Trauma brings up in the mind the worst cases of abuse, sexual or physical which are of course absolutely terrible and sadly all too common. However, just as many children acquire CPTSR from emotionally traumatising families as from physically traumatising ones. In childhood, repeated and ongoing emotional neglect, creates intense feelings of fear, shame, abandoment and emptiness.
Because acts of sexual or physical abuse are more overt than acts of verbal and emotional abuse and neglect, many adults who have experienced emotional trauma as children tend to deny or minimise to themselves and others, the traumatic effects it has actually had on their emotional and mental well being. However, if we don’t acknowledge and accept that these unconscious feelings of fear, toxic shame, guilt and overwhelm are the direct result of our unmet needs, recovery is severely limited.
It is incredibly likely that the majority of people who experience anxiety as adults had this ‘fear’ response triggered in childhood as a result of traumatic experiences. Unlike the ‘one off’ incidents that trigger Post Traumatic Stress Response, for example a soldier in a combat situation who experiences an horrific ‘bombing’ and can then clearly link the trauma response to this event. Emotional trauma is experienced over an extended period of time and the individual will not be able to consciously link their feelings of overwhelm and general self-disgust to any one event. Instead it literally becomes a way they ‘feel’ about themselves.
All Post Traumatic Stress responses occur when attack or abandonment triggers the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response so intensely, that the person cannot turn it off once the threat is over.
They become stuck in an adrenalised state with the sympathetic nervous system on ‘high’ and find it near impossible to access the relaxed and calm states regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system. This calm and relaxed state which enables us to remain emotionally, mentally and physically well and balanced.
Anxiety is actually an umbrella term for a number of conditions all of which stem from the emotion of fear. These include – post traumatic stress response, obsessive/ compulsive behaviour and generalised anxiety disorder to name a few.
7 of the most common and challenging features of CPTSR are :
- Emotional flashbacks,
- Toxic shame,
- A cruel “inner critic,
- Social anxiety,
- Low self-esteem,
- Profound feelings of hopelessness, helpless, loneliness & abandonment
It’s the overwhelming feelings of toxic shame which can tear apart an individual’s self-esteem in a moment.
Whenever a person who has experienced childhood emotional trauma has a ‘flashback’, they literally experience in a visceral way the intense feeling-states of being abused or abandoned.
Feelings of being powerless, helpless, hopeless, guilty, worthless – and the shame that accompanies these feelings of ultimate rejection, by those whose duty it was to love and care for them appropriately. And who failed. Or at least that is the internalised perception of the individual.
The flashbacks are compounded in their intensity by a triggering of the flight or fight response and the release of more of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
The feelings of toxic shame also discourage those with CPTSR to seek comfort, help and support. This is because of the unconscious belief now entrained in the brain that isolating themselves , or pretending that everything is okay and that they are in control – will keep them safe from further attack or abandonment.
To recover, a person will need to learn how to support themselves – to meet their unmet developmental needs and grow their emotional intelligence or health. This opportunity was denied them as child.
7 of the key features of being a ‘healthy’ human include :
- Self-acceptance & self-compassion,
- Self-protection (Healthy relationship boundaries),
- A strong ‘inner nurturer or champion’,
- Natural confidence,
- The ability to relax
The first stage of recovery should involve repairing the damage that CPTSR does to the thoughts and beliefs someone has about themselves. Learning about the brain, recognising and eliminating the destructive thoughts and feelings you were literally ‘brainwashed’ with as a child is a priority. Replacing these thoughts and feelings with healthy, accurate ways of talking to and thinking about yourself.
Always remember the self-fulfilling trauma you are living in right now, was a result of something done to you, not because of you. Learning to remove the burden of self-blame and shame is essential.
Side by side with this work is the building up of your inner champion or nurturer, which replaces the nasty, critical internal voice that constantly attempts to beat you down.
The good news about CPTSR is that it is a learned set of responses. It is environmental and not genetic – a dysregulation caused by nurture (or a lack of it) and not nature. This is positive news because what is learned can be unlearned and vice versa – thanks to the power of neuroplasticity. What was not provided by your parents or adult caregivers in terms of healthy emotional learning, can now be provided by yourself and other trusted people.