If you’re suffering in these dark times.

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“Ever since he was elected, I can’t sleep, I can’t function, I cry all the time.  I can barely work. I want to ignore the news, but it’s always there, HE’s always there, always sucking me in like a black hole, and it’s destroying me.”

“Trump is destroying and dismantling everything near and dear to me.  I don’t know how much longer I can go on.  I’m back to smoking and drinking heavily because I don’t know what else I can do.  It just seems hopeless.  He has destroyed the future.” 

“Whenever I hear the stories and see the pictures of those poor migrant kids and their heartbroken families, I just want to scream.  What kind of society separates families?  What kind of society imprisons children who have done nothing wrong?   What kind of society makes it a FELONY to leave food and water for hungry, exhausted, and thirsty women and children who have walked thousands of miles to escape from certain death in their home countries?  A cruel, heartless, psychopathic society, that’s what.  I wish I could leave.” 

“I feel like I’m living in a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”

“This isn’t my country anymore.  Women are being treated as second class citizens, or chattel.  I feel like my daughters have no future here.  We are seriously considering leaving for a country that respects women and girls instead of treating them like the Taliban treats their women.”

“I’m scared every day.  The anxiety and grief is relentless.” 

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m ashamed to be an American. 

*****

These are actual quotes from people reacting to what’s happening in America under Dictator Trump.   What struck me about these comments is how eerily reminiscent they are of the sort of comments people who grew up with narcissistic parents or are in abusive relationships make.  The dynamics are identical;  what America is experiencing is simply narcissistic abuse on a very large scale.  The main difference is, it’s a lot easier to go “No Contact” with an abusive family.  Unless we are pretty well off financially or have family or close friends in other countries to help us get resettled, most of us can’t just up and leave.

In normal, civilized, democratic societies, politics doesn’t dominate people’s everyday lives.  Before Trump, I could ignore the news.  It usually bored me.  I had other, happier, interests.  People in functioning democracies have that luxury, and can focus on their families, friends, jobs, hobbies, educations, and other interests.

In failing states, and in dictatorships, politics dominates peoples’ lives because their very survival hangs on the day to day whims of their often cruel rulers, rulers who rarely make policies that benefit them and are very likely to make policies that outright hurt them.

There are four main ways people normally react to a formerly benign government being taken over by cruel dictatorship or other malevolent regime.  I have taken the liberty of borrowing Pete Walker’s “Four F’s” of C-PTSD, because what is happening to Americans is very much akin to C-PTSD and PTSD.   Even people who support Trump and his inhumane policies are analogous to the flying monkeys in a narcissistic family.  They cope by identifying with the abuser.  Some may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  Trump’s confidantes and high level enablers, of course, are also flying monkeys (and Trump’s “golden children”) and are probably on the narcissistic or psychopathic spectrum themselves.   The rest of us are the scapegoats or “forgotten children.”

So, without further ado, here are the four primary ways people in failing states and impending dictatorships (and abusive families) react to the trauma (and make no mistake, it is trauma):

1.  Sell out to the political system (abusive family) and meekly succumb to whatever new laws and restrictions, no matter how draconian and cruel, are forced on them (the Fawn or Fear reaction);  

2.  Flee to another country (No Contact) if they are able (the Flight reaction);

3.  Numb the soul and mind through alcohol or drugs (there’s a reason, besides their highly addictive properties, why the opiates are a huge crisis right now: people are trying to numb their psychic pain).  It’s also why alcoholism is so high in certain failed states and dictatorships, such as Russia, Belarus, and Hungary.   Some people don’t turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, but are able to just turn off their emotions and feel nothing anymore (Freeze/dissociative reaction)

4.  Refuse to normalize what is happening, even though not doing so makes one extremely vulnerable to great suffering, and an overwhelming sense of sadness, existential grief, stark terror, and other unpleasant emotions that are part and parcel of a serious existential threat.  However, this painful awareness also leaves one open to righteous anger, a galvanizing force which can be the catalyst to changing a dangerous and toxic political system.  (the Fight reaction).

This last group are the survivors.   They are the ones who, by facing the reality of the trauma inflicted on them by their government, are most likely to create positive change starting in their communities, and finally in their state, and even on the national or world scale.   They tend to be the young, the people whose future matters the most, and whose leaders have so callously failed them in favor of their own self interest.

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Emma Rodriguez, a victim of the Parkland school shooting, stands in silence for six and a half minutes, with tears rolling down her face, to protest gun violence at last year’s March for Our Lives event.  It was an extremely powerful few moments for everyone who watched.

One only need to look at the Parkland school shooting survivors (especially Emma Rodriguez) to see how great suffering can lead to great courage and eventually to change.   The same can be said about 16 year old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg  (please watch this video), who has parlayed her terror about her own and her peers’ future into worldwide activism that has galvanized young people all over Europe to demand an end to the use of fossil fuels.  Not only that, the adult lawmakers are actually listening.

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So, if you are feeling a lot of emotional or mental pain right now, if you are grieving the America you knew when you were young, if you find yourself feeling terrified or close to tears, or angry much of the time, please know that these reactions don’t mean there’s something wrong with you.  On the contrary, they mean something’s very right with you, and you actually have an intact soul that is uncompromised by evil.    Once you begin to normalize the “new normal,” and accept it, that’s when your soul has begun to die.

Use mindfulness techniques, visualization, prayer, or seek counseling to deal with the unpleasant and painful emotions.  Mental health professionals say their caseload is WAY up since Trump became president.  Many of them, who tend to be politically liberal, are as upset and alarmed by this regime as their clients are, so they will be able to empathize and assure you that you are not the one with the problem, but reacting in a normal way to something that is abnormal.

Every time you feel the depression, fear, or rage crop up, remind yourself this isn’t bad: it just means you have an intact soul.  You just need to know what to do with those feelings.

Write about your feelings, like I do.  Write a protest song.  Sing!  Scream!  If you’re good at organizing and are fairly social, use your rage to plan a demonstration or a march in your community.   Write letters to your representatives.  Register people to vote, or volunteer to work on the campaign of a political candidate you admire.

Don’t forget you will need to replenish every so often and do unrelated things to take your mind off the political situation.  Balance is important.   If you need a day to rest, or go to a movie, or the beach, or just sleep in, don’t feel guilty.  Your body and mind needs these breaks to replenish so you can be more effective as someone who helps bring about change.

I also recommend reading Pete Walker’s helpful and easy to read book about C-PTSD, Complex C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.   Because that’s what we’re dealing with under Trump and the sycophantic GOP.

*****

Further reading:

The Four F’s of C-PTSD

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (book review)

12 Ways to Resist Without Losing Your Mind

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The “Four F’s” of C-PTSD

This article was originally posted in April, 2016.

I also wrote a review of Pete Walker’s wonderful self help guide for survivors of complex PTSD, which you can read here:

Book Review: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker 

Lucky Otters Haven

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I just began reading “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker. I can already tell I won’t be able to put it down (I will write a book review when I’m finished, which shouldn’t take long). I’m also going to bring this book to my next therapy session because I want my therapist to see it.

Walker, who is a therapist and also a survivor of narcissistic abuse and sufferer of C-PTSD, is an engaging writer and definitely knows his subject matter. In one of the first chapters, he discusses the “Four F’s”–which are four different “styles” of coping that people with C-PTSD develop to cope with their abusive caregivers and avoid the abandonment depression. Whatever style one adopts may be based on several factors–natural temperament, the role in the family the child was given (scapegoat, golden child, “lost” or ignored child), birth order, and other factors.

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Available…

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Book Review: Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (by Pete Walker)

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I finally finished reading a most wonderful book sent to me by my friend and fellow blogger, Linda Lee. It’s called Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, written by Pete Walker, himself a sufferer of C-PTSD and narcissistic abuse survivor. He is also a therapist who works with others with C-PTSD.

Walker’s book is incredibly readable and tells you everything you need or want to know about C-PTSD, a subcategory of PTSD that isn’t (but should be) included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of the mental health profession. Complex PTSD is similar to PTSD but there are several important differences. The recognized diagnostic category of PTSD describes a disorder that is caused by one traumatic event, such as a rape or combat in a war. PTSD itself wasn’t recognized until psychologists noticed that many Vietnam war veterans were suffering from a group of similar symptoms including, but not limited to, loss of memory, dissociative episodes, panic attacks, general but severe anxiety or depression, inability to cope with day to day challenges, impaired ability to regulate emotions including anger, impaired ability to relate to others in a healthy way, nightmares, flashbacks, and physical pain with no medical causes. C-PTSD has a similar set of symptoms, but is “complex” because of its cause–instead of being precipitated by a single traumatic event, it’s caused by an ongoing series of traumatic incidents and also usually (though not always) begins during childhood. Very often it’s a result of being “cared for” by narcissistic or sociopathic parents, who are actively abusive or neglect their child. Unlike most self-help books, Walker covers the nature of narcissistic abuse and its soul-murdering effect on a child, and how this can lead to C-PTSD and its various manifestations.

Walker breaks down C-PTSD into four “types,” each one corresponding to a different type of defense mechanism, which he calls “The Four F’s”–Fight (the narcissistic defense); Flight (the obsessive compulsive or “workaholic” defense); Freeze (the dissociative defense); and Fawn (the Codependent defense). Most people will have a combination of these, but usually one will be dominant over the others. I find it intriguing that Walker describes the narcissistic and borderline personalities as manifestations of C-PTSD (BPD is a Fight-Codependent hybrid), because I also think that’s exactly what they are.

Walker doesn’t think that any form of C-PTSD is untreatable or necessarily permanent, although some forms are more difficult to eradicate than others. People with severe C-PTSD may spend most of their time in a “flashback” without even knowing that it’s a flashback. For example, if you are continually depressed and anxious without being able to pinpoint why, you may be in a flashback to a time when you were made to feel shame as a young child. Any sort of invalidation or reminder of the shame, no matter how small, could have set off the flashback.

Also discussed is the importance of nurturing your Inner Child, and Walker shows you how you can begin to do this on your own. He also explains why people with C-PTSD have such a harsh Inner Critic (which is the internalized “voice” of the abusive parent that relentlessly continues to shame the Inner Child) and how how re-training your Inner Critic to be less, well, critical and more supportive of the Inner Child can do wonders for your self esteem and help you begin to heal. One of the most important things that must happen in order to heal from C-PTSD is to be able to grieve the lost or wounded inner child and also to be able to feel and express righteous anger toward the abuser (while being No Contact with the actual guilty party, of course).

While Walker encourages therapy (and states that in severe cases says it may be the only way to heal from C-PTSD), he recognizes that it may not always be appropriate or possible for everyone. For example, some C-PTSD sufferers (usually the Freeze/dissociative type) are so hypervigilant and uncomfortable relating to others that they can’t begin to trust a therapist enough to make any progress that way. Such people may do better on their own, at least to begin with. He points out early on that even if you skip around in the book (because not everything in it may apply to everyone) that you can still be helped. He gives the reader helpful things they can do on their own, such as positive affirmations, self-mothering, self-fathering and the “Time Machine Rescue Operation,” mindfulness skills, thought-stopping the Critic, thought substitution, recognizing signs of being in a flashback, how to grieve, and finding “good enough” relational help, among many other tools.

At the core of C-PTSD is the “abandonment depression,” a feeling of terrible emptiness that the Four F’s have been used to avoid confronting. Walker explains how to cope with the abandonment depression without denying that it exists or using the Four F’s as defense mechanisms against it.

Finally, Walker includes a list of books–which he calls “Bibliotherapy”–that he and his patients and visitors to his website have found useful. He wraps things up with six easily referenced “toolboxes” the C-PTSD sufferer can use as adjuncts to their recovery.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving is intelligently and empathetically written, and easy to read without being condescending or dumbed down. Its chapters are organized in an understandable and logical way, and subheaders are used throughout to make it possible to read the book in easy to digest chunks. This book has helped me immensely so far, and takes the complexity out of this “complex” disorder.

You can visit Pete Walker’s website here:
http://pete-walker.com/

Self-pity and self-compassion: there’s a huge difference!

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I read a post yesterday on another blog that I agreed with, except there was one thing that didn’t quite sit right with me. The post said that self-pity is an important part of healing from Complex PTSD.

In his book (which I’m still reading), Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving, Pete Walker says that self-compassion is an important part of healing, and I think this is what the blogger actually meant. But self-compassion isn’t the same thing as self-pity, an activity which I don’t find at all healing and in fact seems to make my problems worse. Of course we have the right to engage in self pity from time to time (and probably can’t help doing so), and no one should deny us the right to do so. But for me, it just doesn’t work. It’s an unpleasant, soul-sucking experience that seems to drive my negative programming even deeper than it already is.

The way I see it, the difference between self pity and self compassion is analogous to the difference between pity and empathy. I think this makes the distinction clearer.

Pity has an element of condescension or even contempt. You pity someone you dislike or look down on. It’s kind of like sympathy but it’s contaminated with judgment and scorn. You feel like you’re “better” than a person you pity. A wealthy banker may “feel sorry” for a homeless person without feeling a shred of empathy. The banker is glad they’re not homeless, and feels as if they’re above that anyway. If someone says “I feel so sorry for you,” or “I pity you,” you’re likely to feel offended and judged, not comforted. I hate being pitied so much I might be tempted to punch you if you do.

Superficially, empathy, compassion, or sympathy may seem like the same thing as pity, but they’re not the same at all. Sympathy means to feel sorry for someone without judgment or condescension, but it’s not quite the same as empathy, because it lacks the sharing of a feeling. It’s a shallower emotion, but it’s still better than pity. Compassion and empathy are interchangeable and both imply feeling “with” another person, or sharing an emotion with them. It’s giving your friend a heartfelt hug after a breakup, or laughing or crying with them when they’re happy or sad. It’s giving a homeless person your own sweater because you hate to see them shivering in the cold. There’s no condescension or judgment. When someone empathizes with you, they say, “I understand” or “that really must have hurt.” Doesn’t that feel a whole lot different than someone telling you, “I feel sorry for you.”

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Self-pity is part of our toxic programming. It’s driven by shame. Self pity is when you sit around and think about how much your life sucks and how much YOU suck. There’s no self-nurturing or comfort in self pity, no self love, only self-hatred and shame. Self-pity enforces the terrible things we’ve already come to believe about ourselves. If we’ve been told time and again how stupid, bad, clumsy, ugly, or what a loser we are by our narcissists, eventually those voices become internalized and we develop a toxic inner voice called an Inner Critic. When you’re stuck in self pity, that’s your Inner Critic demeaning you and repeating to you the same lies about yourself your narcissists already drummed into you. You learn to abuse yourself, and self-pity is just self-abuse. When you say, “I suck” or “I’m a loser” or “nothing ever goes right for me,” you’re reinforcing the toxic programming and acting as a flying monkey against yourself.

Unfortunately, for those of us who suffered from narcissistic abuse, it’s common to wallow in self pity. It’s an all too familiar state of mind, but it isn’t the real you. The things we tell ourselves when we’re stuck in self pity are lies. When I get stuck in self pity, I feel just horrible. I just want to die. I usually wind up feeling resentful and angry at the world, but also ashamed of myself for being such a helpless victim and pathetic loser. I’m consumed with shame and guilt, which leads to depression. I also can’t release the negative emotion when I’m in self pity mode. I get stuck there and it drags me down and saps from me any energy or joy. I’ve had hangovers that felt more pleasant than a bout of toxic self-pity.

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You can replace self pity with something much better that also feels a heck of a lot nicer: self-compassion. Self-compassion means acknowledging that you are a human being worthy of love, happiness and the good things in life, while empathizing with your inner child’s hurt over not having gotten those things. You give your inner child permission to feel sad or to grieve and agree with them how unfair it is that she/he got cheated or was abused. This may seem like self pity, but it’s not, because the element of judgment and shame isn’t there. You’re not beating yourself up over how terrible you think you are; you’re telling yourself you’re good and deserve better and allowing yourself to grieve. Instead of covering up your inner child with a paper bag, you’re offering her a hug.

It helps me to actually visualize my inner child. I have her talk to me and tell me what she needs and wants. I don’t judge her or try to shut her up; I just listen. If she feels sad, I tell her those feelings are valid and let her feel sad. If she feels mad, I let her express the anger (but at the same time reassure her she won’t be able to hurt anyone or anything because I won’t let her). I find that by non-judgmentally listening to what she wants and needs or how she feels, I’m eventually able to release any negative emotions and I don’t get stuck. By giving myself permission to feel without self-judgment or self-shaming, sometimes I wind up being able to cry, and as weird as it sounds, that always comes as such a relief. When I’m stuck in self pity, these healing tears never come, because the shame that’s been programmed into me won’t allow me to release them. My programming tells me the massive lie that crying is shameful and weak, when in actuality it’s sometimes the most healing thing you can do. Your Inner Critic is a narcissist who doesn’t want you to heal and that’s where all that awful self pity comes from.

The “Four F’s” of C-PTSD

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I just began reading “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker. I can already tell I won’t be able to put it down (I will write a book review when I’m finished, which shouldn’t take long). I’m also going to bring this book to my next therapy session because I want my therapist to see it.

Walker, who is a therapist and also a survivor of narcissistic abuse and sufferer of C-PTSD, is an engaging writer and definitely knows his subject matter. In one of the first chapters, he discusses the “Four F’s”–which are four different “styles” of coping that people with C-PTSD develop to cope with their abusive caregivers and avoid the abandonment depression. Whatever style one adopts may be based on several factors–natural temperament, the role in the family the child was given (scapegoat, golden child, “lost” or ignored child), birth order, and other factors.

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Available on Amazon

The Four F’s are:

1. Fight (the narcissistic defense): often “golden children,” such children learn to project shame onto others; may go on to develop NPD
2. Flight (the obsessive-compulsive/anxiety defense): these children will grow up to become highly anxious, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant.
3. Freeze (the dissociative defense): these children “protect” themselves by dissociating from others, themselves, and their environment.
4. Fawn (the codependent defense): the child learns to avoid harm by people-pleasing or siding with their abusers.

Walker speculates that if C-PTSD were recognized in the psychiatric literature, the DSM could probably be reduced to the size of a pamphlet, for many people diagnosed with other disorders actually have C-PTSD, which encompasses symptoms of many other disorders and have common roots.

What you may have been misdiagnosed with (or diagnosed yourself with) if you have C-PTSD (these are the most common):

Personality Disorders:
Borderline Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Dissociative disorders

Anxiety Disorders:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Panic Disorder
Social Anxiety
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Mood Disorders:
Depression
Bipolar Disorder

Developmental Disorders:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
ADHD
ADD

Codependency

Addictive Disorders

While any or all of these diagnoses can be co-morbid with C-PTSD, they miss the mark or don’t tell the whole story. Personality disorders such as BPD can develop from severe, unrelieved C-PTSD and they do share many similarities, but personality disorder labels are stigmatizing and not very helpful for someone who has suffered prolonged childhood trauma and abuse. Labels like “panic disorder” or “depression” aren’t helpful because they only address one or two symptoms of C-PTSD and therefore can’t even begin to address the roots of the depression or anxiety. You can treat anxiety or depression with drugs or short term therapy, but you can’t cure the person of the C-PTSD that’s causing their chronic anxiety or depression. The same goes for labels such as alcoholism or codependency. These are merely symptoms. People with C-PTSD are also sometimes erroneously diagnosed with developmental disorders such as ADHD or autism, which not only don’t address the trauma that led to the ADHD- or Aspergers-like behaviors, but also have completely different causes.