Do you suffer from Complex-PTSD?
What is Complex-PTSD?
Chances are you have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and associated it with people who have been involved in or been affected by a traumatic event (like those in military services). PTSD refers to an event or events that produces such a high state of threat or danger that can change the body’s physiology. Long after the threat has passed, a PTSD sufferer remains on ‘alert’ to ward off future events that could retrigger the fear of the previous event.
If you grew up in a dysfunctional household (where alcohol or drugs were frequently present), there is high chance you dealt with your own brand of war zones where you were subjected to frequent, sometimes daily, traumatic event. This type of ongoing trauma is generally referred to as Complex PTSD or C-PTSD. Many adult children of alcoholics are constantly on alert, surveying our environments – whether we are doing it consciously or unconsciously. This can be exhausting and keeps us from living our life fully.
That’s why it is SO important to work with our bodies/nervous systems to cultivate more safety and security in our daily lives so that we can begin to relax and understand that things are different now. We are no longer in danger and can begin to enjoy our lives a bit more. Here are things that have helped me cultivate more safety in my body and in my environment:
1. Understand your body’s response to traumatic experiences
The more you know about why your body and brain respond to the way they do to traumatic experiences, the better your ability to navigate them. It is important to be gentle on yourself first and foremost; understand that your fear response is no more of a conscious choice then it is to jump when you are startled.
When our brains identify a threat (reminder of a past trauma), the older, more primitive part of our brains turn on our internal alarm system (fight/flight/freeze mode). When this happens, the thinking part of our brain is no longer able to function they way it does when we are calm.
When a person has experienced trauma, the alarm system in the brain can become hypersensitive to perceived threats, and lead to these responses happening much more frequently even when there is no inherent danger anymore. When we can recognize this response is happening, we can more effectively manage our resulting thoughts, feelings, and actions.
2. Use grounding techniques to cultivate safety
One of the best ways to ground yourself in periods of unsafety is through movement and breath awareness. Take a moment to have a gentle stretch and connect to your breath. You can even do some breath control techniques such as box breathing/equalised breathing to change the focus of the mind. If you find moving too overwhelming, then lie down and close your eyes. If it feels possible, you can try a body scan relaxation to release physical tension from the body. Even a 5 minute lie down every day can have a huge impact on creating safety in the body.
3. Connect with a safe person or pet
While this may not be an option for everyone, safe physical contact like hugging or holding hands with a person you trust can be a very effective way to regulate emotions. If it feels safe to do so, looking at the face of a beloved person or pet can also help your body calm and soothe at a deeper level than words alone would.
4. Take care of your body (as much as feels possible at the time)
Taking care of your body is critically important when trying to manage strong emotions. If you are tired, hungry, or in pain, it becomes much harder for the thinking part of your brain to accurately assess threats. This in turn leaves you more vulnerable to strong emotional reactions.
It is common after experiencing trauma to develop behaviours to try and cope that can have negative impacts on long term wellness, like disordered eating, substance use, or engaging in other high-risk behaviours. Increasing physical wellness through addressing these concerns is a foundational piece of recovery.
Yoga, dance, and exercise have been found to help not only with mood and overall health but can also be especially helpful in trauma recovery because they increase your ability to move in and out of states of stimulation and relaxation.
5. Be gentle on yourself
Start slow and remember that safety always comes first. Any healthy shift you make is a step toward healing. That may mean just taking the time to learn a little bit more about the biological impact of trauma, or perhaps addressing some physical health concerns, or trying a new grounding skill.
Whatever you do, please remember that you do not need to go through this process alone, it’s not your fault, and you are not broken. You did not choose what happened to you or the way your body responds to traumatic experiences. You can choose to get help and it is here when you’re ready.