It’s the ever-pressing question. Can you fully heal and recover after Childhood Trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress?
Whenever you get triggered, have a relapse and all your Childhood Trauma symptoms and reactions flood in, it seems like you haven't made any headway at all.
And this is a normal reaction to have.
You feel the same anxiety, hopelessness, despair, and anger and for some time you are fully identified with it. There is no space for observation; to sit with it. It consumes you.
Whenever you get triggered, have a relapse and all your Childhood Trauma symptoms and reactions flood in, it seems like you haven't made any headway at all.
Fortunately, if you have put in constructive therapeutic work; those periods when you feel you are immersed in the past, and its associated emotions, will become much shorter.
Childhood Trauma and Why Does It Feel as if You're Back at Square One
There are a few things that you must learn to realize, about when you get triggered. Let me list some of these below, and see which of these resonates with you:
- Whenever your stress levels rise, your default emotional patterns to deal with that stress, also start returning to the foreground. If you're seeing those default patterns in relation to the mounting stress, you might start giving too much importance to it.
This, in turn, can make you begin to look for the cause as to why these emotional reactions are taking place.
And, it can be this very insistent search for meaning that makes you look back to the past. You might infuse it yet again, with the stimulus for renewed emotional energy.
- When you feel your periods of emotional activation are starting to lessen, and your general scope of resilience has enlarged, you know you are on the right path.
However, the environment that you have created for yourself and/or people around you, might not have changed thus far and might not match your ‘new self’ who has worked so hard on recovered healing.
And this can become problematic as either the environment or the people around you can drag you back into an energy frequency that relates to your past conflicts.
You will either have to change your activities and the people you hang out with, or your loved ones, and all those you keep close to you, will have to change in line with the progress you have been making.
- As human beings, we are highly adaptable. Unfortunately, we also adapt to unhealthy patterns that, initially, have been put in place defensively, as survival mechanisms.
They provided some sense of safety or ways of coping but have become destructive in the long run. The problem is that you have gotten used to those patterns. They form an integral part of your identity and to move away from dysfunctional patterns might feel more threatening than to stay with them.
This seduction can make you gravitate back time and again to your old negative patterns of identity, even when you knowingly ‘pop’ out of them from time to time.
Negating Default Patterns and Shifting Importance onto a Constructive Reality
Once you bring awareness to these patterns and constructively act on them, they can help you move into the next stage of your healing process.
Be kind and patient with yourself.
How are you dealing with your childhood trauma and which of the above-mentioned points you resonated the most with you? Leave your comment below.
It ALL resonates with me. Your insight is spot on, every time! Thank you.
The third point resonated the most with me — trying to maintain awareness of maladaptive coping strategies and staying mindful, shifting away from familiar is difficult. I’ve recognized recently my susceptibility to those who surround me (as in the second point) regularly and the triggers I feel when I’m with them. This was really drilled home to me while I was away, far away with no online connection, surrounded by beautiful nature, a quiet and respectful companion, a lot of space and a completely new environment (including language). I found a space inside of me that relaxed, felt relief, felt safe. After a couple of weeks back at my “home”, I found my observer one day– it was harder to find now– and realized that those feelings had quickly dissipated upon my return and immersion in day to day life. I was feeling that panic come, the anger that doesn’t fit the situation, or how others so often perceive my anxiety as anger… the lack of motivation, all of it. Didn’t take long to return. Recognizing this has helped validate some recent choices and big life changes which have begun. Maybe someday there will be a letting go of suspicion and a building of trust.
Everything you said above resonates with me so much – if only I had someone like you who I could talk to about things ( not just my sometime counsellor ) I’d be so much better off I think .
All the very best in your healing journey . X X Lorna .
Totally agree but what I am doing is continuing to develop an internal system that picks up very quickly on the regressive coping mechanisms and an inner space within that can withstand the various shocks, oversensitivity, addictions to drama and attachment to very great pain.
I found the part about trying to understand what is triggering me continues the emotional pain, I am taken right back to when I was 10 years old. There is part of me that feels I must leave everything I have known to this point and start anew but another part of me just feels like I am trying to run away, for the first time in my life I am trying not to ease the pain with more dysfunctional behaviour. It’s is by far the most difficult thing I have ever done.
Exactly…oh that urge to run is strong. I can sometimes even feel it in my legs. Step 1: run. Step 2: hide, because I feel too f*cked up to be able to normally relate to many people these days, especially as I heal. Some things heal, and return to homeostasis. Most pieces of me have come back, better than ever due to all this work I’ve done. But there are pieces that feel either forever gone, or forever tainted. Broken. And its not a label that I am speaking into existence; some negative self view (although that is all anybody can ever come up with to say to me when I am finally completely honest about my feelings). Rather its a deep sadness at the loss of connection I feel, the intense loneliness in those moments of ‘PTSD episodes’, or whatever you would like to call them. All learnings fall out the window. I don’t feel like myself.
My trauma issues were coming along nicely, until I started going through an incredibly painful relapse of my illness. Last time this happened, I was in a 7 yr mentally/emotionally abusive relationship with a narcissist & pathological liar. It mega messed with my head, my sense of trust, of men, of love…and how alone I was dealing with my illness which he made me feel guilty for. I suppose this has likely brought up alot of stuff for me currently in my new wonderful relationship, and is making it harder for me to handle my specific triggers again. I often feel I am failing. Which makes me spiral more.
I am getting better at one thing though: at some point after feeling shame about my ‘episode’, and beating myself up thoroughly as usual, I can at least tell myself that I have made bits of progress. I can look at my baby steps & be proud. I can find some level of gentleness for myself. But often, since my behavior affects my partner, he is angry and wishes it was over now. He doesn’t mean to put pressure on me; unfortunately he is reacting from childhood neglect also so sometimes I trigger him. But I feel SO much pressure to be ‘normal’. And since my stuff revolved heavily around sexuality, a disease that greatly disrupts healthy sexuality, and a whole load of other issues I won’t get into that feed into my beliefs about myself as a woman – this can lead to trust, insecurity, etc…which is hard on a relationship. And once I know I had an episode and caused my partner stress, yet again – that’s when the urge to run starts. To leave all I’ve built. The belief – not thought but BELIEF that he will have a better life without me, because I’m “damaged goods”. You know, typing it out sounds so mean, but alas it is the truth. And its all-consuming in that moment. These episodes are so hard on my body & heart I have had to stop most media to avoid triggers. Thankfully, this decision proved to be less a negative coping skill & ended up being a move to a more authentic life for me, which aligns to my values and what makes me calm.
Many, many thanks to you for your response, which gave me the courage to reply to this article, which I was procrastinating on. It helped me through a rough night. Blessings.
(And thank you to Roland, who once again sent an email at the exact perfect time!)
I have relapsed so many times that it seems no progress has been made. My PTSD is related to witnessing my husband’s death and not being able to help him. He died of a heart attack right in front of me. My resistance to stress now is diminshed. I try as much as possible to stay away from triggers.
Alina: I am so sorry. That must be tough. Don’t give up,
My deepest sympathies…be gentle with yourself. That must carry a great deal of emotion & pain. Much love to you.
I do get a lot from reading your articles. I’m presently stuck in a traumatic working situation which triggers ptsd constantly, I thought it came from my heart attack but have since discovered with therapy they I’ve had it most of my life. I am 16 yrs sober through AA while I embrace that program I also know there is more work to do.
Great. Keep on working with sufficient rest in between.
This article came to me with perfect timing. I had just had a great weekend and was feeling like I’ve made more headway, then was unexpectedly triggered and didn’t catch it quickly enough, as I’m behind on sleep due to my illness being in full flare, so my coping is pretty terrible. Needless to say I ended up spiralling down the rabbit hole, and cursed myself for ruining my good track record. I remember asking myself whether I had gone back to square one, or made any progress at all? It’s so easy to feel the same intensity of the feelings all over again. Thankfully, though, I had skimmed some of this article a few hours earlier and the phrase about the attacks getting shorter and more manageable…from there I remembered to stop my shaming voice. Then from there had a hot bath to calm my nerves and reset, and forced myself to sit with the incredible emotional pain that I really wanted to ignore. Without details, I gained alot of clarity from that experience and I hope it will be another small step towards my body, brain and heart knowing that I am safe and I am healing.
Much gratitude Roland, as always. Many blessings to you and all those who are connected to me through this email! None of us are alone. <3
Hi Kelly. Nice to hear how you applied this in real time and described it here for us. I am sure it helps others.
Well… I think I would have to say, #1. When I get triggered, one first reaction is to try and figure it out, analyze what is going on, why am I feeling this way. I try to stay in my head, in my thinking, however that doesn’t last. Soon I’m catapulted to the past and the child like mes (plural me), begin reacting as if the danger is current and present. Paying attention to my surroundings can help with awareness, but It does not stop the pain. What I mean is, the realization of knowing I am safe does not diffuse what I am feeling, nor does it remove the inner chatter of stuck young mes (plural), so I go swimming or biking, or hiking or skiing (in winter)
Note; since those coping mechanisms are healthy and not obsessive, I don’t consider them addictions, just means of coping. Do you agree? (that’s another topic of your posts)
I am going through something very similar, I was told by a therapist to sit with the feeling but the feeling is so intense and overwhelming I just want to escape, I am hypervigilant for signs and am convinced 100% that it is happpening again, I almost try to make it happen again, I am in the past consumed by the pain, panic sets in by creating something, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, I self sabotage. I had no control then but I do now, I can choose to let it dominate my life. I also use distraction at times but I cry which helps me release a little and then get on, it a kind of letting go for me, part of the healing and something I believe I need to go through in manageable doses.
I hope this helps and remember you are strong.
I also paint what’s inside at the time or soon afterwards and it helps me make some kind of sense of it all.
Twice now, I have been able to use the observer part of me. With a lack of a clear understanding, I will try and describe this to you.
Ok, the past is coming on full force, but i ground myself in the here and now by looking at stuff, feeling my surroundings, paying attention to sounds…. (I would have to be alone to do this, so I withdraw from people first) becoming aware of my environment. That is my anchor. It conflicts with the inner fear/turmoil etc. I tell myself (sometimes outloudly) “stay outward Hele” focus outward”. Because the pull inward is so strong, I repeat this as often as I need to. I force my thoughts to be outside of me- focused. This is why movement helps me so much, especially movements that require focus like biking or skiing fast. My theory is if I can do this often enough, then maybe the outward focus will become easier to do. I’m not a psychologist though, so I really don’t know if this works. It is not really sitting with the pain, I don’t understand that at all. As an observer, I can tell that inner and outer experience is vastly different and I force myself to pay more attention to the outer while trying to make it more pleasant or more fun. I do this alone. I hope it makes some sense.
I just have to say that I love the picture with the pigeons. 😎 It made me laugh!
I would say 2. they are all very real, but the second one is truly tricky.
The part about changing activities, people I surround myself with & loved ones… especially loves ones as they are the most stressful triggers but it still isn’t easy. How do you manage ‘normal’ life trying to keep people whit little or no sense of boundaries at a safe distance? even the thought of it creates anxiety.
Thanks for the information & the post as this can be such a lonely journey.
My mind is so jumbled I cannot actually differentiate between what is actually the three. What I can associate with myself is that we recently lost our home to a hydrostatic explosion, essentially water pressure was so great it blew out the concrete basement wall. It was so loud. Then we were given no assistance, it’s like no one cared. It has caused me to relapse and develop an entirely new set of triggers to another trauma. My initial was being kidnapped and almost killed at 15, now I react to every loud noise as if it is an explosion or fire. I am 41 now. I didn’t realize how well my PTSD was doing, until this happened.
Thanks for your comment. Don’t de-validate how well you where doing! You were. It is just that when you go through a new stress you habitually associate it to past-trauma and possible re-kindle that. As you bring awareness to that it might help you to deal with the situation at hand better.
I liked your profile self-description. Honoring your quest and all you share with others on the path. I find that healing the unmet needs within, with self-compassion and grace is the core, along with living in the moment, knowing none us knows the morrow, and learning to take care of ourselves in balance on all levels. The rest takes care of itself. My path has been full, too. You can google me… Melissa Moody Namaste and blessings
How grateful & humbled I am, to have found this website. Then to realise I am not alone.
I feel an overwhelming sense of ‘ I’m Not ” Mental ” anymore. I struggle with accepting that I am entitled to be who I am & Not, what my paternal family, my own family & so called acquaintances ‘ think I am! ‘ I’ve been called ‘ it,her & that, & mental all my life. Yet, I now accept that my family were/are extremely dysfunctional & they have more issues than me. I feel sad & lonely that they have to believe I am mental, so they can justify Thier own beliefs. I’m just grateful that I am resilient & stronger than I ever imagined, even when I am tired or triggered, I am learning Not to beat myself up about it. I’m just grateful to know the truth as I believe it, & know it will & can,get better, in time. Thanks everyone x
Hi Susan. Good to have you here.
After 5 year of not being able, I have started working .. not in my profession, I’m a nurse .. at a catering service. Before my husband and son died of cancer in 2012 I had experienced really bad fighting and people being mean and unfair in my job and also at the church we went to and spent a lot of time working there also. I was shocked and it was a revelation to me how I reacted, when after being given orders but not enough explanation, I was yelled at really loud by the person in charge, he was screaming “I am your boss !!! ”
I felt an instant change in “my system” and I screamed back ( I never scream at people) if he wouldn’t change the tone in that he was talking to me, I’d just leave .. there were not enough people to begin with, so I didn’t leave in the end
I realize, I had no control at that moment.
I guess, my “lymbic system” took over to protect ..
My reaction came from anger, that I am still putting tons of energy in to keep it “tamed” .. anger, that probably still protects me to feel the sadness that would be too much to hold.
I’m glad, I got the last offer ebooks and mediation .. I am working with it.
I only recently even discovered what I am going through is PTSD. I sought therapy several years ago, but that was never mentioned. I was raped by my step grandfather several times as a child of 4-6. I witnessed by mother shoot and kill my father after years of domestic violence the night he finally hit me. He had never done that before. I also felt betrayed when I finally told my sister what the grandfather had done and she confessed to me he had tried it with her but she kept him off. She also told me why she always had a bad relationship with our Uncle, he molested her once, not aggressively if you can understand what I am saying. I was angry that she never told me. I have two daughters I allowed in his home. He never did anything to me so my guard was down. I was floored. My sister just keep telling me to “get over it and move on”, but I can’t. I keep learning triggers that make me aware and also panic of what I have done and the consequences I must reap. I am at a loss as to how move on. Real therapy is difficult regarding my line of work. I have to travel a lot.
Please look into learning TRE (tension and trauma release exercise). It will release the nervous-system and physical trauma, which talk therapy simply cannot achieve. You can do it in your own time and at home. It’s made a huge difference in my life.
It all resonated with me. I need to change my environment and cut all ties with my ex! But, I dont know how becuz I’m always either frozen or so full of emotion (rage, fear, intense sympathy for my ex) that I dont know where to start, how to start.
I can totally resonate with this. I used alcohol to cope with these and other anxieties for years. I am triggered by abandonment issues following the death of my mother and witnessing it, then fearful that everyone I get close to will leave, I run away which is really the last thing I want and each time I go through the sadness, the grief. I don’t consciously do any of this, quite the opposite, I even rationalise it with facts that make sense. When I am in it the feeling is so intense and unbearable, I have an aunt who has been like a mum to me who has the ability to calm me from the intense fear and panic. I have felt that I need to feel that I am ok on my own, I can now as an adult look after myself. My aunt has terminal cancer and I want to run, I have become dependent on her and now she is going through her own fears, I just try and make her laugh, I have been honest with her about my fears, and have recorded her voice. Now I must learn to self soothe, something I should of learned a long time ago but have been putting off because I am really terrified of the feelings because of what I am capable of doing to myself when they occur. I know I have to face it and no one else can go through these feelings. I became dependent on my partner to soothe me but he couldn’t cope and gets angry seeing me in distress, I try to just be funny around him. I have done a lot of work on spending time alone but have stopped and feel like I will have to go through it again. I am wondering whether to get my own place as I am staying with my partner, then I will have to cope both of them no longer there.
Yes number 2 resonated with where i am in the process the most,this is when and where i had to make sure my boundaries with loved ones were very strong,almost ridged other wise id get stuck and become stagnant,before this stage my boundaries were very loose an flexible to my and loved ones detriment…
Thank you for writing this. It explains so much. I have started learning martial arts to help with my memory and confidence. There is a teacher who shouts. When he shouts at me I freeze. Then I can’t remember what I’m doing and I forget everything I’ve learned. I get very embarrassed, it is deeply humiliating as I am a slow learner (I have a diagnosis of ADHD). I am realising that this is where it is a person and / or the environment that is putting me into shock. I think I may copy this article and send it to the head of the school. I have just emailed them to try and explain how learning is compromised for a traumatised brain. I hope they get this, otherwise I think I’ll have to leave that school. Thanks again.