C-PTSD: The Importance of Therapy

I’ve reached the point in my life where I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my therapist.

To qualify that statement: I’m fully aware of all of my past accomplishments and all the times in which I achieved significant mental and emotional growth before I made the decision to go to therapy.

I’m also fully aware that I can employ the same coping and reflection strategies I used then as well as the strategies I have learned since, in the event that I can no longer keep going to therapy.

But I’ve learned since starting therapy just how invaluable it is to have a sounding board for thoughts and feelings that doesn’t require anything in return except a small copay, that provides a trained perspective on the human psyche and the how and why behind our thought patterns, and that provides a sensible outsider perspective on dilemmas that seem impossible in our own heads.

It’s especially invaluable when you have C-PTSD, whose symptoms can include painful trauma bonds and anxiety thought-spirals that sometimes feel uncontrollable.

I recently wrote about an ongoing dilemma regarding my emotions toward my abusive dad, comparing those emotions to Stockholm syndrome. In a somewhat amusing and also perhaps sad turn of events, my therapist independently compared my behavior and thought patterns regarding my dad to Stockholm syndrome, without my having told her about my thoughts on the relation between trauma bonds and Stockholm syndrome. The confirmation of my own analysis just demonstrated the continuing fact that I need to keep processing my thoughts and feelings about the situation, and that the signs of my trauma are showing especially loud and clear.

My therapist was very blunt about the fact that my thought processes and emotions with regards to my dad were symptoms of a C-PTSD trauma bond, and about the fact that it arose from being abused in a vulnerable state of life.

Since I was isolated as a child and teenager, my abusive dad was the largest and most prominent person in my life for 19 years. Everything I did had to be catered toward pleasing him; my hypervigilance about his moods and emotions meant that my own moods and emotions were inextricably bound with his own. His happiness and validation directly impacted my life. And even though I haven’t lived with him for 4 years, those thought processes are still there.

The conversation with my therapist also shone unexpected insight on why those thought processes are still there. When a child is isolated, they are prevented from undergoing normal and crucial stages of development, especially with regards to establishing autonomy from the family (and, critically, establishing autonomy with the support of the family).

When the grown child then leaves the isolating environment, they’re forced to undergo the stages of development at an abnormally accelerated speed – most often without the support of their family.

When this rushed growth takes place, it simultaneously weakens the trauma bond in terms of physical dependence on the abusive family members(s) and exacerbates it in terms of emotional dependence. The grown child has achieved autonomy, but they still don’t have the familial emotional support that should have been given throughout their actual childhood.

When a person goes through that sort of abnormally accelerated growth after a life of isolation and emotional neglect and abuse, it’s only a matter of time before something causes the C-PTSD symptoms flare, especially with regards to trauma bonds. In some ways, you could call it a relapse.

The person has grown, established themselves independently as an adult, and gone through all the physical markers of development: finished school in some capacity, gotten a job, cultivated a social support group of their own choosing, learned hard and soft skills, etc. But the emotional bond with the parental caretaker was never there, and the strain keeps getting worse and worse until, at some point, things snap.

The snapping point for me was my dad showing sudden signs of aggressive and controlling behavior, and the sobering realization that no matter how much he’s improved, his abusive tendencies are still there. No matter how much I might have wanted, on some level, an actual healthy relationship with him and his support and validation of my autonomy, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that such a relationship will never be realistic.

I’ve felt peace at the thought of distancing myself from my dad, but my emotions are still going haywire. The C-PTSD symptoms I’m undergoing right now are typical signs of trauma.

The victim wants to distance themselves from the harm continually caused by the abuser – but even if that harm was unthinkable, or took place over a long period of time (such as the course of their childhood), the trauma bond is still there.

That trauma bond enforces feelings of attachment and empathy, and causes the victim to continue to second-guess their own decisions with thoughts about whether the abuser has changed and memories of times when the abuser acted decently or even benevolently.

And so, I have a good support group and therapy to remind me that I don’t have to act on these emotions. These thoughts and feelings are the result of a C-PTSD trauma bond – and while they are very real, they don’t have to influence how I behave. I can still take care of myself and insist on whatever distance and boundaries I need. In the end, no matter how much that trauma bond causes to me to think about the effect of my boundaries on my abuser, I have to think of my own safety and emotional health first. And I am not a bad person for doing so.

Thanks for reading. Please comment below if this helped you.

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