PTSD. I didn’t think much more about it at first, but it kinda bopped around the back of my mind a bit for a few days.
A couple of days later, my husband & I had to go to the doctor for our health insurance. His appointment was first, & we texted periodically. He mentioned the doctor was concerned about his depression. When I saw the doctor, I asked him about it & he said, “I see a lot of people day after day. He has the look many have who have been depressed for years.” I thought it was an interesting statement- he’s very observant!
A couple of days later, something hit me. Our doctor didn’t say a word about my mental health. Not a comment one about me looking like someone who’s been depressed for years, even though I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t depressed. Somehow, my lazy Susan-esque brain connected that with the article I read about PTSD symptoms. In that moment I realized just how much I have been ignoring my C-PTSD symptoms. I’m so good at it that even my observant doctor had no idea I struggle with C-PTSD.
Yes, I’m hyper-vigilant, but you probably wouldn’t know it to look at me. Rather than upset people by startling easy, I am on constant guard, surveying my environment so not much surprises me.
I also get very quiet when I have flashbacks. Naturally I’m quiet anyway so that isn’t a huge red flag My husband has seen me have many flashbacks, but hasn’t noticed a lot of them because of that. I don’t even tell him most of the time when I have flashbacks. I just recover & go on the best I can.
These are just two examples, but there are others.
Thinking of such things I realized how incredibly unhealthy this is that I ignore so many of my symptoms. On the outside, I look like I’m managing the C-PTSD just fine, but on the inside is a very different story.
In considering all of this, I think this happens simply out of habit. Growing up with narcissistic parents, I learned early never to “bother” my parents with my problems. My purpose was to take care of them, not the other way around. As a result, like most children of narcissistic parents, I learned to hide or even ignore anything that didn’t please them. I ignored emotions, illness, thoughts, wants, & needs. Now here I am, an adult in my 40’s with my own life, still hiding & ignoring important things that I shouldn’t be hiding or ignoring.
No doubt I’m not the only person in this position, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the issue with you, Dear Reader.
It’s important with PTSD & C-PTSD to manage your symptoms. Ignoring them isn’t the same thing. Managing them means you have some control over your symptoms. Ignoring them means you’re working hard to pretend they don’t exist, which shows they have control over you.
Ignoring symptoms also means the problem won’t get fixed or at least controlled. It also can mean you face health problems because emotions that are ignored can cause stress & we all know stress is terrible for your physical & emotional health.
With both PTSD & C-PTSD, there are some symptoms that are just a part of life but others that can be managed. Flashbacks come to mind. Rather than ignoring them or simply accepting them, why not make them work for you whenever possible? Flashbacks can be a sign of a particular issue that you need to work on. I’ve learned that if I deal with the issue my flashback was about, I don’t have another about that particular issue. The same goes for nightmares. This also can work with anxiety. Figure out what is the root of this anxiety. Ask God to help you if need be. Once you know the root, you can face the problem & eliminate one cause of your anxiety. Chipping away at it one issue at a time can help make it more manageable.
Maybe your symptoms are flaring up because you’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately or it’s near the anniversary of some traumatic event. If that is the case, your brain is trying to tell you to slow down & do some good self care. Listen to the symptoms! They’re trying to get your attention for a reason!
Remember, PTSD & C-PTSD are potentially life threatening disorders. They should be taken very seriously. Ignoring your symptoms isn’t going to help you & can hurt you. Pay attention to your symptoms- your brain is trying to tell you something, so listen to it!
It seems like there is a strange believe among many people that processing trauma quickly is a sign of strength. People are admired for getting back to work or a normal routine quickly, & it’s assumed they’re “over it” when they do that. Unfortunately a lot of people who others think are “over it” are actually avoiding dealing with their pain.
Healing from trauma of any sort isn’t a quick process. How could it be? Trauma overloads your mind, emotions & even body. It’s impossible to simply shake it off & move on. It’s even worse when you’ve been exposed to repeated traumas, such as in the case of child abuse.
Never let anyone make you feel weak or ashamed because you’re not “over it” yet. Truly processing trauma takes time, & lots of it. It also takes a great deal of energy & courage to face the ugly truth, to get angry about it, & to grieve about it. It may take a lifetime to do. There is no shame in that. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’ve been through unimaginable circumstances.
I realized something recently that has been a big help to me, & I believe it can be to you too.
When remembering some of the traumatic & abusive events I’ve been through in my life recently, suddenly I started seeing just how wrong those things were. Oddly, doing that small gesture has helped loosen the hold the damage from such events had over me. I think that happens because I never really questioned these things before.
If you’re reading my blog, chances are you too have experience with narcissists, so you probably know just what I’m talking about. Narcissists don’t allow you to question anything. Whatever they say or do, that is the end of the matter. They’re right, according to them, & you aren’t allowed to think otherwise. Especially with parents, when this happens often as a child, you learn not to question things, just accept them as fact. Seeing clearly that they were wrong & accepting that is a big step in breaking the hold this abuse has over you.
I recently had a flashback about something that happened to me in late 1989 when I was 18. My current ex husband & I were dating, & I hadn’t moved out of my parents’ home at that time. I forget why, but he wanted to use my car one day, so we swapped cars. I was off work that day & my mother insisted I go to the grocery store with her. I said before I went, I wanted to put gas in the car since it was low, as usual. I’d do that then meet her at the store. I did, & on my way to the store, I lost control of the car & landed in a ditch around a turn. It was raining, & the ex’s car had bald tires, so it’s no surprise this happened in spite of me being very careful. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt, & his car only had minimal damage. This happened close to my ex’s parents’ house so I went there. A nice man driving a dump truck took pity on me walking in the rain & gave me a ride. When I got there, I told the ex’s dad what happened. He arranged to get the car towed & I called my mother at the grocery store (pre-cell phones, obviously).
You’d think ditching the car was the trauma, but it wasn’t. When I called my mother, she yelled at me, telling me she knew when I didn’t show up, I’d been in an accident & it served me right for driving that piece of junk car. The ex’s father was furious at what happened, blaming me for driving recklessly. The ex’s mother also blamed me but was at least nicer about it. The ex, believe it or not, was glad it happened, because it meant his parents would finally buy him the new tires he wanted. Later that evening, the ex & I visited my (narcissistic) grandmother who wouldn’t have cared less what I had went through that day.
For years, I accepted that this accident was my fault & I deserved what I got. It simply hadn’t crossed my mind to question that until my recent flashback. Suddenly it hit me how incredibly wrong this whole event was! I didn’t know just how bad the tires were- all I heard was they were wearing out so be careful. I never thought to check for myself. It wasn’t my car, so why would I, especially when my ex was a mechanic? Also, this could’ve been avoided if I’d had my own car- it was ridiculous my ex wanted to have mine as often as he did at that time. Granted, mine was the better of our two cars, but if he wanted better, he should have got his own better car! My ex’s parents should have replaced the tires, too, since they knew just how bad the tires were. And lastly my mother.. that is how she treated her own daughter after her first car wreck?! No “Are you ok?” or any sign of concern, just yelling at & blaming me. Considering her mother didn’t care either, it’s obvious where she got her lack of compassion.
For the first time, I finally realized how wrong all of this was. Every single person in this scenario was wrong except me, the one who got all the blame! I realized how wrong it is that the only person who was nice to me in that incident was the dump truck driver- a total stranger! This entire situation was wrong- every single thing about it!
Looking at the situation differently reminded me of turning a kaleidoscope. One small turn & the scene inside looks entirely different. At least kaleidoscopes give a pretty picture. This was far from pretty, but at least it helped me to release the guilt I felt for almost 29 years!
Since this happened, I’ve been looking at other situations in a new light, & having the same type of results. The slight turn of the kaleidoscope gave me a new perspective, & enabled me to release guilt, shame, & false beliefs while accepting the truth in their place.
Dear Reader, I urge you to try this too. Think about a specific trauma in your life from a more objective perspective. Try to look at it as if you’re watching a movie, for example, or as if it’s happening to someone else, so your emotions are not so involved. Chances are, you’ll see how wrong & unfair it was as I have. Did it help you to release any guilt or false beliefs you had received as a result of that awful experience? If not, ask God to tell you the truth about it, & I have no doubt He will help you to release those things!
So many of us raised with narcissistic parents have heard the phrase “just let it go” too many times to count upon mentioning our awful upbringing. People fail to realize that we would love to let it go & not think about it anymore. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple!
Narcissistic abuse is incredibly ubiquitous. It doesn’t simply affect one small part of you- it permeates every area of your mind & even body. All of your thinking stems from the perspective of someone who was abused by a narcissist. Your body may reflect that abuse too, even if the narcissist didn’t attempt to hurt you physically. The constant stress of living with a narcissist can lead to adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, C-PTSD or PTSD (which are both brain injuries resulting from surviving trauma).
Simply put, you can’t “just let go of” such things no matter how much you wish you could. And honestly, why would you? To make some cold hearted, unfeeling person more comfortable in your presence? Life experiences- good, bad or indifferent- made you the person you are. Learn from them all & grow!
There are some things you can let go of, however. You can let go of:
- expecting the person who told you “just let it go” to be caring & supportive of you.
- the warped belief that something is wrong with you for having problems (either physical or mental or both) after surviving narcissistic abuse.
- that sick belief the narcissist instilled in you that you made him/her abuse you.
- believing that you are the only one responsible for making relationships work.
The next time someone tells you to “just let it go,” you can tell them what you have let go, using the above statements as an example. Or, if you really want to throw them for a loop, ask them what exactly do they want you to let go of & how they recommend you go about doing so.
So many survivors of narcissistic abuse I’ve spoken with take on so much blame for being abused. They say things like, “I should’ve known he was this way when we first met…” or, “I was a difficult child.. my mother had to be hard on me.”
This makes me sad. People need to have a balanced view of blame rather than taking on too much.
If you too grew up with a narcissistic parent or two, there is a great deal of blame to be laid on your parent(s). If you have C-PTSD, anxiety or depression issues, struggle with self-harm or eating disorders, chances are very good the root of those problems lies with enduring narcissistic abuse as a child. Nothing you did could create these problems for yourself. It is your responsibility to deal with those problems, but not for having the problems.
If your narcissistic mother shamed you, told you that you were a mistake, ignored you or was abusive instead of disciplining you, the fault lies with her. No matter what a child does, a child cannot make her parent treat her in such cruel ways. No bad behavior is a valid reason to abuse a child!
Having trouble relating to other people after being raised by a narcissist or two is completely normal. The blame for that can be traced back to your narcissistic parent(s). However, the responsibility for making changes to have healthier relationships is on you.
Not having a healthy balance in such areas & accepting blame for these things can lead to nothing but misery. False guilt, shame, depression, anxiety & more can result.
Do you place blame where it belongs or do you take on too much blame, Dear Reader? I urge you to take a long, hard, honest look at your situation. Ask God to help you identify areas where you’re in need of balance. He will!
I realize that saying your narcissistic mother is to blame for your problems as an adult can trigger unkind, even cruel, comments from others who don’t understand narcissistic abuse. That being said, I urge you also to consider carefully who you discuss this with. Aim for safe people- people who have been through similar situations, who are non-judgmental & have your best interest at heart. If you’re unsure if anyone in your life currently fits that description, then check online. There are many online support groups. (I have a Facebook group that is full of love & support. You’re welcome to check it out if you like.) Talking about it can help you a great deal, when you talk with the right people.
When you first learn that you have PTSD or C-PTSD, you will hear about having nightmares, but very little has been discussed about what kind of nightmares.
When I first realized I had C-PTSD in 2012, I read everything I could find on the disorder, & kept seeing nightmares on the list of symptoms. I assumed it would be dreams repeating traumatic events. Unpleasant, for sure, but I lived through the real thing so I figured I could handle the nightmares.
Not even close!
I have had nightmares ever since I can remember, but the frequency has increased greatly since 2012. And, of the many nightmares, very few were actually reliving the trauma. Instead, many were very strange, such as having my car stolen then totaled, finding a little child I needed to protect or other odd subject matter. I honestly wondered what was wrong with me. How could I have such awful & strange dreams yet nothing of the trauma I have been through? It seemed completely bizarre to me.
Recently I realized something.. these dreams may not be specifically about trauma, but they share similar emotions to traumatic experiences I have had. The nightmares often leave me feeling powerless, abused, unloved (even hated), helpless & more.
I’ve heard a few people say their nightmares are much like mine- not about traumatic events, but about events that trigger similar emotions.
I believe this means such nightmares must be a normal part of having C-PTSD or PTSD.
If you too are having odd, unsettling nightmares, then know you aren’t alone. Nightmares are part of PTSD & C-PTSD, unfortunately.
As disturbing as they are, they may be able to help you. Dreams & nightmares alike have meanings. They’re never random, even though they feel that way.
Dreams can show you areas you need healing in or areas where you have healed well. They can show you things you weren’t aware of or you need to be aware of. They also can simply help you because your brain is processing some information. The brain processes information every single moment, even when you’re asleep.
If you want to understand your dreams & nightmares, prayer is the best place to start. Ask God to help you to understand them & learn what you need to know from them.
A good dream dictionary is a helpful tool too. I use a website (there are many to choose from). They can help you to see what each item in your dream represents, which can make it easier to interpret them.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of your dreams. Write them down & look them over from time to time. That can help encourage you when you see how far you’ve come. It also can help to remind you of things you need to deal with.
Personally I write down my dreams & nightmares, plus what I find the meaning of everything I can remember in them. Colors, objects, people, feelings. Once it’s all written down, I ask God to help me to understand what the dream or nightmare meant. It’s proven to be quite helpful to me many times. It could benefit you as well
Triggers are things that remind us of things in our life. Good triggers are wonderful, such as the sound of that whipped cream in a can being sprayed always reminds me of my late kitty, Delta, who would do a little happy kitty dance for a dollop of that whipped cream. Her cuteness always made me smile.
Unfortunately there are also bad triggers, such as something that triggers a bad memory or even a flashback to abuse or trauma. Although I live not far from the town my parents have lived in since the year before I was born, I avoid going there as much as possible. So many things in that town trigger bad memories & even flashbacks there. On my way to the vet’s office once, as I passed the library where I worked in my late teens, I had a flashback behind the wheel! Thankfully it happened at a red light. Also thankfully, Sabrina, the cat that had the appointment, knew something was wrong & helped to bring me out of it by gently scratching my hand. (Interestingly that was the only time she has scratched me in her entire life)
When you have PTSD or C-PTSD, you naturally try to avoid the bad triggers as much as possible. Even so, triggers still happen. No matter how careful you are, at some point, someone will say something, you’ll hear a sound, or you’ll smell an old & familiar scent that can mentally transport you back in time to a place you try never to think about. It’s simply impossible to avoid triggers entirely no matter how careful you are.
Since you can’t avoid triggers, the only other thing you can do is manage them when they do happen. The best ways to manage bad triggers that I have found are to stop what I’m doing, breathe deeply a few times, ask God for help, & focus on something to help keep me grounded. Good triggers can help in this situation. I have some perfume that my grandmom gave me when I was a kid. Smelling it helps to keep me grounded because not only is the scent fairly strong, it automatically reminds me of someone very special to me when I smell it. Like flashbacks, it takes something rather strong to the senses to help keep your focus- a very soft or rough fabric, a strong scent, or something very cold (like an ice cube).
I have a small flashback “kit” that contains two small sample size perfume vials- one of that perfume from my grandmom in one & the other lavender scented oil (lavender is known for its relaxation properties) & a very smooth, pretty pink quartz rock to hold. I’ve found these things help to keep me grounded during a flashback or trigger. If you find things that work for you, I would suggest creating your own flashback kit, & keep it with you in case you are subjected to a trigger or have a flashback.