PTSD, Guilt, and Shame

Whether the trauma is something that happened to you, or whether it was something you witnessed and were unable to stop – feelings of guilt and shame are a very common reaction. Often, you end up going over and over in your head what you could/should/would have done differently, endlessly punishing yourself for whatever you did or didn’t do.

…Ever wonder why that is?

Well – I have an answer for you.

I’ve written previous posts about how PTSD is based on a survival reflex going awry (and if you’ve missed those, go to the “start here” button at the top of the page – they’re all there and you can catch up).

Basically – PTSD is based on a survival reflex. When something bad happens, your survival reflex kicks in to figure out, “How can I protect myself from going through something like this again?” That’s what your survival reflex is supposed to do – figure out how to keep you safe.

…The problem is, sometimes you did nothing wrong. Sometimes, there’s nothing you could have done differently. The reality is that the world is sometimes unpredictable, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and sometimes, we don’t have control over our circumstances.

Unfortunately, our survival reflex simply isn’t designed to understand any of that – it has one job, and that is to keep us out of harm’s way. When it can’t, it assumes that we did something wrong and we should have done something different – so, it sends our mind in relentless circles of should/could/would haves, and fills us up with feelings of guilt and shame over whatever actions we took.

Feelings don’t create facts; if they did, then everybody buying a lotto ticket because they’re feeling lucky would be a millionaire.

So – just because your survival reflex makes you feel guilt and shame, doesn’t actually mean that you did anything wrong. Those feelings, as intense as they sometimes are – those feelings are simply a byproduct of how reflex works. Your survival reflex is trying to make sense of what happened. It’s trying to do its job and protect you, and it’s getting stuck.

Do your best to keep that in mind; it’ll help to put the guilt and shame in perspective.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

This question comes up a lot. If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. The thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so stylish back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat-Response Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, as a small child; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat-Response Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Yeah – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat-Response Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the time I got hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat-Response Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat-Response Brain is reacting to a memory – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger now. Tell yourself, “my threat-response brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat-Response Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR or cognitive processing for example) that can help with that.

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Please feel free to share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“Why do I push people away when I need them the most?”

The title of this post is a question that was sent to me a little while ago; it comes up often enough, and seems to be something that a lot of people can relate to.

When we’re at our loneliest and most vulnerable – precisely when we need support the most – often seems to be exactly the time when we work the hardest to push people away. It doesn’t seem to make any sense, and we often kick ourselves for acting this way.

There’s actually some important reasons why we tend to act this way.

One is reflex: when we feel hurt and vulnerable, our defenses go up. When that happens, it’s harder to trust and let people in.

Two is history, especially childhood: When we’ve been hurt, our antennas go up and we find it a lot harder to trust; so the more lonely we feel, the more vulnerable we feel. When we feel vulnerable, our instinct is to not trust because we’re afraid of being hurt again. It’s a vicious cycle – we feel alone, so we feel vulnerable, so we push people away,  which makes us feel alone, which makes us feel vulnerable, which makes us push people away…

Three is culture, especially if you’re from a military background: you’re used to being tough and doing your best to act even tougher. Trying to let your guard down to let someone else actually look after you makes you feel… Vulnerable. You don’t want anyone to see you when you’re hurting, so even though you really need them to be there for you, you push them away.

The trick to breaking the pattern is:

One, understand that your reflex is making you feel less trusting – it’s colouring your outlook, and making you more crusty and prickly than you normally would be. So, know that the reason you’re pushing people away is because you really need them.

Two, realize that you got hurt back then, and this is now. It’s important to remind yourself that not everyone is like the person/people who hurt you; it will take work to slowly allow yourself to let people in.

UPDATE: Since it was published, this post has been one of the most read on this blog, and many readers have asked me to write more on the topic. Here’s a link to part 2 on this topic; here is part 3.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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Panic Attacks: Where They Come From, What They Are

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope your holidays went well. Before you put them behind you, take a quick inventory: what helped you get through the holidays this year, and what didn’t? Taking a few minutes to review this will help you do even better next year.

Now that the holidays are behind us, let’s switch gears, and talk about panic attacks.

There’s a lot to say about panic, so – if at the end of this post you have more questions than answers – hang tight. I’ll cover more in the next post. And the one after that.

If you have PTSD, chances are pretty good that you also have panic attacks. Panic attacks and PTSD are caused by the same reflexhttp://drdee.ca/2013/05/31/ptsd-the-role-of-reflex-part-1-how-reflex-works/. When it senses a threat, your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tense up, you get a shot of adrenalin and you deal with the threat. And then when the threat’s over, if this reflex is working properly, your adrenal glands stop pumping adrenalin into your bloodstream, and you get to feel calm again.

Like PTSD, panic attacks happen when the “off” switch on your threat-response reflex breaks down. Reflex starts to misfire, basically. The triggers for panic attacks aren’t always obvious; often, panic attacks might seem like they’re happening for no reason at all.

A panic attack is one of the most intensely unpleasant things that can happen to you.

I’m going to describe what a panic attack feels like. If you get a lot of panic attacks and they are easily triggered, take a moment now to remind yourself that you’re not in danger; look around the room, take a few slow, deep breaths.

When you’re having a panic attack, you might feel like you can’t breathe; your heart starts pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest; your chest feels like it’s going to explode; you’re shaking, sweating, tingling, numb, hot or cold; you feel dizzy, light-headed or faint; you feel like you’re choking and like you’re going to throw up. It might feel like it’s not real, and you might be (understandably) scared and thinking you’re going to die or go crazy.

Look – I’d love to write a whole book right now, in this blog post, to explain all the biology of how and why they happen, and how you’re going to beat them. That’s going to take a few more posts on my part, and a lot of practice on your part (and hopefully, some real help, because a blog is not a substitute for actual therapy. And if you’re dealing with panic, then I’d really like you to go get some therapy).

What I need you to know for right now, is that panic attacks are not dangerous. Panic can’t make you go crazy, it can’t make you have a heart attack, and it can’t make you die. It is totally, completely awful to deal with. It feels like an eternity, but it usually lasts somewhere between 10-20 minutes for most people. And then it’s over, and you’re exhausted but in no danger.

That’s important information to keep in mind. Because when you have panic attacks, you end up spending a lot of time dreading the next panic attack. So – work on reminding yourself that panic attacks can’t actually hurt you, even if they feel really awful. That’s the first step to taking back your life.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Holidays, Part 3: Why is it so hard at this time of year?

So – how’s everybody doing?

Look folks – there’s a million reasons that this time of year is so hard on people. But in a nutshell, here’s how it works: the rest of the year, you may be struggling. You may have PTSD, or depression, or a disability or chronic pain. Even if you don’t, you might have financial worries, or your marriage might be teetering on the brink, or you may be estranged from your family. Hey – your life might be like a country song, and you may have checked off everything on this list and then some…

But, the rest of the year, it’s easier to see that other people’s lives aren’t perfect either, even if it feels like they aren’t struggling anywhere near as much as you are.

Then – along come The Holidays. Christmas carols start playing nonstop on the radio, and suddenly – it seems like all these other people start getting happy and excited about the holidays. It feels like overnight, the whole world took a magic happy pill or something.

It feels like everyone but *YOU* got the happy pill; they’re all suddenly excited about the holidays, and you’re still feeling exactly as awful as you were before.  Only now, seeing how happy everyone else seems just makes you feel all the more alone. It was easier to blend in and mask your misery somehow when everyone else was just “okay”; when they’re this happy, it might make you feel like you just stick out like a sore thumb. And it all just reminds you of how much you’re hurting.

…And that, in a nutshell, is why this time of year is so hard on people who are struggling to begin with.

So – what do you do about it?

First – and most importantly – realize that this feeling, like you’re all  alone and no one else understands how you’re feeling – that’s part of how depression messes with your head. The fact is – $11 billion was spent on antidepressants last year, and they were the most frequently dispensed medication.

Folks – that’s a whole lot of people who don’t feel happy, and they all feel worse at this time of the year.

You are far from alone. But, depression makes you feel alone. It makes you feel lonely; but, it also makes you want to crawl under a rock and be all alone.

So, coping is a gentle balance – it involves not pushing yourself to do too much, but also not feeding the depression monster by giving in and just crawling under a rock.

There’s no quick, easy fixes – especially at this time of year. But, it’s a seasonal thing, so it’s especially important that you don’t stop doing things that were working for you before, and reach out for help when you need it.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Getting Through the Holidays, Part 1: Make a Plan

When you’re dealing with PTSD and/or depression, the holidays can be especially difficult, for a number of reasons:

  • Family: you may have loved ones who don’t really understand what you’re going through. They might try really hard to make you happy because it’s the holidays. When that fails, you might feel guilty, and they might feel underappreciated and resentful;
  • Gatherings: being in a group of happy people might make you feel like an outsider. You don’t feel how they’re feeling, and seeing happy people can be all the more excruciating when you’re hurting.
  • Survivor’s guilt: if you’ve lost buddies, you may feel undeserving of celebrating the holidays with your family when others don’t have a chance to celebrate with theirs.
  • Trauma anniversaries: if the bad stuff happened around the holidays, you may find yourself even more on edge at this time of year.
  • Crowds are hard enough when they aren’t filled with frenzied holiday shoppers.

This is by no means a list of everything that comes up around the holidays, but it’s some of the more common concerns.

Here’s the thing: you’re here, you’re reading this post, and that’s already a good step forward. Let’s take some time to think about it and problem-solve, to try to get you through the holidays as smoothly as possible this year.

First – give some thought to what the holidays were like last year. What were the biggest trouble spots for you?

  • If a relative tried to “cheer you up” and then felt hurt or upset that it didn’t work, please send them this post. They need to know that it’s not their fault, or yours. You can’t make depression or PTSD take a break for the holidays.
  • If big gatherings are difficult: (1) go to smaller gatherings; (2) don’t attend every single thing you’re asked to do; (3) use coping strategies, like going outside for a few minutes of relaxation; offering to take the host’s dog around the block; or leaving when you need to, rather than just sitting there and punishing yourself.
  • Plan ahead what you feel up to this year, and what you don’t. Don’t participate out of a sense of duty and obligation; skip what you need to skip.
  • The holidays can be a really lonely, isolating experience. Please realize YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This blog has 15,000 readers – that’s fifteen thousand readers who can relate to how you’re feeling. So while you’re avoiding the big gatherings with your relatives, reach out to a battle buddy. If you don’t have one, reach out right here.

Hey – all I want from Santa this year, is for all my readers to still be around in January. And he’d better deliver.

Please reach out when you need to. 

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Murray Chappell, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD and the Experience of Anger

Today I’d like to tell you about anger, PTSD, and what happens when you mix the two together.

First off – please know that I’m not trying to make anyone feel ashamed about their symptoms. Anger can be hard to talk about – which makes itimptant to discuss. A lot of people who have PTSD struggle with anger, and I’d like to tell you a bit about why.

For people who don’t have PTSD, anger can happen in small doses. People who don’t have PTSD can feel… mildly annoyed. They might roll their eyes, let out a big sigh, make a face, and maybe even mutter something under their breath. And then, they do something that totally baffles those who have PTSD – they shake it off and move on.

You might wonder, why can’t I do that?

We’ve discussed before how PTSD is basically a threat-response reflex that doesn’t have an off switch. So, PTSD makes you feel like you’re always under threat, and anger is a big part of how you fight back. And because reflex works on the principle of “better safe than sorry“, PTSD doesn’t leave much room for getting “a little miffed”: when you have PTSD, you’re more likely to respond quickly, and more forcefully than you would if you didn’t have PTSD.

Here’s what you can do about it:

– One, understand it: realize that PTSD works like a magnifying lens for anger. Basically, this means that where other people would get a little miffed, if you have PTSD you’re more likely to get outraged, and to stay that way for a longer period of time compared to someone who doesn’t have PTSD.

– Two, now that you understand it, use that knowledge to help yourself control it. When you get upset over something, get in the habit of asking yourself, how big of a deal is this? Rate it on a scale of 1-10. Remind yourself that ten is extreme stuff, like life-threatening danger. When you’re feeling relatively calm and you don’t have too many distractions, sit down to give some thought to the kinds of annoyances that you encounter most frequently. Then, once you’ve had some time to rate these, give some thought to how you might want to react to express your frustration with a three or a six. If you aren’t sure, think of how others react, or ask someone you trust to help you.

– Three, keep practicing your relaxation, every day. Over time, it will help to decrease how severe your PTSD is, which will make it easier to control your anger even more.

It will definitely take work. You’ll have to re-learn how to be a little annoyed. And, you’ll have to practice relaxation to help with diffusing your anger more quickly.  But – if you work on it, there’s a good chance that things will get better.

MCC3

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

 

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PTSD, Emotions, and the Role of Military Culture

Last post, we covered how your childhood might teach you to keep your feelings to yourself. Today, we will expand on that a bit.

Even if you had a great childhood, we live in a culture where it’s considered “unmanly” to get emotional and cry, and unladylike to get angry.

Military culture kicks that up a notch.

Here’s my understanding of how feelings work in the military: your “standard-issue military feelings kit” comes equipped with two flavours: “I’m okay” and “I’m messed up”. It also comes with the message that if you train hard, focus, and dedicate yourself to being a good soldier, then no matter what happens – you will never feel messed up.

Not that the military is the only culture to have this idea – police officers, firefighters, paramedics are a few other examples.

That’s not realistic. You can’t train to stop yourself from having feelings. No matter how hard you train, you’re still human.

Think of it this way: feelings are kind of like pimples, bad breath, or body odour: you don’t have to like having them, but they’re going to happen, whether you like it or not.

It’s normal and healthy to have emotional reactions to events. In response to extreme events, it’s normal and healthy to have intense emotional reactions. Just like it’s normal to sweat in very hot weather and shiver in very cold weather. Feelings can be unpleasant, but not dangerous. Your feelings can’t hurt you.

But – when you don’t expect to have feelings, it kind of goes like this:

– You see or experience something really awful. You have a healthy, appropriate, human emotional reaction: you might feel fear, anger, horror, disgust, helplessness.

– Your “standard-issue military feeling kit” tells you that you’re not supposed to be having those feelings. You might have feelings of frustration, anger, and shame about how you;re feeling.

So – now you’re having two different levels of feelings:

– One, feelings about the thing that happened. We call these primary feelings. These are universal (meaning they would happen to anybody, and they are not a choice). These are healthy, human reactions to real events.

– Two, feelings about having feelings. We call these secondary feelings. Secondary feelings are based on expectations – you’re having these because you expected yourself to never be rattled by anything.

Secondary feelings are to blame for all our misery.  They make us believe in unicorns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, and then when reality doesn’t live up to their ridiculous expectations, they turn around and tell us it’s somehow all our fault.

So, how do we start to fix this? By realizing that our expectations weren’t reasonable to begin with, and by giving ourselves permission to be human and have feelings.

That’s simple, but not easy. So don’t form an expectation that you can do it overnight – because we just went over what happens when we come up with unrealistic expectations…

MC Charb 4

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD: What does my childhood have to do with it?

This is a question I run into pretty regularly.

When your PTSD was caused by adulthood trauma, you may wonder why your psychologist asks about your childhood: if your trauma happened decades later, then why do they care what your childhood was like?

Fair question. Here’s the answer.

Imagine an awesome childhood. This imaginary child falls and scrapes her knee. What does she do?

Well – she runs to her caregiver for comfort. She does this any time that she’s hurt, scared, or unsure of herself.

Over the years, she learns that it’s safe to tell others that she’s hurt or scared, and that others will react by soothing and comforting her. Over years of being comforted and soothed by a caregiver, she also learns healthy ways to comfort and soothe herself.

Good for her, right?

Many of us didn’t have such a childhood; many were abused as kids.

When a kid grows up abused, they learn that showing their feelings is a bad idea: if people know what you’re feeling, they can use your feelings against you.

Say you’re an abused child, and you’re scared of spiders. You’re actually scared twice: one, you’re scared of spiders themselves. And two, you’re scared that someone will see that you’re scared of spiders; if they do, they’ll use this knowledge to hurt you.

Say you like butterflies. You learn not to show it, because your abusers would hurt one just to make you suffer.

(Hey, how are you doing? If this is reminding you of some bad memories – stop, take a deep breath, look around the room, and remind yourself that that was then and this is now. It’s not happening anymore, and you’re here now.)

Even if a child isn’t abused, growing up with a caregiver who is not able to soothe and comfort them can have the same result: the child learns that “If I show mommy that I’m sad or scared, she’ll get sad/scared/mad”. So – she learns that her own feelings are dangerous – they can either be used to hurt her, or hurt other people.

What this child doesn’t learn is how to comfort and soothe herself if she’s feeling overwhelmed.

Fast forward a few decades; both of these imaginary children are now grown women. Both go through the same trauma.

At first, both of them will be pretty rattled; but the one who had the picture-perfect childhood will know how to comfort and soothe herself, and reach out to get help.

The other woman will react by feeling rattled that she’s feeling rattled. She may also feel ashamed, weak, and like she’s a failure. She’ll do everything she can to cover up and hide how she’s feeling. If she can’t hide her feelings, this will make her feel like she’s in danger. Reaching out to get help from other people will be really hard for her, because she learned at a young age that other people can’t be trusted, and they’re only likely to hurt her.

For her, the path to recovery will be much longer. She’ll need to work hard to unlearn some of the “truths” she learned when she was little, just to be able to accept help.

This doesn’t mean she can’t get better – and I’ve personally seen some of these guys and gals do some amazing things. It’s just a longer, tougher fight for them to get there.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD Triggers: Crowds

So – while we’re on the topic of triggers, let’s talk about crowds. From what I gather, most of you are not big fans of crowds.

Like I keep saying, PTSD is basically your brain’s threat-alert system, kicked into high gear without an “off” button. So – you’re constantly trying to size up all possible threats.

Say you’re in a room with one door, one window, and one other person. That’s not bad; you can scan window-door-person, to look for possible threats.

Now say you’re in a bigger room, with ten people. Keeping track is much harder, and it’s easier to get overwhelmed.

It goes up to a whole new level if you’re in a grocery store, a mall, or a football stadium. Now, there’s just no way to keep track of it all. Just thinking about it, you might start to feel your heart rate speeding up a bit – that’s your reflex, getting ready to fight or flee.

Take a moment. Breathe. You’re not there right now.

See what just happened there? That feeling started, even though you were just thinking. Thinking is not dangerous – but your survival reflex is so strong, that just thinking about it makes the danger feel SO real.

When we start to feel like that, we interpret that feeling itself as a sign that there’s danger. If we can’t quickly scan our entire environment, we start thinking the danger must be real, only we can’t see it.

Feeling tense/nervous/uneasy does NOT mean that you’re in danger – it just means that your threat-detection system is reminded of danger.

…That little fact right there folks – that is the key to the universe.

When you’re dealing with PTSD, having that feeling that tells you, “Oh no, major danger is coming” does NOT actually mean that anything is coming.

It just means that your threat-response system was reminded of danger.

Remember Dave the Zebra, and his red flowers? Well – crowds are sort of like your red flowers.

So – how do you cope?

Remind yourself that, as soon as you start to think about crowds, your PTSD will start to act up. This is not because thinking is dangerous, or because crowds are dangerous; it’s because PTSD reacts to reminders of danger.

Heading into a crowd, you’re going to feel anxious/tense/wound up. You may even start imagining all kinds of horrible things that could go wrong, and all those things might feel very, very real. Feeling and thinking this way does not mean that you’re in danger, or that awful things will happen. This is a normal part of PTSD; it is to be expected. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous.

Repeat this information to yourself frequently; with consistent practice, it will get easier. (You’ll probably still not like being in crowds, but it will get easier to cope with it.)

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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