Every week, I publish three videos on YouTube, and each receives hundreds (and often thousands) of comments from viewers. I’ve learned from reading these comments that there are two basic categories: One kind is from people who are actively recovering, while the other comes from people who are very stuck in their early trauma.
Watch the video.
The second kind is so common, and this is where most of my students are when they come to me. They have been conditioned to talk about what happened to them, what their family dynamic was like, and how they felt when that happened.
I acknowledge that past hurts are important to talk about as part of healing; but if you’re anything like me, talking about other people and the past is only going to go so far toward making you feel better. It helps to know why you struggle, but then what do you do?
In my life, the real healing kicked in when I was able to shift the focus off the past and other people, and onto my own symptoms – the thinking, the behavior, and the feelings that were driving me now, that we’re causing problems now. Because that’s where healing is possible.
I repeat myself on this point like a broken record. But I still get a steady stream of comments and emails from people who are still very much focused on the past, and on other people. If it’s gone on a long time, they’re quite often stuck in pain and hopelessness.
I help people get out of the stuck group, and into the actively recovering group in which people are healing and changing their lives. Here’s what I’ve found.
Two Ways of Seeing Reality
The two groups each have their own way of seeing the world. The first is what I notice in people who are working hard to figure out the problem caused by their experiences, and to find solutions that seem to help them get better. Not everything they’ve tried may have been helpful but they’re active in this project. They notice where they get lifted up and where they fall short. When they comment they’ll share nuggets of wisdom like, “I tried x, y and z – x was not that great but y was amazing.”
As a coach, I’ve observed a consistent set of signs in people who are healing. They get along better with people; they feel more at ease in groups or when they’re alone; and their talents and gifts start emerging and filling up their lives with purpose and helpfulness to other people.
For this first group, they’re subscribing to my channel because it’s practical, it’s solution-oriented, and it’s based on not just theory but real experience to which they relate. They feel seen, and not alone anymore. For people who are having a breakthrough in their healing like this, it’s exciting to try out new tools and ideas and see if there’s something in there they can use. They want inspiration. They want to hear how other people heal. They want action steps. They’re ready to go.
The second group are folks where the breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. They’re good people. They’ve worked hard on their healing, and a lot of them are knowledgeable about the treatments out there and have tried many of them. But the healing never came. As a result, this group is really, really discouraged. They’ve come to feel helpless and hopeless.
Deep down inside, they have stopped believing that healing is possible for them. That leaves them bitter. This group will have a lot to say about things outside of themselves – family members, exes, “society,” the people who said they would help but couldn’t or wouldn’t, or anyone who made them feel unimportant and unseen.
People in this state of discouragement can tell you very clearly what’s wrong with all this, what ought to change, and what their pain is like. Most of us have been there too. It’s part of the healing for all of us.
But something else that’s clear in the discouraged and stuck group, is that they have a very vague or nonexistent concept of themselves. They have a hard time seeing what they’d be like without the emotional pain. The pain becomes everything, as if it’s who they are. They struggle to see themselves in a different, future state where things have changed for the better. They can’t imagine it, what they might be like, what day-to-day life would feel like, if they weren’t trapped inside their own symptoms.
Disconnecting From Pain to Find Hope
Staying stuck in pain is a very “traumatized” thing to do. Most of us have experienced it. But if it’s gone on a long time and you want to break out, you have to do what I call “breaking the wheel.”
The “wheel” is the churning, negative thinking and emotional states that go around and around in your mind when you feel stuck or triggered. It’s when you obsessively think about blame, the people who hurt you, your struggles, your failures, and the ways you were never accepted or seen. It’s when you withdraw from life and repeatedly tell yourself stories about why you are the way you are.
It’s not that these stories aren’t true on some level, but if you can’t stop the spinning, the wheel just gets stronger. It’s like a centrifuge, something spinning that throws off and scatters everything that comes near it, just as a traumatized person “scatters” the people who love them, along with wonderful opportunities, financial security, and joy.
The wheel is seductive. You can’t just slow it down. You can’t ask it a lot of questions or analyze the trajectory of everything it throws off. Sometimes you just have to shove a big “stick” in there and break it! (And don’t worry, the wheel is made of air and when you break it the whole thing evaporates like a cloud!) It just vanishes, like waking up from a dream. You thought the wheel got the better of you but it didn’t. You thought it protected you but it actually just kept you stuck in pain and made you see nothing but helplessness.
But you’re not helpless.
There’s a wide world of experiences out there if you can get a little breathing room from that cycle of fear and anger, and analysis and diagnosis and blame and then fear again. Thinking and talking about this stuff doesn’t make it go away. It goes away when just for a moment you can release the story, and open yourself up to a fresh and new experience of yourself and your capabilities, in present time. (Remember, you just need a little bit of breathing room to begin.) The focus needs to come off the past and other people and onto the only thing you can heal, which is yourself.
For there to be hope, you need to believe that healing is possible, whether or not other people or circumstances change. It’s time to recognize your own agency. You will begin to see choices even when CPTSD puts nothing but hard choices in front of you. You’ll see that you have a choice and despite the symptoms you have today, you can move, one foot in front of the other, toward the healed life you deserve.
A Mindset That Supports Healing
Do you believe that things could be better and easier in the future than they are right now? Are you willing to make some changes, starting with the way you talk to yourself about your trauma?
If you’re telling yourself you’re hopelessly screwed up, then whether you mean to or not, you’re disconnecting with your life and all the people in it. People generally have a lot of compassion, but when they sense that negative wheel spinning they pull away, and then the very thing you’re longing for doesn’t happen for you. You think, “Why can I not get some support? Why doesn’t anyone believe in me? Can’t they see I need some help?”
That’s a harsh place to be. The spinning wheel of negative ideas about yourself blinds you to who you really are, to all the good things you can bring to this world.
Your life is real. Your life is important.
This is one of the reasons Childhood PTSD is so hard. It can make even little steps seem overwhelming. It can be paralyzing. But if you can just do one thing, imagine what it will feel like when your PTSD reactions to life are reduced.
You want to give it a try? Let’s take a minute and walk through it together.
Imagine you’re in a stressful situation, maybe you’ve made a mistake at work, visited your family, or had your feelings hurt by a friend. Pick something that’s both hard for you and likely to happen at some point in your future.
Now, remember what it’s like when your CPTSD triggers start firing up, and that wheel starts spinning. You start getting dysregulated, and reacting in the old ways you hate. You feel tight, your heart races, you want to lash out, maybe you start getting numb. You get scared that same old part of you that always comes out when you’re triggered is going to come out one more time. Okay, let’s let that go.
Now imagine you’re in that situation, and the bad thing happens, but now your PTSD symptoms are 50% less. You feel a little rise when you’re triggered, but it doesn’t go over the top. You don’t lose control. You still have choices about the words you say, your facial expression. Harsh thoughts are going through your head, but you can decide not to say anything in the moment. Would a 50% reduction in symptoms change how that all turned out?
Let’s imagine the same situation one more time, but this time let’s take the symptoms down a little more to just 20%. What would that be like? The bad thing happens. You feel it, but it doesn’t carry you away. Would you be able to express yourself better? Would you be able to stay present, and keep your choices? Could the relationship that would have blown up in your face in the past instead survive without damage, even though something hurt your feelings? Would it make a difference in your life if you could do that long-term, whenever stressful situations came up? Would strength in this area allow you to change some of your circumstances? Would it be easier then to make friends with people who fit you a little better than the ones you have right now?
Now, if that were going well, could you imagine other things going well? Your relationship with a partner, your career, your physical health, your ability to share your gifts with the world?
Well, okay then! You’ve just joined the ranks of the first group I mentioned – the ones who can see a better future and who are more likely than anyone else to actually make it there!
It starts by allowing yourself to believe that you are capable of changing your life. See if you can let that in today. I’ve got courses you can check out in the links below.
If you’re only ready for one small step, try this: Stop telling yourself the terrible story of your life. You break the wheel when you believe and connect with a better vision of yourself, and start taking action on it.
Remember: You CAN change!
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