Diving into the Inferno.

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Guest Post #11: Life with Complex PTSD

Alexis Rose has a blog about Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) called A Tribe Untangled.  Her C-PTSD was brought about by a family tragedy (a terrible accident that befell her young daughter, something every loving parent fears with every fiber of their being) and it opened up a Pandora’s box of long repressed years of abuse and torture. Alexis Rose also has written a book, Untangled: A Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph.

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From her Book information page:

Recalling her life, the author takes us on a journey of unimaginable abuse with continued explicit threats that eventually led to her being sent overseas on an impossible mission.  She repressed the memories of her past until a family tragedy forced her to face what her life had been. A history of abuse, torture, and threats to maintain her silence or be killed could no longer be denied.

This is the story of facing the truth and risking the consequences of breaking the silence. The author learns to accept the effects of the trauma that echo through her daily life as PTSD.

Through years of self-exploration, she learns to live her life fearlessly, with eyes wide open. Ultimately this book is about resilience; hope for victims who have suffered trauma and for the people who support them.

Alexis is an experienced speaker on the topics of living with courage and resilience in the face of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. She has also presented multiple interactive workshops titled, Using One’s Innate Creativity (writing and drawing) as a Tool for Healing and Personal Growth.

For more information about Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph, to request a book signing, or to ask Alexis to speak to your group or lead a workshop, email alexis@atribeuntangled.com.

Alexis has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog, which when I read it brought me to tears because I could relate so much to so much of what she wrote.   She is one strong woman.  Here is her wonderful post.  Please follow her blog: https://atribeuntangled.com/

Life with Complex PTSD

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I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder about eight years ago, after a family tragedy. My daughter was hit by a van at 30 miles an hour as she was crossing the street on her way to school.

The year following Aria’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our house hold running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant Aria got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I was physically sick all the time, and kept having these bizarre memories leaving me feeling crazy.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was so anxious to tell her everything all at once so I could just feel better and get back to work. I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, or that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing her letters from a dissociated state which made no sense to me when she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours for fear that I was going to hurt myself and I didn’t want to be around my family.

My first therapist diagnosed me correctly but neglected to start my therapeutic process by teaching me any kind of safety or distress tolerance tools.  I was out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my family, and spiraling down a very slippery slope. She did the best she could but was way over her head and within nine months of seeing her, I knew intuitively that I had to find another therapist. I have been working with my current therapist for seven years.

When I first started seeing my therapist I was dissociated most of the time. I was in crisis, I was anxious, confused, and convinced I was going crazy. After a couple of sessions, it became apparent to him that we had to get some safety plans in place. Once that was in place we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

I (sort-of) started to come to terms with the idea that my erupting memories were in fact true. I was so overwhelmed by my memories and what we would process during session that I would remember, forget, remember, forget; until I started to turn a corner and forget how to forget. That’s when I found I could really start taking the baby-steps towards health.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, I also had to start accepting that there were some pretty intense effects of the trauma and that influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.  I knew I had some pretty deep-rooted trust issues. I also had large, thick, almost impenetrable walls holding back any feeling or emotions that I was willing to let the world see. I also began to understand that because of my trauma I had a pretty significant attachment issues, which for me, has been one of the hardest things to learn and accept. For some reason the attachment issue fed into my very low self-esteem and it’s something I still work on.

I also had to face down how my trauma effected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style and career. In the midst of dealing and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of AHA moments, when I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, had been a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Eight years later and one of the biggest reasons I write is because my PTSD symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses PTSD can be invisible on the outside. I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem and shared it with my friends and family. I found that by writing I found a way to share with others and begin to understand what PTSD means for me, and find a way to cope with my fear that I would be plagued by the symptoms forever.

My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed and my brain shutting down, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car back-firing, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.

Unfortunately, my symptoms have left me with the inability to work. I went from having a wonderful career with the fringe benefits that provided me with some comfort for the future and the ability to provide for my family. I’m only able to work about 2 hours a day…on a good day.

It seems as if my symptoms (depending on the time of year) can start a chain reaction, so I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This isn’t easy or comfortable for me and because I’m still pretty new at learning how to work within my symptoms, I can find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD! Actually most days, if I’m going to be honest I am VERY angry at my PTSD. But then I settle down and think about what I want for my life and try to rest and reset.

The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to do, what I want my brain to do but I simply am unable to do it. Making choice at the grocery store, or a restaurant can be so uncomfortable that I will just simply lose my interest in eating and shut down. Sometimes as night approaches it feels overwhelming because I know that its highly likely that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. Even practicing good sleep hygiene listening to podcasts, all the tricks can’t stop the nightmares sometimes and it gets overwhelming. And sometimes I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice at first, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.

What I hope to convey as I move forward: Try to remember to notice those perfect moments. Celebrate each step on the path towards health, know that it is a long and never linear process, and that it really is just one foot in front of the other, you need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing.  And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, through a blogging community and other support systems, we realize that we are not alone.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there. I still need a lot of therapy to manage my symptoms, and I may need a lot of assistance for the day-to day grind, but I’m motivated to keep moving forward, spurred on by the hope for a better life. A life where I am living, not just surviving.

http://atribeuntangled.com

My greatest fear.

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I just read this heartbreaking post, in which a mother commemorates the one month anniversary of her 24-year old son’s death (he had been involved in a terrible auto accident not long before he died that left him unconscious and brain dead).

The article triggered me.  I too have a 24 year old son.  Losing him–or my daughter who is going to be 23 next month–is my #1 greatest fear.    My son lives about 800 miles away and of course has a life of his own, so I can’t keep an eye on him or keep him safe like I could when he was a little boy.    My daughter lives nearby, but once again, she’s an adult and I can’t protect her anymore.   Both of them drive, and thinking of what could happen to either of them on the road sends shivers of fear up and down my spine.   I worry constantly about both of them.  I want to know that they are safe.  Some people think I’m a little neurotic about it, but I can’t help being a worrywart.

Bad things happen in this world.   Sometimes they happen very close to home. Sometimes they even happen to your own child.     There are so many uncertainties in life.  Any of us could be taken at any time, for any reason.

If this happened to one of my children, I can’t even imagine being able to stay sane.  I don’t think I’d even want to live anymore.    I honestly don’t know how parents who have lost a child do it.  How they go on.  How they continue to make coffee, eat dinner, go to work, see a movie.  Even, at some point, be able to smile and laugh again.

A child should never die before a parent.   Not ever.  But it happens sometimes.

My heart goes out to this brave blogger, this mother of a beautiful young man named Anthony who was taken way too soon, the victim of one of those unexpected, tragic things that sometimes happen without warning.     I hope she knows that by posting this, she is in the thoughts and prayers of many.  I’m also sure Anthony is still right there with her, smiling down on her from Heaven with the angels.    I will keep her in my prayers.

4 awesome reasons to cry.

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One of the things my therapist and I have been working on is getting me to cry in session.   I’ve talked before about how hard it is for me to cry, except in private, and even then it isn’t always easy.   As a child I cried all the time.  Because I was usually shamed for my tears, sometime during my teens or early 20s, I pretty much stopped being able to cry and outbursts of anger, seething resentment, or “freaking out” seemed to replace the tears.  Rage and anger, while they have their place, is often destructive to others and yourself, and if used as an outlet where tears would be more appropriate, isn’t really very healing.  Freaking out is never adaptive because it just makes you appear crazy.   Before I learned mindfulness in DBT, I’d act out against others or freak out without thinking about the consequences, and usually feel regret, embarrassment, and shame later, much more so than if I had just cried instead.

Sure, tears can be manipulative.  Narcissists cry to get attention or to manipulate others into pitying them or giving them what they want.   Babies and young children do this too.  That’s the kind of crying that has given tears such a bad reputation.     But if a child is crying for other reasons–because they are hurt, because they are sad or overwhelmed with any other emotion (ANY strong emotion, not just sadness, can cause tears)–parents should never tell them “big boys (or girls) don’t cry” because that just teaches them to stifle their emotions, and stifling emotions is bad for you and can even affect your physical health.  If a child is shamed out of crying often enough, they may learn to turn off the tears and become unable to cry as adults.  This is especially common for boys in a culture that has traditionally frowned on men and boys crying because it’s a sissy or “weak” thing to do.  But this no-crying policy applies to women as well, especially in the business and professional world, where showing softer emotions is a big no-no.

People cry for many reasons, but I think there are four basic reasons for genuine emotional (not manipulative) tears: (1) need for help or care; (2) connection, empathy and love;  (3) awe, gratitude and joy; and (4) stress relief.   I’ll go through each of these and explain why each one is awesome.

1. Need for help or care.

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When a baby cries, it’s usually because they need something.   They may be wet, in pain, hungry, tired, or just lonely.    A baby’s cry brings mom running to give the baby what it needs, after which the baby stops crying.   We are born into the world crying; tears are a pre-verbal language and the first language we ever learn. When we are born, we cry to communicate our distress or other needs, and get what we need to survive.   If healthy attachment is achieved, a baby learns more sophisticated ways to get their needs fulfilled later on, but there are still times when needy tears are appropriate and NOT manipulative, even for grownups.

It’s always healthy and appropriate to grieve after a devastating loss, such as the death of a friend, family member or beloved pet.  It’s appropriate to cry when hearing very bad news or when in great emotional or physical pain.     There are survival reasons for this.  A crying person usually draws people near them and attracts sympathy.  If we have normal levels of empathy, we have an instinctive urge to touch or physically comfort a crying person.     A person who has just found out their best friend has cancer or Fluffy died needs the comfort of others.  They need to be held and hugged and have their back stroked and their hand held.   They need physical contact.  They need to be able to pour their story out to another person.   It would be cruel to deny someone in great physical or emotional  pain that kind of succor.  Some societies understand this need, and that is why there are public rituals such sacramental wailing in some cultures, or sitting shiva in the Jewish faith after a loved one dies.  Only when it becomes excessive or is done to attract attention to yourself does this type of crying become annoying to others.

2.  Attachment, empathy, and love.

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This is closely related to the above, but a bit different because the tears shed aren’t intended to draw help or comfort, but to connect with others or with the world.   Many new mothers find that they become very emotional during pregnancy and for a few months after their babies are born.   Even though as an adult I’ve always found crying difficult, an exception was made when I was pregnant or lactating.  My emotions went into overdrive!   I remember when I nursed my babies, sometimes I became overwhelmed with pure emotion I couldn’t name or explain, and silent tears began to run.  It wasn’t unpleasant at all.  It just felt natural and real.  I think those tears connected me more deeply with my children.   Tears are words an infant can understand instinctively, and when a young infant sees his or her mother’s tears, they understand this means attachment and love with her has been achieved, and a good mother responds to and feels her baby’s emotions too.

Grownups, even men, sometimes just feel overwhelmed with emotion, sometimes very positive emotion.  People who are deeply in love sometimes find as they gaze into their lover’s eyes, their own well up.  It can happen at any moment when the love they feel seems bigger than they are.   This is why sudden tears are common in lovemaking that isn’t merely for sexual release, but to more deeply connect with the lover.

Tears of attachment and connection indicate high levels of empathy.   A person who is able to feel the emotions of a friend who is sad can sometimes actually cry with their friend, and this serves to connect them on a deeper level.  A world in which we can’t share the emotions of those around us–either negative or positive–is a world where no one cares and everyone is out for themselves.    Any society that regards empathy as a weakness is a sick and dangerous one.  If the human race is doomed to self destruction, I’m pretty sure the growing lack of empathy and care for others we see around us today would be the primary culprit.

3. Awe, joy, and gratitude.

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Kelly Clarkson learns she won American Idol, 2002.

Tears of awe are the kind you shed when you are blown away by an incredible sunset or magnificent landscape.   Some people get very emotional in church or when hearing a certain piece of music or reading a certain poem.   I think these are the kind of tears we shed when moved by something we perceive as being greater than ourselves.  They are humbling and remind us of our insignificance, but not in a bad way, because at those times, though we feel humbled, we also feel more connected to the universe or to God.  Tears of awe connect us with the divine.

People shed tears of joy when something wonderful happens to them, usually a great surprise.  Winning the lottery, winning a contest, your team winning the Superbowl, walking into your house to a surprise birthday party, hearing your baby’s cry for the first time…all these things make people cry.    They’re anything but sad or manipulative!   Tears of joy may also be a form of stress relief, as in some cases, there’s often an element of relief, which I’ll explain more in the next section about stress relief. For example, contestants in singing or dance competition shows or in pageants almost always cry when they win.   For many months, they’ve been under enormous stress.   The moment of winning not only validates all the hard work they’ve done, it’s also a sudden release of months of the built up stress of heavy competition.   It’s okay to let go!

Related to tears of joy are tears of laughter–those times we laugh so hard we begin to cry.  Crying and laughter are physiologically very similar and serve a similar purpose of relieving stress, so it’s not too surprising that sometimes our bodies get laughter confused with tears!

Finally, there are tears of gratitude.  Sometimes we are taken by surprise when someone does something nice for us.   Especially when it’s unexpected, kind words or deeds can bring on tears.   Colloquially, this is known as being touched, which differs from being moved because it’s more human and less spiritual/humbling than being moved.     Tears of gratitude connect us with each other.

4.  Stress relief.

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Some unpleasant emotions aren’t normally expressed through tears.  For example, people don’t usually cry when they’re afraid or anxious or angry.   To do so wouldn’t be in our best interests survival-wise.  When we’re in danger or there’s some kind of threat facing us, showing vulnerability might get us killed.   So when we’re angry, we want to attack.  When we’re afraid, it’s fight-or-flight.   When we’re worried, we want to remove the source of worry or solve the problem.   But once the danger or stressor has passed, and we feel a measure of relief, it’s common for people to break down in tears.   A child who has become lost doesn’t usually cry while they’re looking for their caregiver, because that’s too dangerous.   They cry the minute they see Mom or Dad’s arms reaching out to them (and very often Mom or Dad cries right along with them!)

Sometimes people cry even when the danger hasn’t passed, when they just feel overwhelmed and have given up trying to fight or escape or trying to solve their problem.   In those cases, crying is a last-ditch effort to solve the problem.   If all else has failed, then crying may bring help or comfort from others.   It’s not necessarily manipulative if everything else has been tried first and nothing has worked.

Sometimes even when the threat is gone or the issue resolved, or the horrible outcome we expected didn’t come to pass, we still cry, because it’s finally safe to do so. The tears shed at those times are really tears of relief because they help release all the emotion that was pent up while we were in danger.  When thought of this way, it makes no sense to tell someone not to cry, because it doesn’t mean they’re upset, it means they’re relieved and finally feel safe enough to release all that bottled-up stress through tears.

And then there are those times when you just need to have a good cry, and you don’t even know why. After a few minutes or hours of sobbing, pouring out snot and tears, you come away feeling like a million dollars. So if you want to cry, go ahead and let it out. It’s good for your body, mind and soul.

When time stands still…

394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

394261 14: A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Last year, one of my regular readers spoke of seeing a bunch of military tanks practicing for a martial law takeover. In America, I am hearing of an increasing number of incidents like this. I try to avoid the news, but there’s an increasing and unavoidable sense of panic that our nation may be on the brink of a removal of all our freedoms as martial law becomes the norm rather than the exception. It’s very frightening.

But what I really want to talk about is the feeling of unreality and dissociation that accompanies seeing something like what my reader did.  She said when she saw the tanks, she felt as if she was dreaming. It didn’t seem real to her. I know that feeling, and I think almost everyone who is old enough knows that feeling: it happened on September 11, 2001.

I think just about everyone remembers exactly what they were doing the moment it happened. I’m not sure of the psychological reasons why whenever there is a major historical disaster — JFK or MLK getting shot and killed…Pearl Harbor…The Challenger disaster…9/11 — we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing with unusual clarity. It’s as if our mind takes a picture at the moment we hear or see bad news.

Here’s how I remember 9/11. It’s hard to believe it was 15 years ago, because my memory of it is so clear and sharp edged. Yet I can’t remember what I had for breakfast that morning.

That day was a brilliant and beautiful, filled with sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. It was warm as early September can be, but the oppressive humidity of high summer was gone. Fall was in the air.

I was at work, in the lunch room, making myself a cup of coffee when I heard. A coworker came in, looking pale as a sheet. He said one of the Twin Towers in New York was down, that a plane had crashed into it. I stared at him, thinking he must be joking. But I could tell from his face he was not. I forgot all about the coffee, and followed him into one of the offices where a TV was on. Everyone was gathered around the TV, and there was an eerie silence. No one said a word.

On the TV they were showing a replay of the plane crashing through the first tower. I felt like I was dreaming. No, this couldn’t be real. It looked like a movie — an action movie like “Independence Day.” No way was this happening. It had to be a movie, with phenomenal special effects.

As I stared at the screen, I saw the second tower go down in black smoke and flames. A plane had crashed through it too. No, no, no, this wasn’t happening. It was some elaborate set-up, like the “War of the Worlds” bogus radio newscast back in the 1930s.

In a fog, I slowly walked back to my desk. I only had one phone call that day. Although the office didn’t close, no one was working…and no one cared. No other customers called. No one talked, except in hushed whispers. There was a lot of crying going on, even for those who had lost no one in the disaster and had never been to New York City in their lives. As for myself, I felt nothing. I just felt numb. I didn’t feel like myself at all. It wasn’t until the next day that I burst into tears thinking about it. I can’t even imagine how it would have felt to have been right there, watching these horrible events unfold from a New York City apartment window, as many did…or worse, be just outside the towers when it happened.

Whenever we hear bad news, whether it’s something that affects only us (such as when someone we love dies) or something that affects an entire nation like 9/11, we remember these events with the clarity of a movie. I’m not sure what the reason is for this, or what purpose it serves, but I believe it’s a form of dissociation–when we temporarily split from ourselves and feel as if we’re viewing the events from an outsider’s perspective. That accounts for the surrealness of these moments. It’s why we have a photographic memory for them. Maybe this is a way we protect ourselves from the shock of unbearably bad news at the moment it happens — and can’t grieve properly until our minds are ready to process it.

How does everyone remember 9/11 and what was your experience of it like?

Laughter and tears.

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Laughter and crying are biologically very similar, and while they seem like opposites, both are methods the body uses to relieve stress, and they involve similar movements of the same groups of muscles. Both can involve tears.

Stress isn’t necessarily bad–it can even be present in overwhelming positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, or love–or in that moment when something strikes us so funny we double over with peals of laughter. Sometimes very intense laughter can bring on tears and even lead to sobbing; the opposite can happen when a big breakthrough happens in therapy. The laughter comes because the patient feels an immense sense of relief.

I decided it would be interesting to categorize the various types of crying and then talk about laughter, because they really are so very different but similar in some ways, and both are good for us.

Crying

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Crying is underrated in western society. In our culture, tears are still thought of as a sign of weakness and something that’s only okay for women to do, and even then only in certain situations. A man is only allowed to cry if he wins the lottery or his team won the Super Bowl or his dog died. And that’s a crying shame! (pun intended).

But being able to cry is the most effective way to get better if you’re in therapy trying to heal from a mental disorder or recover from psychological trauma such as PTSD. It can be liberating and feel great. Many people have problems crying though, but there are ways to make it easier.

There’s also the unfortunate stereotype that crying always means a person is sad. Not so. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I believe I read that 50% of emotional tears are caused by positive or ambivalent emotions, not negative ones.

Not all tears are the result of actual crying: Irritant tears are shed by animals as well as humans, and are a physiological response to an irritation of the eye, such as the tears we shed when slicing an onion. Even though tears are shed to rid the eye of the foreign object, there is nothing emotional about this form of “crying.”

From here on, the types of crying will be listed from the shallowest and least emotional type of crying to the deepest and most emotional. The farther we get up the scale, the more pleasurable and similar to genuine belly laughter crying becomes.

1. “Crocodile” tears/fake crying.
This category possibly shouldn’t even be on this list, because it’s not genuine and sometimes doesn’t even involve tears. There are two types of false crying, both common among narcissists and sometimes people with other Cluster B personality disorders such as BPD or HPD.

The first type does involve actual tears being shed, but the person is usually a good actor who is able to squeeze them out at will to manipulate, get pity, show fake “empathy” or other emotions meant to make them look good or less malignant than they are. During his trial and police investigation, the psychopathic murderer Scott Peterson was expert at making copious tears run down his face when questioned about his wife’s disappearance. But he still had an odd blank look and a hint of a smirk between questioning–and Peterson’s odd speech patterns and hesitations made it obvious he was lying.

The second type is more common since most people aren’t very good actors and cannot generate tears at will. This is the embarrassing fake sobbing some narcissists use to get pity or attention. Don’t fall for it if they hide their faces so you don’t see their bone-dry eyes.

2. Manipulative, childish crying.
Narcissists who cry do so for the same reason a baby does: to get what they want. Older children cry this way too, and it can involve loud sobbing and whining. Adult narcissists (especially the “needy” types) may not sob like a child, but if they don’t get their way expect a display of waterworks, especially if the narcissist is of the somatic type and is female. Some somatic female narcissists do try to make their crying displays as dramatic as possible, in order to manipulate their target and get their way. It works too, especially if the woman is attractive and seductive, and this type of narcissist usually is.

3. Crying from frustration, fear, or anger.
Many people cry when they become frustrated, frightened or angry, but the tears tend to be scant and watery, and any sobbing is minimal. Breathing tends to be very shallow.

None of these first three types of crying are cleansing or healing, and because the tears shed are mainly just salt water and don’t include oils and other substances that come from truly emotional tears, they aren’t as effective in releasing toxins from the body and the person will not feel better afterwards.

The next forms of crying are all healing and cleansing, and the tears associated with them are full of oils and hormone like substances that make them heavier and more likely to cling to the skin and leave more visible streaks after drying.

4. Bereavement/grief.
Most people, after suffering a devastating loss such as death of a family member or close friend, or being left by a long time partner or spouse, at some point, if not immediately, will cry. Crying arising from tragic loss is usually convulsive, cathartic, intense, and involves deep sobbing that causes spasms in both the diaphragm and stomach muscles, copious amounts of tears and a loosening of mucus from the sinuses. A person undergoing such convulsive crying may gag or even vomit. The crying is so intense it can be physically painful as well as emotionally excruciating, and it may go on for a long time. But the tears are healing and the crying is cathartic. If the painful emotions are held inside and not released, a person experiencing grief or loss will take much longer to get better, and may become very ill.

In some cultures, such crying is formalized into a social event after the death of a family member, with special times set aside for family members to engage in grieving together and this can go on for weeks. This is probably a very healthy thing. In our society, group grieving is primarily reserved for funerals, and the bereaved are expected to get on with business as usual in a fairly short time, after all the casseroles have been eaten or have gone bad.

5. Cathartic crying in psychotherapy.
Most if not all psychodynamic therapies consider the moment the patient breaks down and cries in the therapist’s office a breakthrough for the patient. Because painful emotions from the past are being released, this type of crying can be as intense and convulsive as the crying of a bereaved person. A good therapist will not judge, and if a limited touch waiver has been signed in advance, it may be beneficial for the therapist to hold or stroke the patient in a nonsexual way during their breakdown. There may be more than one breakdown, with each one bringing the patient closer to healing. Laughter may sometimes follow a session of crying as the patient realizes a huge emotional burden has been lifted.

6. Shock/surprise crying.
These are not true tears of joy, but the kind of tears you shed if you find out you won the lottery, your team won the Super Bowl, or you were just presented with a great honor or gift. They are tears of surprise and shock as much as they are of happiness. They can tie in with tears of gratitude–for example, a movie actor who just won an Academy award may thank her supporters profusely as she chokes back sobs and tears stream down her cheeks. This type of crying isn’t particularly intense, but it does come on very suddenly and the tears can be copious. It’s short lived though. Smiling or even laughing usually accompanies the tears.

7. Crying from the heart.

tears

This type of crying is never seen in narcissists, because it involves an opening of the heart that connects people to each other and narcissists cannot connect on any level. Tears from the heart exist on the spectrum of love–and involve positive, pro-social emotions like empathy, overwhelming joy, spiritual or religious experience, feelings of connectedness with humanity, the arts, or nature; or overwhelming love. These are all emotions narcissists are incapable of feeling.

The emotions felt can be overwhelming even if very pleasant. Crying serves two purposes here. First, it helps the body release the excess stress that comes with an overload of such euphoric feelings. It’s also nature’s way of connecting us with each other and tears tend to generate even deeper feelings of love among those who cry together. A good example of this is a couple so overwhelmed by their love for each other that they find themselves in tears during lovemaking, and this opens their hearts to each other even more.

Laughter.

laughter

There aren’t as many types of laughter (giggling and polite laughter don’t really count), but the best kind is the belly laugh–the kind of deep and convulsive laughter that explodes almost uncontrollably when we see or hear something we think is hilarious.

Belly laughter, though it doesn’t usually involve tears (but it can), can be just as cathartic and cleansing as a good long cry. Different types of things make different people laugh, and it’s hard to say what exactly will strike just the right part of your funny bone to send you into uncontrollable, convulsive, rolling on the floor shrieks of laughter.

The process of laughter is physiologically almost identical to crying–both involve gasping intakes of air, convulsive movements of the diaphragm or stomach muscles (hence the term “belly laugh”), and animal-like vocalizations similar to sobbing. But we can all tell the difference. A person enjoying a good belly laugh will never be mistaken for someone who is crying, even if there are tears.

laughter2

Laughter usually involves a form of surprise. We laugh when we see something unexpected in a situation that doesn’t call for it or where its placement is ludicrous. A baby will laugh when her dad makes funny faces, because it’s unexpected. If you’re told something is funny, it probably won’t be as funny to you as if you discovered it on your own. It’s also the reason why a good joke can be ruined by bad timing or getting to the punch line too soon (or the punch line being spoiled by someone else). The surprise factor must be there for a joke to be funny.

Narcissists can laugh, but as with their crying, it’s usually shallow, exaggerated for effect (narcissists may be laughing louder than anyone in the room, but their eyes will remain flat and their laughter joyless and forced sounding).

As for what makes them laugh, narcissists are likely to find the misfortunes of others funny, or enjoy belittling forms of humor such as jokes that negatively stereotype an ethnic or other group, mean sarcasm, insults, or embarrassing practical jokes. Few narcissists have any sense of the absurd or any kind of subtle or sophisticated humor, and of course they can never laugh at themselves. They really have almost no sense of humor, unless it’s at someone else’s expense. If a narcissist’s mean “joke” at your expense offends you, you may be accused of being “too sensitive” or having no sense of humor, even though it is really they who are challenged in the humor department.

For the rest of us, it’s always a great thing to have a sense of the absurd as adults, because that sense of humor can get us through all the rough times. That’s why I keep a page of narcissist jokes, because when we can laugh at something that is threatening to us, some of its power over us is taken away and we can see the absurdity of what scares or upsets us.

I am Broken now ….(long post I’m sorry)

My friend and fellow blogger, who is trying to get ready to say goobye to his beloved wife, who is dying of cancer.

Please offer your prayers and support for Butch, his wife and their beloved son.

My heart is breaking right now.

Here was the post Butch posted the previous day, “I’m Losing My Wife.”

Trivia and Snoopy: A love story

tabbies

WARNING: If you are easily upset by sad animal stories, you may want to skip reading this post.

In 1968, when I was eight, we acquired a cat. My parents weren’t cat lovers, but my two parakeets (Maurice and Herr Vogel) had recently died (their cage sat on top of a heat register and the cage had overheated) and I was paralyzed with grief. My father (recently identified by me as a low-level narcissist and enabler), in one of his infrequent moments of compassion, decided to bring home a kitten to cheer me up.

My dad named her Trivia, because she was so small. Trivia was a brown and black female tabby, with huge, beautiful green eyes. I fell in love with her and soon recovered from my grief over my lost birds.

Trivia grew up to be friendly and playful, and always slept curled up next to me at night. Unfortunately, I have no photos of her anymore (since my MN-mother told me she threw away all the family photos because I asked for them), but here is a photo of another cat that looks a lot like Trivia:

trivia

At first Trivia was an indoor cat, but when she was about a year old, she started sneaking outside and there was no keeping her confined to the house once she got a whiff of the great outdoors. At first I was worried she might not come back or something might happen to her, but my fears were unfounded. Trivia always came home before it got dark or when she got hungry. She was never very far, and even came when you called her name.

Next door was a large gray tabby tomcat named Snoopy. He was about three times Trivia’s size and looked intimidating, but soon they became close friends. The cats would snooze together on the neighbor’s porch, and sometimes you could find the two of them on top of my father’s big yellow Pontiac, grooming each other or just sleeping. Every morning, Snoopy actually came to the back screen door and meowed loudly and pitifully until we let Trivia out. I really think he was in love with her. He was certainly an attentive and devoted lover, and very handsome to boot.

snoopy

One beautiful summer evening Trivia didn’t come home. We called and called her, but she wouldn’t come. This just was so unlike her. My father and I looked all over the backyard, and then the neighborhood. Some of the neighborhood kids even joined the search, but Trivia was nowhere to be found.

She never came home that night, or the next. Snoopy was nowhere to be found either.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. My mother found Snoopy meowing at the backdoor again, and thought he was calling for Trivia to come out. She shooed him away, but Snoopy stood steadfast. She called me downstairs to take Snoopy back to his house. When Snoopy saw me, he mewed sadly and I knew something was wrong. He turned and walked slowly back to his house next door. Something told me I should follow him.

sadcat

There was an overgrown hedge of boxwoods that ran along the far side of the neighbor’s home. That’s where Snoopy went, and I followed him there. I was overtaken with a feeling of impending doom. Snoopy stopped in front of the most overgrown thicket of hedge, and looked up at me. I looked down into the patch of weeds on the ground, and saw a patch of brown tabby fur. It was Snoopy’s best friend, Trivia.

I leaned down to get a closer look, then leapt up and ran home sobbing. We came back with a blanket and wrapped her up in it, and drove her to the animal hospital. The examination found that she had been fatally hit by a car but hadn’t died immediately. She suffered massive internal bleeding but somehow managed to make her way to the hedges next to Snoopy’s house to die there. I realized that the reason we hadn’t seen Snoopy for almost two days was because he had been with Trivia, keeping vigil over her in the hedges.

JMK-000915 - © - Joerg Mischke

Snoopy was never the same after that. In fact, we never saw him much anymore, and when we did, he didn’t look the same. He lost weight and a year later died of natural causes. I truly believe animals can feel love the way humans can, and poor Snoopy died of a broken heart.