Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Complex PTSD, Part III

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

On Monday of this week I began a series of posts chronicling phenomena that may be associated with something called 'Complex PTSD'.  To read more from my own writings simply use 'Complex PTSD' as a keyword phrase in the search bar in the upper left corner of my main blog page.

The idea of 'Complex PTSD' may prove useful as a means of distinguishing those whose PTSD may be especially severe due to the nature or duration of the trauma they have experienced.  I first learned about the idea of Complex PTSD this past summer when I sought out a second opinion about my mental health.  In my opinion it rarely can be a bad thing to seek out a second opinion.  In some cases a second opinion can even make the difference between life and death.  To learn more about the concept of Complex PTSD click here.

Today I am going to write a bit about the third of six phenomena listed on the webpage noted above that may be associated with what Judith Herman might call Complex PTSD.  The third listed phenomenon relates to self-perception.  Put simply, those who have suffered trauma of grave severity and/or long duration may experience intense feelings of helplessness, shame and guilt.  A feeling of 'being completely different from other human beings' (taken word for word from the webpage noted above but then noted with added emphasis on my part) could even be present.

It is sobering to read through the phenomena and their descriptions.  When I first read through them this past summer I found myself identifying with each of them.  To feel utterly different from other people is, in one sense, to feel alien.  If you are haunted by a deep and enduring feeling of not belonging anywhere then it is quite possible some experience in your earlier life history was quite difficult for you.  Would such experience quality as a trauma?  That would be difficult for me alone to say.  Though I regularly write this blog and do some amount of research on a frequent basis I am not a trained mental health expert or clinician.  But I do have extensive education and life experience that inform my perspective.  I am a man on a journey of healing who wishes to find my way...and also welcome others to join me (in some form) on the journey I am making.  Healing can be a lonely experience.  But it doesn't have to be.

I certainly felt helpless for portions of my childhood.  And I also felt quite alienated much of the time.  It's somewhat miraculous I didn't become a disaffected youth who later became caught up in a bad life with other misdirected, alienated people.  I could have made much worse choices than I ultimately made.

I can affirm that there were certainly times when I felt myself to be very different from other people.  But it is important to note that some of this perception was based in objective reality.  I am a gay man.  Growing up as a gay teenager in the late 1980s in Texas was not an easy experience.  I also am a person who grew up in a family touched by a significant amount of mental illness.  Not everyone (thankfully) has this experience.  As an undergraduate college student I chose a course of study that is fairly atypical.  I went on to experience a great variety of things in my life as an adult.  One of my most profound experiences was living and working on a Native American reservation at the very young age of twenty-three years of age.  So in many regards I am, in fact, a unique person who could rightly feel very different from other human beings.

We cause ourselves needless pain and suffering when our self-perception does not accurately represent who we truly are.  I have, by growing degrees, come to realize how distorted my sense of self once was.  As I have gradually continued to improve my capacity to intently and attentively listen to others I have become more able to take in the feedback I have been offered.  And as I have received said feedback it became clear my self-perception was, at one time, highly skewed.  Emerging from such delusion has been the equivalent of waking up from a very bad dream.

I think it is generally true that children need consistent and positive reinforcement to ultimately develop into adults who are able to consistently make well discerned, thoughtful choices about their lives.  By making this statement I do not mean to imply that children should not be corrected (in an appropriate way of course) when they make less than optimal choices.  The manner in which a person parents his child or children is so important.  When criticism is always offered in a harsh, brittle way I think it's only a matter of time before a child begins to develop a warped view of self...and the world.  We are all human and we all are thus likely to make mistakes.  Allowing ourselves to be willing to fail in life, without making such failure into a catastrophic event, is a vital skill of the well adjusted.  Every day of our lives presents us with choices and options.

I wish I had received more praise and encouragement than I ultimately did.  I certainly did not go without praise and encouragement.  I received it and I remember what it felt like.  I had some very bright moments and happy times in my childhood.  But they were, unfortunately, not my complete experience during my developmental years.

I see clearly that my personal wounding was very much bound up in the (unspoken) expectation I felt was placed upon me to endure what I did in my childhood and yet not allow it to distort my capacity to trust and love.  I was basically expected to be a little version of Hercules.  When we (or others) place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves we create a potent recipe for disappointment.  Setting realistic expectations of self and others is thus an important part of living a healthy life!

I believe a healthy way to end my writing today is to encourage my readers to ask themselves some potent questions:

  • What is your sense of self?
  • Do you have an accurate estimation of who you are and what you can offer to the world?
  • What wounds do you carry?
  • If you feel your biological parents did not parent you well what can you do for yourself now to live a healthy life?
  • If you are hard on yourself, ask yourself what might happen if you simply gave yourself a short vacation (an hour, a day, a week) from whatever critical voice is inside your mind.


It's a beautiful autumn day in Minnesota.  I am grateful to be alive.  I feel as if I am finally emerging from the equivalent of a journey through Hell.  And yet here I am.  I am alive.  My physical health is good.  I have a great smile.  And I have a lot to offer the world.  My life truly is very good!

If you find yourself in despair ask yourself what is good in your life.  Focus on those things!

Make it a great Wednesday!

Post Script

Fifty Day Challenge, Day #20

Healthy activities:

  • Listening to upbeat music
  • Appreciating the sunshine and autumn colors
  • Remaining faithful to writing my blog
  • Practicing good self-care skills to overcome my cold
  • Eating a healthy salad for lunch

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!