For most of my life, I used to feel panicked when I used to see a hair stylist. The circular thoughts in my head went like this: My hair is about to be ruined.
The haircutter thinks I am white trash. She will think I want an awful, trashy haircut unless I can show her that it’s not who I am. But if I say one word about this, she’ll think I’m a bitch. So my hair is about to be ruined… ” and so on.
I saw expensive stylists, and paid for super nice services. I brought pictures of what I wanted. I’d explain what I wanted before the services started. And then once the scissors start to snip, my freakout would begin.
It was severe; my hands would go numb, my heart would pound. I’d see my face in the mirror, frozen and grey. I could barely pull payment from my wallet, I was so disembodied when the whole thing was done.
This is distorted perception at work. Kind of like the way anorectics look in the mirror and see a fat person, I used to see a “trashy” person. It completely vanished when my PTSD was treated, and when I’d cleaned up some behaviors that used to make me feel ashamed and, well, trashy.
I’m sure there are things I’m still not seeing clearly, but I don’t yet know what they are! My distorted thoughts only become apparent to me just as they disintegrate. Once I see the truth, the thought is no longer distorted. Here are a few of the distorted thoughts/patterns that went away:
- I used to have a really hard time, in a conflict with someone, determining what was actually my fault, and what was theirs (this is challenging for everyone, but it got WAY easier).
- I used to think emotionally normal people were either against me or wanted to control me — and that only edgy, troubled people were really alive and capable of understanding me.
- I used to think the truths revealed when people are intoxicated always represent “true” feelings, and not what they do/say when they’re sober.
- I used to be fuzzy about the right amount of information to tell about myself to others. Ironic that I should blog about this, I know.
- I used to think that if I didn’t prove myself to everyone and make my abilities known to them, I’d be invisible and overlooked.
- I used to have a really difficult time perceiving whether a guy who seemed interested in me was actually interested in me, or just interested in hooking up.
OK, you get the picture — you’ll notice that these problems all involve difficulty recognizing and expressing what is true.
If you too were impacted by trauma in childhood, you may have some similar patterns, and struggles with knowing what is true. The great news is, IT GETS EASIER! And boy, when you can trust yourself to be in reality everything in life starts getting better — relationships, career, money, daily interactions, parenting, the way you solve problems — everything.
It doesn’t happen automatically though — not for me. I work very, very hard to perceive what is true, and to be “real,” and to keep my words and actions truthful. If you’re interested, here’s my advice.
How to Know What is True
- Stop (at least for now) using mind altering substances. You might think this is overly severe, because after all, many happy, healthy people have a drink or smoke weed now and then. You may feel that pot and alcohol provide relief from stress, and stress relief is a good thing! But hear me out. If you are just a casual drinker/smoker, consider taking a break for a while, just to give yourself a chance to really focus on an improved capacity to see reality. If you drink or smoke daily, or use other drugs regularly, your perception is likely to be struggling along from day to day; it’s just really, really hard to make life changes when part of your awareness is softened. So again, consider taking a break. If you aren’t able to stop on your own, this is the perfect time to go get help in a 12-Step program or detox facility.
- Learn to write inventory and meditate. As you get honest on the paper (and maybe by sharing what you wrote with a trustworthy, understanding friend), you’ll find that a lot of the hamster wheel activity in your mind is, in fact, distorted thinking. With inventory you can get relief from that, and the result is clarity. Meditation builds your capacity to even handle the truth, and creates an opportunity for more truth to make itself clear to you.
- Ask three trusted friends if they’d be willing to help you see clearly. You can explain that you are working on improving your perception of reality and trying to make some positive changes. Ask them if they’d tell you, gently but honestly, what they notice about your negative patterns. Is there a mistake they see you making repeatedly? Is there a blind-spot they notice? Is there something you might change in your attitude or actions that (in your friend’s opinion) would make a positive difference in your relationships? Don’t choose the people who are always eager tell you what’s wrong with you anyway. That might not be trustworthy information!
Getting honest input from friends is scary, I know! When I was stuck one time and asked some friends what they saw, they each said pretty much the same thing. Interesting, huh?
They each went out of their way to tell me the positives they saw in me. But the negative they all saw was this: I was sometimes insensitive to the effect I had on others. My words and voice could be harsh, especially when I felt threatened. They had felt at times that I didn’t care about them, or wasn’t hearing them.
This was hard to hear, but I thanked each person, and did not defend myself. I knew the behaviors were leftover from some rough times in my life, but I didn’t make excuses. I took what they said at face value, and made these problems a top priority in my life. I read, I doubled down on my recovery program, I became more honest about it, and I prayed. I don’t think these tendencies will ever be completely gone in me, but there has been continuous improvement, and just knowing my own weaknesses helps me during intense situations. I know to slow down and really pay attention to how others are feeling, and how my words are affecting them. These changes have made a HUGE difference in my connection to other people, even strangers.
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Thanks for reading!
oh, and by the way…
I’m pleased to announce my new course, “Healing Childhood PTSD” , is open for registration. It’s a self-paced course with 32 videos about how PTSD happens, what it does to us, and how ordinary people can begin healing and connecting again, whether or not they have access to professional help. You can learn more and register here.