Anna Runkle

I'm the author of the Crappy Childhood Fairy blog, which offers advice based on my own experience and reading. I live with my husband and kids, and run a small business in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Do People TRIGGER You? CPTSD and Why We Isolate

In last week’s post, I talked about how COMMON it is for people with CPTSD and Childhood PTSD to experience being isolated, and being lonely.  Loneliness is part of life, at least a little bit, for everyone. But for a lot of people who experienced early trauma, it’s like a curse we carry, that touches everything …

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CPTSD and ISOLATION: First in a Series

In this article and the next several articles (and the corresponding videos)  I’ll be talking about one of the biggest, most common adult symptoms of childhood trauma, and that’s ISOLATION. In the three years I’ve been writing about Complex PTSD and Childhood PTSD, I’ve received thousands of YouTube/Facebook comments and messages from people who tell me how much they’re suffering with loneliness, isolation and feeling cut off from people in their lives.

It’s not just people with trauma. Lots of people are isolated. But for those of us with a rough childhood, it can be extra strong, extra limiting and very hard to reconnect. And I want to talk about why that happens, and how to start healing it.

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Part of urge to isolate is learned; it was a protective measure back when you were being traumatized. Maybe you became a blackbelt at cutting off the connection from dangerous people, even while you kept a smile on your face and interacted just enough to show the world that you were “OK.”

Your isolating tendency might also be partially neurological — a brain change that could have developed in your very early years because you didn’t get the connection and attention that babies and toddlers need to grow the neurons that support connection with other people. It’s a developmental delay for us, and something we may have to work harder at that people with a normal ability to connect. 

Just to be clear, Isolation is a different thing than solitude. Solitude is the CHOICE we make at times to be by ourselves, to focus and recharge and collect ourselves before we return to our normal level of connection with other people. And some of us with past trauma have a hard time choosing solitude when we need it. It’s a good thing to know how to do, and to be comfortable with it.

But ISOLATION is different.  It’s a state of living with very little connection to other people, and without meaningful relationships. We all do it a little at times. But if it gets so bad that it’s blocking you from being happy or functional, it’s time to shift it. And that can be hard because when life gets stressful, which it often does, PTSD symptoms can make it very tempting to go isolate further. 

Research shows that loneliness itself is a factor in the development of Complex PTSD. Loneliness also a factor causing PTSD symptoms to last longer than they otherwise would. No wonder it’s hard to heal! So what this tells us is that your best chances to overcome the harmful effects of CPTSD and Childhood PTSD — the depression, the dysregulation, the increased risk of serious health problems and yes, the isolation —  is to strengthen your ability to safely connect with other people. 

And just in case you don’t know what makes this kind of PTSD “complex”,  Complex PTSD refers to trauma that happened on an ongoing basis, usually early in life. So you’ll hear me say “Childhood PTSD” and Complex PTSD almost interchangeably, because Childhood PTSD is a large subset of CPTSD, and the symptoms are similar. 

Loneliness, it turns out. is not just painful emotionally. For your body, it’s poison. For your recovery process, it cuts you off from healing opportunities, like chaining yourself to a wall with just a little space for movement.

Yet connecting with people is risky! It’s triggering, and we screw it up all the time, and we get in deeper sometimes than we can manage. That’s really common and I’ll be taking on each of those obstacles to connection in the next few articles and videos over the coming weeks.

Some of you have written to tell me you’re resigned to loneliness. This is not uncommon in people who have been severely abused, especially as we get older. It’s everyone’s right to pull back from people if that’s what they need to do. But if you have a desire in your heart to reconnect with people and enjoy more friendship and love in your life, please stick around for these articles and videos. You may have gotten used to to a high “setpoint” of isolation — the level where you hover because it’s just so costly to your state of mind to even try to connect. I totally understand. But I want to make a strong case that learning to connect with others is something that’s worth the struggle.

I’m a big champion of “titrating” — taking changes a little at a time, in little bites (so to speak) where you try a little something, and check if you can tolerate it. Then try a little more, and check again. You don’t have to go running out and do everything at once. With CPTSD, one step at a time is usually the best long-term strategy. 

As much as we may lean on the idea that we’re totally independent and therefore we’re “strong,” living without the love and care of other people does not lead to strength. I’ve been there, and you probably have too.

So your assignment, should you choose to accept it for this topic, is to just let yourself be aware of the loneliness and isolation you feel in your life, and IF you feel sad and scared about it, just know that:

  1. it’s normal;
  2. it’s common, especially for people with early trauma, and;
  3. you can walk forward out of this isolation, step by step, no matter how far in your cocoon you’ve been hanging out, no matter how hard on yourself you may have been until today. Don’t beat yourself up for having a normal reaction to abnormal conditions in your past. You can do this!

So keep your eye out  — I’ll be talking about isolation and the obstacles we have to reconnecting in the next few articles and videos.  And in the meantime I’ve put a bunch of links in the description section below of tools and resources you can check out if you want start diving in right away. And I’ll see you next week.

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You can learn more about symptoms of Childhood PTSD — how they happen, and what to do, take my online course Healing Childhood PTSD

Not sure if you have Childhood PTSD? Take my Quiz

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Did CPTSD from Childhood Trauma Damage Your PERCEPTION?

For many of us who grew up with abuse or neglect during childhood, there’s this steep learning curve around PERCEPTION — and by that I mean being able to discern what is true and not true, what is my responsibility and what is not my fault, when I’m  in danger and when, maybe I’m just …

Did CPTSD from Childhood Trauma Damage Your PERCEPTION? Read More »

What to Do About Narcissists

There has been an explosion of interest in narcissism these last few years, and specifically, in the negative effects narcissists have on the people in their lives. But if you’re one of those people affected, what do you DO? Watch the video of this post here, or continue reading So first, Narcissistic personality disorder is …

What to Do About Narcissists Read More »

CPTSD Recovery: The ONE WORST Thing You Can Do

One of the great things about writing about early trauma, is that I learn from all of you what’s working for you — and what’s not. I get at least a dozen e-mails from subscribers every day, and I read what you post and I learn about those of you who have found success in …

CPTSD Recovery: The ONE WORST Thing You Can Do Read More »

Brain Dysregulation from Childhood PTSD: Is There Anything GOOD About It?

When we talk about the possible lifelong effects of Childhood PTSD (my own term for Complex PTSD originating from early abuse and neglect), we’re usually talking about things like depression, addiction and relationship problems. We now know there is an underlying symptom that plays a role in the outward signs of PTSD — and that’s …

Brain Dysregulation from Childhood PTSD: Is There Anything GOOD About It? Read More »

CPTSD: How to Keep Your Brain and Emotions Regulated in a Relationship

Just like other people, most of us who grew up with childhood trauma want to be, or are in, a loving partnership or marriage. My Dating and Relationships course talks about many of the obstacles we face when meet and form relationships with others. But ONE of the videos in that course is about BEING …

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CPTSD: How to Have Better FRIENDSHIPS

Forming close friendships is not something that comes naturally to a lot of us who struggle a bit around attachment, connection and trusting others because of exposure to early trauma. Luckily, this is something we can learn, even if we didn’t learn this at home. I have some tips to show you how to have …

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To Heal CPTSD, Do You Need To Love Yourself?

One of the messages that’s been drilled into us by popular culture is that “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” This is something people tell you when you get your heart broken and you feel like you must be… no good! And for a lot of years, every time I …

To Heal CPTSD, Do You Need To Love Yourself? Read More »

Take the QUIZ: Has Childhood PTSD Affected Your Romantic Relationships?

Early abuse, neglect and other traumas can create distinctive, negative patterns in adulthood, especially around dating and relationships. The video below describes my new quiz, identifying some of the common signs that CPTSD may be at work in struggles you experience today.   Ready to start healing your relationship life? Register for my online course …

Take the QUIZ: Has Childhood PTSD Affected Your Romantic Relationships? Read More »

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