If you grew up with abuse or neglect during childhood, you may struggle with discernment about what is true, and what is not true – what is your responsibility and what is not your fault – when you are in danger, and when you’re just being paranoid.
In families where there is violence, addiction, mental illness or any of the intense family stressors that can cause CPTSD, it’s common for parents to distort the truth: “NO, your dad is NOT drunk.” Or “Your mother is not acting crazy!” Or “I hit you? That wasn’t hitting.” And if this happened to you, you probably wanted to believe this but your whole nervous system was screaming that you were in danger.
It may have felt like your mind was blank, but your body was panicking, because there was no one to help you “get a read” on the situation. What IS this feeling? Is it really OK? Can the neighbors HEAR what’s going on? Is it possible they’re calling the cops? Am I supposed to just turn this feeling off?
If adults lied about the nature of what was going on, saying it was good and normal when everything in you said it was not good and NOT normal, this can scramble your powers of perception.
You may have coped with this by teaching yourself to override good sense because it felt dangerous to believe the people you trusted could lie. You learned to believe your concerns were “just you.”
If you felt hurt, you blamed yourself for being oversensitive. If you felt ashamed, it’s probably because you did something. You learned that your perceptions couldn’t be trusted.
Over time, you may have found yourself making huge, irrational mistakes where the red flags were all over the place but, as you were taught, you ignored those signs. You Ignored the fact that the new guy you’re dating is maybe a little bit controlling. Or you ignored the vague language a boss used about what and when, exactly, you would be paid. Or you ignored a gut feeling that you shouldn’t walk alone to your car at night.
Sometimes we lose our perception around positive things. We feel merely nervous about a new opportunity, but we confuse that with a gut feeling that there’s something wrong with it, and we don’t show up.
Or we offend people by acting suspiciously. Or we become afraid to go out anywhere, even out of the house. That’s a misperception too. It can get where you think isolation is safety, and sadness is (for example) nausea, and exhaustion is hunger and hunger is depression. You don’t even know what’s going on inside.
And then come the crossed wires around what to DO with your feelings. When I was younger and I was interested in a guy, I’d act mean to him. And at the haircutter, instead of asking for what I wanted I’d turn into a silent stone right there in the chair, afraid my request would sound aggressive, and that therefore the haircutter would take it out on my hair. Not quite rational, right? But I was scared of people and how they saw me!
Eventually, I did re-teach myself to perceive reality, which is crucial to having any control in your life. If you struggle with accurate perception, you might want to hear how I did this.
First, I took stock, as best I could, of the areas where my thinking was often distorted. I used to have a hard time, for example, in a conflict with someone, figuring out what was my fault, and what was theirs. This is challenging for everyone but for people with Childhood PTSD it’s an especially common trouble spot.
I used to think emotionally normal people were either against me or trying 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 or say when they’re sober. I used to be fuzzy about the right amount of information to tell about myself to others. 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.
You’ll notice that these problems all involve difficulty recognizing and expressing what is true. And it turns out the way to stay in the truth is simple, even though it can take years to be able to do it.
Here’s the secret: If you can recognize and say what’s true, the spell of distorted thinking is broken immediately.
If you were impacted by trauma in childhood, you may have some similar patterns and struggles with knowing what is true. The great news is, this is something you can start healing. When you can trust yourself to stay real, everything in life starts getting better — relationships, career, money, daily interactions, parenting, the way you solve problems — everything.
It doesn’t happen automatically though — it didn’t for me. I work very, very hard to perceive what is true, and to keep my words and actions truthful.
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