I don’t know why you’re not allowed to say this, but I will: Talking about the trauma that happened to you as a kid will not, by itself, heal Childhood PTSD.
In fact, for a lot of us, talking about it, exploring it and processing it (the approach in traditional therapy) can make healing from trauma even harder. Do you relate to this at all?
As someone who spent the first thirty-plus years of my life struggling with the effects of a hard childhood, I want to impress on you that the solution is out there, but contrary to what you’ve been told, it may not revolve around telling your story.
Now of course you’ll need to talk about your past from time to time. There’s a time and a place for it. It’s a part of the journey toward healing, and it can help to identify the problem, and clarify for you that your symptoms are common and normal.
But actually healing from trauma isn’t all about stories, memories and feelings. There’s a physiological aspect involved, related to your brain and nervous system. It’s something I cover in depth on in my online courses, but in this article and video, I want to talk specifically about what it feels like when your brain is healing.
We get so bogged down talking about what it’s like to be at the effect of past trauma, but here I want to talk about what it’s like when struggles you’ve had for a lifetime actually get easier. Healing some of the neurological effects of Childhood Trauma is like gaining a superpower, and I can teach you how to start practicing it.
When we were small, many of us developed a tendency to dysregulate when intense stress was happening. This is the disorganized brain state that does in fact happen to everyone sometimes, but is extra common for people with Childhood PTSD.
Dysregulation is one of the single biggest drivers of the symptoms associated with trauma — the emotional upsets and depression, the problems with paying attention and keeping track of things, the challenges in our careers and relationships, the difficulty connecitng with other people and perceiving reality clearly enough to make good judgments and decisions. Without those things, dysregulation can cost us everything.
Dysregulation doesn’t always feel like a negative state. Sometimes it feels like being hyper, or impatient, or nervous– but most of the time it feels more like being numb and spaced out, you might struggle to get your day organized, or forget plans that you just made. It’s really easy to blame yourself for these problems and think you’re just lazy or mean, but that’s just because, until now, it wasn’t widely understood that dysregulation is a common symptom of Childhood PTSD, and a root cause of other symptoms.
On my blog and my YouTube and in my online courses and coaching programs, I teach people how to notice when they’re dysregulated, so they can master the art of re-regulating. This might be a radically different approach than you’ve tried before, and the great news is, if you haven’t responded well to other approaches, you might just find real help when you focus first on dysregulation.
You were probably told that if you had abuse and trauma in your childhood, you needed to TALK about it – yes? If you tried talking about it with a therapist or a friend, maybe it felt good to get it off your chest, or maybe you’re like me and talking about past hurts actually feels upsetting – as in, never a relief, just upsetting.
I can’t tell you the years of therapy I had with different therapists (good therapists!) who would all eventually get the same tense look on their faces because for yet another session, I would grow progressively more checked out and blabby and irritable and just seem to go nowhere. I think I was a very disappointing client.
I was sincerely trying, but there was no continuity or follow through from me, because I never retained anything we talked about from session to session.
This was before dysregulation was really understood; this knowledge is a relatively recent development that many therapists are still in the dark about. But all that talking would just destroy me, and after every session, before I could drive home, I had to sit in my car and cry for 15 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes. And I would wonder, What the hell is wrong with me? Everybody says therapy is so great but I go and it only makes me feel worse.
If you feel that way, and you had a hard childhood, I have great news for you: That’s common.
It’s really normal for people with complex PTSD (that’s the kind that comes from chronic stress, which is what happens when a kid experiences ongoing abuse or neglect) to get dysregulated when we just jump in and start talking about traumatic memories.
A lot of things can dysregulate us — getting rejected, having to hurry, speaking up about something vulnerable for us… Sometimes we just wake up dysregulated. For me, it’s kind of numb, angry, rigid feeling clamps down on me. I can’t learn, or pay attention, or be real at those times. I’m not going to remember very well what I talk about so it’s a state that’s really not helpful for talk therapy. And this makes no sense to people who didn’t have trauma. But for a lot of us with Childhood PTSD, recovery can’t really begin until we can heal the dysregulation.
So what’s the opposite of dysregulation? It’s regulation. We can learn to notice dysregulation and practice techniques to re-regulate on the spot. Healing from childhood PTSD depends very much on this very process. Real, substantive recovery can happen when you learn to get regulated and stay regulated most of the time. Now who’s on a level playing field with everybody else? We are, when we’re regulated!
If you take my online courses, I talk a lot more about the range of dysregulation’s negative affects — not just on your mood and focus, but on your heart, your lungs, your hormones, your relationships. If that’s something you need help with, you can find the links to those courses in the section below.
But here I want to share with you what it’s like when you’re re-regulated, what that can do for you, what it feels like. You actually do know how to re-regulate yourself, and you do it all the time, but maybe not as easily or quickly or as often as you’d like. So here’s what it’s like:
- You’ll develop the ability to calm your mind any time, and eliminate what I call “hamster-wheel” thoughts that go round and round.
- You’ll be able to remember the upsetting things that happened in the past, but you’ll no longer frame your identity around them.
- You’ll grow a capacity to feel your emotions, in a contained and real way, but without the flooding and overreaction that can cause life to go upside-down.
- You’ll sharpen your ability to learn and to pay attention.
- Your mood will be lifted, your energy level will be higher, and you’ll be able get back to this state every time you notice you’re feeling low or drained or stressed.
- You’ll let go of some of the small talk and superficial relationships you now have in your life, and notice you’re enjoying more openness and real connection with others.
- You’ll feel a natural desire to step back from people who are negative, dangerous and draining for you.
- Likewise, you’ll feel naturally drawn to low-drama friendships that are respectful, fun, and fulfilling.
- Solitude will become comfortable for you.
- You’ll learn to feel comfortable and fulfilled, in or out of a romantic relationship.
- With less drama on the inside, real love will have a space to grow in your romantic life.
- You’ll be more aware of what’s really happening around you, and this in turn will improve your judgment and decision-making.
- Where there used to be confusion, the next right action will be clearer to you, and you’ll see a way forward toward the kind of life you want for yourself.
That’s what it’s like to be well-regulated, and my goal is to help people with Childhood PTSD (which might be you) to spend more of your time calm, aware, relaxed, confident, and truly yourself.
Healing is possible! You are not stuck forever with these symptoms! All good things are more in reach for you when you have some healing under your belt.
So be brave and if you want to start learning how to heal, follow the links below.
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