Do you struggle with things like obsessive and negative thinking, anxiety in social situations, trouble with relationships, not taking care of yourself the way you know you should be, and getting sort of panicky and overwhelming feelings when confronted with certain situations that remind you of painful situations from your past?
If so, you MIGHT be struggling with something called cptsd, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cptsd is a more intense form of ptsd that is the result of being exposed to various forms of emotional and psychological trauma that takes place over a long period of time rather than just being exposed to one really traumatic situation that results in general ptsd for example.
You can get this from being a prisoner in a war camp, or of growing up in an abusive or neglectful home as a child to one degree or another.
It can cause A LOT of problems for individuals struggling with this, and it’s only recently that the mental health field has discovered it and started taking the issue more seriously.
However, those of us struggling with intense emotional trauma need to be able to heal NOW.
SO, being a survivor of cptsd myself and wanting to HEAL from the effects of it, I was able to boil down the 5 KEY COMPONENTS that one needs to work on in order to heal from cptsd.
If you struggle with cptsd, THINK you might be struggling with ptsd and you’ve wondered how to heal from cptsd, keep reading because that’s EXACTLY what we’re going to be covering today.
First, What IS CPTSD?
As stated above, cptsd is a more severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Where ptsd is something that occurs from one really intense and traumatic situation, cptsd takes place over a long period of time and the trauma that one goes through is, well, more complex.
The five key characteristics of what comprises cptsd are:
- Toxic shame
- Emotional flashbacks
- Social anxiety
- A vicious inner critic
At the core, cptsd is an emotional attachment disorder.
Basically this just means that you never had the chance to learn emotional vulnerability with a safe person and consequently had to shield yourself and shut yourself down from painful or dangerous people.
Although difficult to deal with and a challenge to heal from, the good news is that cptsd is a TRAUMA disorder that came from one’s environment and was LEARNED.
Because of this, it can be UNLEARNED and you can rewire yourself to learn how to open up, trust, heal etc.
As someone who has struggled with cptsd myself and who wasn’t able to find any real solid solutions or answers to my issue over the years, I sorted through tons of books, went to seminars, learned different meditation practices etc in order to find what WORKED.
Although it took me quite some time to put together, I finally did put together a system that works WONDERS and that has given me my life back.
These are the 5 key areas of healing from cptsd that we’ll be exploring here.
1. Cognitive Healing – Dealing with the Inner Critic
So when you grow up in an environment where you are constantly put down, ridiculed, torn apart emotionally and psychologically for anything and everything, your mind begins to believe it is fundamentally flawed, broken, and worthless.
What’s more, your brain is getting the message from those who are supposed to love you and keep you safe the most that you are fundamentally unlovable, and are unworthy of love.
As if this wasn’t bad enough in and of itself, you begin to subconsciously hate and sabotage yourself because one or more of your parents didn’t love you or keep you safe.
This is where the vicious inner critic comes into play.
This is the part of your mind that is constantly putting you down, constantly telling you you’re not good enough or that you ‘can’t’ do something or that you’re worthless and unlovable.
Essentially your abuser, whether through overt abuse or passive abuse, programmed you to abuse yourself when they weren’t around without even realizing it.
I know, it’s insidious, to say the least.
So to deal with this and to start to peel back the layers of cptsd and start healing from them, it’s important to become aware of and tackle your own inner critic.
It’s kind of weird at first because if you grew up with an inner AND an outer critic, you simply don’t know any different.
But when you start watching your thoughts and then reversing the negative and self-berating thoughts to more rational and loving thoughts, you begin to FEEL better just from doing that.
I mean it really is as simple as you starting to feel better because you stop attacking yourself over and over.
And then you say to yourself my God I can’t believe how long I’ve been hurting myself without even realizing it!
It’s really important to tackle this area of the inner critic so that you can start to feel safe and protected in your own skin and in your own mind.
It does take a little work but if you want to heal from cptsd or some other emotional trauma disorder this is an absolute MUST.
And I can promise you the rewards you’ll get from doing this work will be well worth your efforts.
2. Managing Emotional Flashbacks
The second most important area to focus on when overcoming cptsd or other trauma-related issues is to focus on what’s called emotional flashbacks.
Now I know that at first, this concept might sound a bit foreign and you’re not quite sure what it is, OR how to recognize an emotional flashback in yourself if and when you’re having one.
Essentially an emotional flashback is a nonvisual flashback of FEELING like you are a helpless powerless child.
This is the overwhelming, panicked, feeling of terror, and complete lack of safety that you felt as a child when you were subjected to various traumatic events or outright abuse.
Unfortunately, if this isn’t dealt with, which in most cases it isn’t as it isn’t caught or recognized by anyone when you’re having them, you can grow up and live your whole life suffering from these intense feelings of overwhelm and panic and not know any different OR how to stop them.
Emotional flashbacks can range in intensity from mild anxiety and a feeling of not being ok, to really intense experiences of feeling like you’re sort of trapped in something of an emotional black hole.
This can last a day, a week, multiple weeks, or even longer.
Learning to recognize these flashbacks when they are happening to you is important and crucial if you are looking to heal from cptsd.
Once you recognize that you’re having one of these flashbacks you can practice some inner soothing techniques such as focusing on your breathing, telling yourself that you’re having a flashback but that everything’s ok now when you’re having one, and some even more advanced but extremely powerful techniques that are part of The Whole Life Solution course.
I can tell you from personal experience that I used to have really intense emotional flashbacks in certain situations that would leave me feeling sort of paralyzed and almost as if I had been shocked by some intense electricity inside myself, but now I can soothe myself in real-time and move through them when they happen.
I can’t tell you what an absolute RELIEF it is having dealt with this my whole life so far!
3. Dealing with Your Toxic Shame: Practicing Self Love and Self Compassion
Now when it comes to shame, not to mention TOXIC shame (to me all shame is a bit toxic, no?), this was a tough one for me.
I mean, I knew what the word shame was, but in all honesty, I didn’t really know what shame FELT like, does that make sense?
It wasn’t until I did more emotional work and digging on my inner issues and I was able to feel an intense RELEASE from the way I was normally feeling did I have a better idea of what shame was experientially.
Basically for those of you who aren’t aware, guilt is when you feel bad because of something you DID, whereas SHAME is where you feel bad because of who you are.
I know, it’s horrible.
And when you’ve been kind of shamed your entire life by your mother (me!), honestly you have just lived your whole life IN a state of toxic shame and you didn’t know any different.
Looking back I honestly think that I didn’t know what the feeling of shame actually was because I was simply in a constant state of shame and had been my whole life and didn’t realize it.
So because of this intense inner shame and self-contempt and hatred because of the way I was treated by my narcissistic mother, I was sort of in a constant state of rejecting myself inwardly and being down on myself.
The antidote to this dilemma I would later find out is in opening up to others about how you really feel on certain issues by practicing vulnerability.
What keeps shame intact is the feeling of needing to hide or withdraw from the world and people.
By opening up and being vulnerable, the shame LITERALLY melts within you and you can DEFINITELY feel it.
On top of opening up with safe and healthy people in safe and healthy environments, learning to practice self-love and self-compassion is CRUCIAL in learning to start loving yourself and to FEEL better overall.
Self-love and self-compassion might sound kind of weird at first, and it was for me, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about ‘doing it’.
But if you start simple and start with the basics, loving yourself the way a loving parent SHOULD ideally be loving their child, you will want to take the utmost care of your child and make sure they are getting everything they need for their overall health and well-being.
If you don’t know what that is for you, simply start with the basics of taking care of yourself physically.
Are you eating the proper food and supplying your body and mind with the proper nutrition they need to function optimally?
I know for a while I wasn’t.
I would try to eat healthier but I’d always go back to unhealthy foods that made me feel safe and secure, which was due to trauma.
Unhealthy eating is also a subtle form of self-sabotage playing out as you are really hurting your body and mind without necessarily realizing it.
This kind of thing is quite common for survivors of trauma, and so working on eating healthier foods and going for regular exercise, even if it’s just a walk can do wonders for you and you’ll start to FEEL better overall.
Then of course learning to speak to yourself lovingly and compassionately internally when you are countering your inner critic, along with talking to yourself soothingly when you’re having a rough time and are feeling overwhelmed or having an emotional flashback is crucial as well.
Doing something nice for yourself once in a while like taking yourself out for some ice cream or doing anything that you genuinely enjoy doing is quite helpful for your healing as well.
As you do things like this little by little you’ll start to chip away at your intense shame and sense of terror and loneliness and you’ll start to actually FEEL better as you practice self-love.
The more you feel better and you realize what works, the easier it will become to practice self-love and self-compassion on a regular basis.
4. Learning Assertiveness and Effective Communication
Speaking from my own experience as someone who was BOTH an introvert as WELL as a survivor of narcissistic abuse at home, I was COMPLETELY shut down inside growing up.
Dealing with an emotional manipulator or narcissist you are sort of always in a state of fear and anxiety in fear that you will get caught by ‘the eye’ of the narcissist as I like to call it.
It’s when they see you or notice you and start to emotionally abuse and manipulate you through yelling, screaming, baiting, or interrogations of varying degrees.
It’s all designed to make you feel nervous, confused, and to question and doubt yourself while they literally attack you verbally and emotionally, even if it is more of a passive-aggressive form of abuse.
So having to live with this kind of thing on a regular basis you quickly learn how to hide, even if you have to hide by wearing masks of trying to please your abuser as you do NOT feel safe trying to be your authentic self at all.
Not only that, but many times with abusive parents and especially narcissists, they will shut you down or punish you if you try to speak your mind or speak from your heart or be assertive.
This is a way of shutting you down so that you feel worthless and powerless and more dependent on them so they can continue to abuse you.
So when I thought about this and I looked at how difficult a time I had with assertiveness and effective communication, I decided to put together some exercises for myself where I could PRACTICE being assertive and to learn to communicate effectively.
This allows you to connect or re-connect to your core self and express what you are genuinely feeling or thinking on any subject in a SAFE environment.
Honestly, I like to do this on my own as it is quite powerful and helpful in and of itself.
But then it becomes easier to do this with other people in general life situations.
Learning assertiveness and effective communication allows you to truly be seen and heard both by yourself, as well as by others, in a respectful healthy, and effective manner.
It gives you confidence in yourself as you regain the strength to speak your heart and mind in a genuine way.
It also allows you to regain your ability for free self-expression.
And of course, assertiveness and effective communication helps you in every other area of your life as well: in general social situations, in school, work, etc.
I have made IMMENSE progress in my emotional healing journey just from learning and practicing assertiveness and effective communication skills and I know it can do wonders for you as well if you struggle with this.
5. Learning New Things As Well as Learning Things You Never Learned Because of Fear
And the fifth and final area to focus on for recovering from cptsd is simply learning new things, as well as learning things you never learned due to fear.
Speaking for myself, I can tell you that I was SO frozen emotionally in utter terror and anxiety my entire life, and I isolated so much growing up that there were simply a lot of things I never learned or experienced the way other kids did growing up.
This also fueled my feelings of general helplessness in life and fueled my toxic shame as well.
I used to feel so ashamed of myself that I didn’t know certain things such as a lot of popular bands, I didn’t know anything about sports (although I’m STILL not interested in sports so that one will have to be what it is!), and many other life skills like cooking, doing things around the house etc.
By making a list of things I’d like to learn and then going ahead and learning those things, I felt SO empowered and my self-esteem and self-confidence skyrocketed as I realized that I COULD do anything and that I could also LEARN anything I needed to learn in life that I didn’t already know.
Continuing to learn new things helps to rewire my brain so that I feel more powerful and capable rather than small, afraid, and powerless all the time.
And of course, this confidence along with the skills I learn in general are quite helpful in every other area of my life as well.
Wrapping it Up
So to sum it all up, the 5 key areas to focus on in order to heal from cptsd are:
- Cognitive healing by dealing with the inner critic
- Learning how to recognize and manage emotional flashbacks
- Dealing with your toxic shame by practicing self-love and self-compassion
- Learning assertiveness and effective communication
- Learning new skills as well as skills you never learned because of fear
If you focus on these 5 primary areas, I PROMISE you you will see significant growth and progress in your recovery from cptsd.
And I’m saying this as someone who HAS cptsd and who tried to get help from the mental health field for YEARS with no luck so I had to develop this action plan for myself so I could finally heal and get on with my life.
Of course, these steps are extremely helpful for your overall emotional health and well-being if you DON’T have cptsd.
So go ahead and experiment with these 5 steps a bit and see if you don’t notice a difference in how you feel in life.
If you’d like to do some more in-depth work, feel free to check out The Whole Life Solution course.
Over to you now:
Do you have cptsd or know someone who does?
Have you struggled with narcissistic abuse in your life or some other form of emotional and psychological trauma?
Do these 5 steps for healing from cptsd resonate with you at all, and/or have you tried any of these steps already and have had some positive results?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, feelings, and insights in the comments below!
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