Have you ever had the experience where you’re doing great in life — you’re connecting with people, enjoying your work, being productive and tidy and you think, “You know…I think I’ve got this life thing figured out!”
And then… BAM!
Something happens that makes you feel rejected, angry or panicked. And instead of getting thrown off for an hour, you go way off track for days. If you were abused or neglected as a kid, this is a phenomenon you probably know all too well. When you’re “offline” for those days, getting things done can feel almost impossible, but here’s what you can do to recover more quickly.
You know what you should do — like get to work on time, clean the kitchen, wish your friend a happy birthday, or take a shower. But you just can’t do it. The ordinary word for this is procrastination. But for people with Childhood PTSD procrastinating can have some harsh overtones of depression, a feeling of paralysis, and a dread of putting on your clothes and getting back out there again to do what you do best in the world.
But here’s the weird thing. Procrastination can also feel comforting for a while, like a cozy cocoon. And that’s because, for those of us who get easily triggered and overstimulated by doing things that challenge us — stepping up, putting ourselves out there, being vulnerable with another person — there can be a strong countervailing force that wants to just pull you back into that cocoon – snug and safe — not triggered.
But it’s not safe to avoid life, is it?
Everything good in your life, all the growth that you’ll have as a person, depends on you spending some time regularly out in the world. You’ll need to balance the time you spend putting yourself out there with the quiet time you need to collect yourself and get re-regulated.
Most people with CPTSD can get frazzled and dysregulated during OUT time (the time they put themselves out there). The important thing is how you bring it back to some middle place where you can be both courageous and take care of yourself. The goal is to avoid long periods of self-sabotage that are common for people with CPTSD, and that can hold you back from what you want.
The solution lies in a combination of dealing with your dysregulation, and then taking action. Dysregulation (if you’re new to the word) is a neurological state that can feel like disorientation and overwhelm.
It happens to everyone sometimes, but it’s especially common for people with CPTSD. When it’s happening, you might experience it as a feeling of discombobulation, numbness, being flustered — or not being able to stick with your thoughts long enough to remember what you were saying. Or you walk into a room and can’t remember why you went in there. Have you ever done that?
Dysregulation is sometimes mistaken for ADHD.
When your dysregulated, you can be disorganized, as can other functions of your nervous system. Dysregulation can also make you emotionally overreactive, so, when that’s happening you might lash out, or act impulsively, or feel so overwhelmed that you want to lay down in bed with Netflix and… Yes, procrastinate.
We get so used to seeking comfort and quiet and low stimulation. (niceness, softness, blankness) that we use inaction like a drug sometimes.
And it can be like an addiction.
Many of us are more prone to self-destructive behaviors when we’re procrastinating – things like binge eating, smoking weed all day, playing video games or fantasizing about someone who either isn’t available or who doesn’t exist. We check out. We’re just gone. We’re not here. And the trouble with that is, in life, people who aren’t “here” don’t get very far. You have to be present to win, as some people say. Our fantasy is often that “in a minute” or “tomorrow” we’ll leap into action again. That if we could just lie around avoiding your life long enough, our batteries will finally get recharged.
And then what? We imagine it’ll all be solved. Inspiration will come back. Energy will come back. Confidence will come back, and we’ll be able to do all those things that everyone’s counting on us for. We’ll be able to get ahead in life. Wanting all these things to happen is good.
It’s not stupid. It’s right to want all those things. This is what our lives are for… to rise up! To heal from what has happened so we can become our real selves and bring to the world what we are capable of bringing. And that’s the tragedy of CPTSD: All this gets blocked.
There are good things that we were made to bring. It feels terrible knowing that you’re meant for more than where you are right now, but you can’t quite act on it.
In my experience, this is the most haunting kind of depression. The thing I always want to procrastinate on, for example, is creating content for Crappy Childhood Fairy. Why? Because it’s hard! It takes a lot of work coming up with something out of thin air, then, fixing up my face and my hair, turning on all the lights and the equipment and making a video, and then writing a blog post and publishing it. Being so visible is emotionally risky. I get judged by some commenters. Failure is always a possibility. The vast majority of comments are kind and positive.
But does all that love stop me from getting hurt by the haters? No. They criticize my hair and my opinions (or the opinions they mistakenly think that I have). They call me dangerous. They call me ignorant. A couple weeks ago someone posted a long angry comment because they thought the dimples in my chin were “snakebite” piercings. They lectured me on how unprofessional it was for somebody in my position to have them. That it made it look like I’d had a hard life and that it was culturally hostile (or something) to Native Peoples. I don’t even know where they get this. Even when the comments are this stupid, it makes me want to give up.
There’s a therapist in the Midwest who spends (evidently) hours looking for things to criticize in my work. This was going on for weeks and months. They were obsessed with trying to convince me I have no right to teach my experience and my opinions here. And honestly, it feels awful when people put me down. It totally dysregulates me. I’m human, just like everybody, and I have CPTSD!
But what good will it do if I run from these triggers and let them stop me? Everything I do, I do because I’ve learned to face what hurts me. I calm my triggers and get clarity in my mind about my purpose. Who even cares about the hateful therapist or the piercing bully? What I’m trying to do, stepping forward into my small part in doing something good in the world, doing the best I can.
YOU hear me. In fact, your kind comments are hugely encouraging. Everything depends on learning to keep your brain and nervous system regulated despite what anybody is doing. Because when you’re regulated, you can think clearly. You can make decisions and act on those decisions. That’s how you can heal from what happened to you and change your life.
You cannot let the people who hurt you, now or in the past, stop you from becoming who you are. And you don’t have to be perfect at this to get started. If you think you get dysregulated, you can take this quiz. I hear from so many of you out there who are not able to get out of an abusive situation or are not able to financially care for yourself and the people who count on you. Some of you are not able to show the world who you really are because the risk involved. Putting yourself out there, risking criticism and failure feels like it’ll be so dysregulating that you would disintegrate. That you would just break down and never be OK again. And you might have been in that place before, or close to it. I have, and it’s terrifying.
But there’s a gentle path through that place, and up and out of it. It involves learning to identify when you’re dysregulated and to get re-regulated again.
From a regulated place — your heart is beating at a nice rate, your breathing is calm and regular, your brain is humming along. You’re attuned and aware of what you feel, what’s going on around you. Now you can take action in the loveliest ways. Things get easier. You’re on a level playing field with people who didn’t get traumatized, who aren’t dysregulated.
You will get dysregulated again. We all will. But you’ll know how to notice it and bring yourself back to a regulated, calm, attentive state. You’ll be able to notice when you’re hungry, or tired, or feeling like the person in front of you isn’t really safe for you. Your red-flag detector switches back on. You might get an impulse to lash out or smoke a cigarette but you’ll feel a more spacious set of choices in front of you when that happens. You can choose to use your attention the way you want to use your attention.
You can learn. You can listen carefully to someone who is opening up to you. You can have insight.
It’s human nature to desire the easy path in any given moment. To crap out. To lie down and avoid any trouble. But it’s also human nature — it’s coded into us — to want something more. It comes and gets me about 3:00 in the morning when I’ve been procrastinating. I wake up feeling agitated and guilty and demoralized. Do you ever have that?
I want the comfort of avoiding things that are hard and triggering but even more than that I want the joy I get from trying, from putting myself out there. For me, it’s going ahead and writing the blog post. That’s how it was for me today and yet…here I am. makes me feel useful and real.
Do you have something that does that for you? Have you been avoiding it? Are you feeling ready to change that problem? To start taking good healthy actions that make you feel good?
Even if you wake up in the middle of the night sometimes worried that life is passing you by, you can go to bed tonight knowing that today, you actually did what you needed to do. You lived your life. You worked on your healing. You contributed positive things. You moved in a good direction. This doesn’t just require healing, it IS healing! This is what it looks like. Those good actions in the right measure — taking action, pausing to re-regulate, then taking action again — it’s how you can climb out of the trauma ditch, as many times as you need to, because believe me, it’s two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back.
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