May 18

“Whole Again” After Abuse: Jackson McKenzie Quotes

Contained within Jackson McKenzie’s 2019 Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse are strong quotes to help you heal. The following are some I’ve selected.

Note: References to C-PTSD below are about complex PTSD. See this link or this one if you’re unfamiliar with the diagnosis.

You’re so preoccupied with trying to make sure you’re reasonable and seeing all perspectives that you fail to throw in the towel when people are blatantly mistreating you. Oftentimes you notice something seems “off” for the longest time, but you feel guilty and dismiss it because the person is nice to you, or because they aren’t rejecting you.

…(T)he best gaslighting victims are those who doubt themselves.

Their partner can say and do unacceptable things on a daily basis, which the codependent will try to explain and understand (“they had a difficult childhood!”). But the moment codependents make a single mistake, they berate themselves for it, obsess over it, and wonder if they’re crazy. For this reason, they come up short in relationships, over and over again. Because they’re unable to recognize that the balance is skewed, and unable to recognize that they’re not getting what they deserve from a healthy relationship. Their self-doubt keeps things forever skewed in their partner’s favor.

How to Win Against an Abuser? I get this question all the time, and my answer is always the same: Don’t try to win. As soon as we engage in this win/lose mentality, we abandon our hearts and forget what’s really important: vulnerability and love. Yes, absolutely you should remove toxic people from your life, but it should be from the perspective of self-love, not “winning.” As long as we maintain this false illusion of control, we’re still connected to the person in our psyches. A hallmark of C-PTSD is fantasizing about gaining some power over an otherwise powerless situation.

If at any point your forgiveness process convinces you to invite an abuser back into your life (or even talk to them), this is not the kind of forgiveness we’re looking for. It will actually impede your own progress.

People cannot go from abusing and manipulating you one day, to magically being healed a week later. This is simply impossible. Especially when this change occurs as a response to possible abandonment or rejection, there’s just no chance this is authentic change.

Codependent forgiveness is this fantasized tear-filled beautiful reconciliation where everything is magically cured by love and compassion. As with most codependent issues, it’s focused on other people. Their problems. Their childhood. Their past. You think you understand them so much, maybe even more than they understand themselves! You make up excuses and reasons for them, your heart melts, you take them back, and then they hurt you again.

C-PTSD sufferers who experienced abuse may engage in mental arguments with their abusers long after the abuse has ended. Most people with C-PTSD experienced ongoing abuse from someone (or multiple people) who repeatedly betrayed their trust, and blamed them for this betrayal. They were made the scapegoat of someone else’s shame, which eventually caused them to absorb this shame themselves.

Dysfunctional Healing Approach: C-PTSD causes the sufferer’s thinking to become very rigid and analytical. This was (at some point) a necessary survival skill in order to identify threats and stay safe. However, once the threat is over, those with C-PTSD may still have a lot of trouble “feeling” emotions, and may end up trying to “think” them instead. As they begin recovery, they are likely to use this same analytical and rigid thinking against themselves, embarrassed or impatient by their inability to get in touch with their own feelings. They are also likely to have an extremely negative reaction to the idea of forgiveness, equating that with “letting them win,” and seeing forgiveness as something that abusers use to keep hurting victims.

Mar 23

“What My Bones Know”: Complex-PTSD Memoir

The widely acclaimed new book by Stephanie Foo, What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, is bound to educate many about a type of PTSD we don’t often hear about—C-PTSD (complex PTSD). It can occur when trauma is repeated and prolonged.

Sarah McCammon, NPR, introduces Foo:

Stephanie Foo grew up in California, the only child of immigrants who abused her for years and then abandoned her as a teenager. As an adult, Foo seemed to thrive. She graduated from college, landed a job at ‘This American Life,’ became an award-winning radio producer, was dating a lovely man, but she was also struggling. Years of trauma and violent abuse as a child had left her with a diagnosis – complex PTSD, a little-studied condition that Foo was determined to understand.

C-PTSD, however, is not to be found in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This, despite its widespread recognition among trauma experts since psychiatrist Judith Herman coined the term back in 1988.

And unfortunately, many of Foo’s initial treatment experiences weren’t too helpful. As she wrote in Mental Health Journalism:

I began to try everything: acupuncture, yoga, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR, meditation, tapping my face, hyperventilating, researching Buddhism, microdosing on acid, megadosing on psilocybin, tracking my brainwaves, joining a support group. I began researching groundbreaking possible treatments, like wearables that predict future emotions or epigenetic treatments. And throughout this process, I struggled with the loneliness of my experimentation.

Foo then heard a podcast that featured a therapist who compared complex PTSD to the Incredible Hulk (NPR interview):

Because the Incredible Hulk was actually abused as a kid. His father was an alcoholic, and now he had a hard time controlling his emotions when he was angry. He would sort of literally not be able to speak well, and he would just focus on surviving. And that is exactly what having complex PTSD is like. But the Hulk is not a villain. The Hulk is a hero.

She eventually chose him as her own shrink. Although this has certainly been helpful, her course of treatment is about management, not cure—as is the case with most chronic conditions. As Foo told NPR:

…I don’t think that you ever totally heal from complex PTSD. It’s sort of something that you carry with you all the time. But I feel like if the burden, the weight of complex PTSD, is like a pack on my back, then the process of healing has made me stronger. Does that mean, of course, that sometimes the pack gets really, really heavy and I need to sit down and take a break and cry a little bit and figure some new stuff out? Of course. Of course. That’s what life is. But now I feel like I can hold the sadness and the anger and the joy all together.

Selected Reviews of What My Bones Know

Publishers Weekly: “What takes this brilliant work from a personal story to a cultural touch point is the way Foo situates her experiences into a larger conversation about intergenerational trauma, immigration, and the mind-body connection…This is a work of immense beauty.”

Kirkus Reviews: “As Foo sheds necessary light on the little-discussed topic of C-PTSD, she holds out the hope that while ‘healing is never final…along with the losses are the triumphs’ that can positively transform a traumatized life.”

Kathleen Hanna: “This book is a major step forward in the study of trauma. It’s also a huge artistic genre-busting achievement. Stephanie Foo’s brilliant storytelling and strong, funny, relatable voice makes complex PTSD enjoyable to read about.”

Jul 10

Complex PTSD: Pete Walker’s Steps Toward Healing

Therapist Pete Walker‘s 2013 book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma acknowledges that there’s PTSD—and then there’s Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Although other clinicians have also worked on raising awareness of C-PTSD, Walker gets more personal than most—he’s both a provider of care and a survivor.

As Walker explains, repeated exposure to abuse and/or neglect is usually the distinguishing dynamic behind C-PTSD, whereas many cases of PTSD arise from single-incident trauma.

C-PTSD is not yet, however, considered as a separate diagnosis in the DSM-5.

An intro to the manifestations of Complex PTSD by Walker (from his website’s FAQ’s):

In my experience, many clients with Complex PTSD have been misdiagnosed with various anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as bipolar, narcissistic, codependent and borderline disorders. Further confusion arises in the case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), as well as obsessive/compulsive disorder, which is sometimes more accurately described  as an excessive, fixated flight response to trauma. This is also true of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and some dissociative disorders which are similarly excessive, fixated freeze responses to trauma…

I believe that many substance and process addictions also begin as misguided, maladaptations to parental abuse and abandonment – early adaptations that are attempts to soothe and distract from the mental and emotional pain of complex PTSD.

According to Medical News Today, C-PTSD is a combination of the symptoms of PTSD and some or all of the following (and maybe more):

  • A negative self-view
  • Changes in beliefs and worldview
  • Emotional regulation difficulties
  • Relationship issues
  • Detachment from the trauma
  • Preoccupation with an abuser

Although Walker believes there are many paths to healing he provides on his site his own “top ten practices of [his] ongoing recovery.” Below is my shortened version with brief excerpts.

  1. Milking Self-Kindness and Self-Protection out of Grieving: “Most of the silver linings that I discovered about my trauma appeared on the other side of grieving.”
  2. Whittling Down the Critic: Self-hate is his “parents’ most poisonous legacy…Many tools eventually helped, especially grieving self-compassionate tears. But shrinking it was glacial until I shifted into angrily counter-attacking it whenever I caught it biting me.”
  3. Flight-into-Light: “Like many survivors, my recovery process began unconsciously with a spiritual quest. I needed to find something profoundly good about life to counteract the soul crushing effects of my family.”
  4. Bibliotherapy: As a child “[Books] ‘introduced’ me to compassionate adults who helped me with their wise and kind words. For decades I read my way into a better relationship with myself.”
  5. Writing that Helped Me To Right Myself: “Journaling taught me to bear witness to myself – to validate that I was born innocent – unfairly deprived of a child’s birthright to be loved.”
  6. Meditation: There’s No Boogeyman in My Inner Closet
  7. Getting and Giving Individual & Group Therapy: As a client “(w)hat especially struck me was that all my helpful therapists reparented me to some degree.”
  8. Self-Reparenting: Finding an Inner Mom and Dad: “[John] Bradshaw gave us many reparenting tools to meet the unmet needs of survivors of such abandonment.”
  9. The Created Family: Healing the Loss of Tribe: “I experience my [self-created] current clan as concentric circles of intimacy.”
  10. Gratitude: A Realistic Approach: “Gratitude is a thought-correction practice that gradually eroded the negative noticing of my toxic critic. Now, I refuse to let all-or-none thinking throw out the baby of daily niceties with the bathwater of normal disappointments.”