CPTSD: Can People SENSE It In You?

It’s awful to say, but have you ever noticed that when your Childhood PTSD symptoms are “up” again, it’s as if you have a dark cloud around you that people can feel?

It feels a bit like an invisible force that pushes people away. It’s one more weird thing that can happen when abuse and neglect from your childhood are coming back to haunt you in present day life.

I call it the Underdog Effect; it’s like an identity, an energy that can block your ability to connect with people, and stop your healing, right when you need it the most. 

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People call this dark cloud, a vibe, a feeling, or “bad energy.” It’s a set of non-verbal signals that we communicate to other people, usually without any awareness we’re doing it. 

Whether we intend it or not, we tell people about our inner state. If you’re feeling like you hate yourself or that you don’t belong or that people are against you — people are going to be able to sense that when they’re around you — not through mind reading, but because we’re showing that with our words, our facial expressions, the way we dress, our posture, the way we respond to things or don’t respond… People can sense it, and we can sense it in others. And most of us have done it — given off the vibe, or felt it in another person. And by the way, you can sense this in animals too: Have you ever met a dog who was abused in the past, and when you say the dog’s name or call it, the dog thinks they’re in trouble and goes into that guilty dog pose.

Well, we do that.

Before we even know what’s going on, we think Oh! I think I must’ve done something inappropriate and I’m ashamed!

When I used to do that, I’d be ashamed for being ashamed! And I’d try to cover it by acting tough or cocky or just  focusing on myself too much and… driving people away!

Childhood PTSD is so hard, because When you’re lonely it makes you lonelier. When you’re having a hard time it makes everything harder. It’s a downward spiral sometimes…Have you felt that? So what can you do to stop playing the underdog?

I’m going to show you how to make it stop, so you can get back on your feet and connect with people again and start taking positive actions again toward your healing.

First, let’s look at what’s generating that dark cloud. It begins with harsh events in our lives that maybe started in childhood — things like neglect, or abuse that came from the people you trusted. Most of us had some good experiences too, but if the bad stuff is big enough, it can get stuck in our idea of ourselves, our self-concept, and this can carry on for years or decades past the original hurt. You get so used to it you don’t even know you’re doing it. 

And it doesn’t stop there. The unhealed wounds of the past can propel us into more wounding. Trauma begets trauma! And soon, even though we’re trying hard and we’d never want to make things worse for ourselves, we’re bringing more problems into our lives. The problems go from existing in our outer circumstances, to getting internalized and becoming part of our personality, part of our experience.

For some people this is permanent, and that’s tragic. But I’m here to tell you that the wounds of past trauma really can be healed.

It might take a lot of focus and self-mastery, but when you can face the part of the problem that you’ve internalized, this is a great day, because this is the part — not your parents, not their failure to ever recognize what they did or apologize to you, not anything in the past — this you, now is the part you have the power to change.

If you think you can’t change until someone else changes, there are plenty of blogs and videos out there that will nurture that idea for you.

Here, we’re all about the change within, even when you haven’t started yet. We celebrate the change you managed to make today, even if it’s so small you’re embarrassed to tell anyone.

This is how you lose the underdog effect. You take back your power from whatever happened to you, and you start to change the things that are right in front of you. It’s astonishing how much you can heal your self-esteem by changing the problems in your life now. And this usually happens not in one grand transformation, but in many small steps taken over time.

Let’s talk more specifically about how to get free. If you could put it under the magic retrospectrometer, you’d see three things going on with the underdog effect. It’s a combination of bad habits, faulty decisions, and distorted perceptions. So habits, decisions and perceptions. We never chose to be this way. They’re just common side effects of early trauma, and they came originally from our experiences like being neglected, judged, invalidated, ignored, stigmatized, bullied or abused. These are real wounds, and it wasn’t our fault, but it’s internalized.  

So how will we change? Not by going back in time, not by trying to get an apology from the people who hurt us. That could happen, but even if they apologized, even if the world changed so these hurts never again happened to another kid, that would be great but you would still have the habits and the faulty decisions and the difficulties with clear perception that you have right now. That’s what I mean when I say this is an inside job.

Other people don’t actually hold the key to healing your self-esteem. They can influence you, but you hold the key.

YOU hold the key. 

Other people did harmful things. But now we play a leading role in resetting our self-esteem. Now maybe you disagree with that — and believe me, there are many who do. But here, and on YouTube and in my online courses and my coaching? WE take the focus inward. We search out the things we’re doing to hold ourselves down, because YAY!!!! We can change them.

You may not have been taught how to change your habits and improve your decisions and your perceptions. But I’m going to teach you now. 

So just to keep things simple, let’s take the example of being late for work all the time. That’s a bad habit. And if it’s happening consistently, it’s no accident; it’s a decision that’s causing that. And assuming we want to have this job, it’s a faulty decision — or a whole series of faulty decisions — to not get up on time, to leave all the work of getting ready until the last minute, to let ourselves get distracted, whatever the reason is. So anything I do that predictably risks that I’ll be late is a faulty decision. Why would I do that? Why would I sabotage myself like that? I want to be on time! I want to keep my job!

We know from recent research that people who had trauma in childhood are often challenged to assess the risk involved in bad decisions. Neurologically, stress can bring on a temporary “dimming” of the ability to gauge the potential consequences of, say, being late to work. 

You can literally see this on an MRI when a person with childhood trauma is stressed — the left front cortex has less activity, and that’s where reasoning happens — and the right front cortex — which is where emotions happen, gets more active. So we wake up.. we feel hurried.. that’s stressful.. And then oops! Our perception distorts and we make a faulty decision about when to leave the house, and then we’re late, which brings on more stress, and — you guessed it — the negative cycle starts again! Distorted perception, faulty decision, bad habit. 

Our distorted perception can make it hard to see what is something happening to us, and what is a problem we are bringing on ourselves. So instead of adjusting how we do things, we rage at the traffic, or resent our boss, or feel judged by the other people who gave us a look when we walked in late.

However it plays out, the end result is that we feel bad about ourselves! We feel low self-esteem, and maybe confused and distrustful, all at the same time, That’s the Underdog Effect. That’s what makes all other dilemmas confusing. That’s how we generate that cloud around us that feels negative to other people. 

So how do we change this? It’s easy to say society should change, or there should be better treatment for trauma related symptoms. And all that would be awesome. But here in present time, we have the immediate need to learn to see more clearly, which means keeping both sides of our brain up and running and helping us perceive and respond to reality.

We need to make more rational decisions, and like everyone else, we need to keep working on our habits… a little bit better every day. This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s happy work with immediate payoffs. And it’s a heckuva lot easier than staying stuck in trauma symptoms, or trying to change other people.

This is the essence of what I teach in my online courses, and if you want to check those out, here’s a link. There’s a free course where you can learn the basic techniques, or you can jump right in to more advanced courses that teach you the techniques along with the science of PTSD. All the courses teach practical information with a step by step process  to apply the principles I teach, and jumpstart your healing on multiple levels.

It’s not our fault we have Childhood PTSD. But the great news is, healing is possible. You can do this! And if you don’t lead this effort who will?

You’re in charge of your healing. You get to ask for help but you get to decide what works for you. That’s how you develop both strength and wisdom. This is your healing, so be brave and keep moving forward today.


Ready to heal your childhood trauma? This online course is a good place to start: HEALING CHILDHOOD PTSD

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