Saturday, April 20, 2013

Trauma Bonding - The Ties That Bind

As I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn't connect to my feelings. This past couple of weeks, however, have uncovered some intensely painful feelings. I discovered that shame has taken root in me like a hundred year old tree. It is insidious. "Shame is a sickness of the soul. It is the most poignant experience of the self by the self, whether felt as humiliation or cowardice, or in a sense of failure to cope successfully with a challenge. Shame is a wound felt from the inside, dividing us both from ourselves and from one another" (Kaufman 1996). Shame results in feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, self doubt, perfectionism, and hopelessness.People with post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, don't believe they deserve to be happy, because we're bad people. Even if we are happy for a moment then it isn't going to last because eventually the other shoe will drop.... these are typical thoughts, trauma bonds, in the minds of most trauma survivors. Last post, I was fearful I wouldn't be able to connect with the feelings surrounding my trauma. This past week, I wish I hadn't.

I expressed to my therapy group that I didn't deserve to be with them, because in my opinion, they had suffered traumas much worse than mine. My childhood wasn't really that bad in comparison to what they experienced. They compassionately and adamantly kept telling me, trying to convince me that that wasn't the case. Trauma is trauma. They wanted me to see the truth, so I could move on, so I could become "unstuck" in the past, and yet the voices that told me for forty years, in order to cope, "that my life isn't so bad", my voice; and the voice that told me I wasn't worthy of compassion, understanding or having my needs met, my father's voice, and how could my father be wrong, prevailed again, and again, and again making it impossible for me to accept what they were telling me. This is one of my many trauma bonds, my unhealthy or toxic relationship with myself. Again, I am trapped in my past. I'm very depressed now. I rejected the support I was being offered, and depression is the result of not having one's needs met. I needed that support, and rejecting support is a form of self harm which is also common to PTSD survivors. Substance abuse, cutting, starving, or simply not giving yourself what you need are forms of self harm. It saddens me deeply to realize that I think so little of myself when my heart knows I'm worthy, but my mind has been poisoned to believe otherwise.Some symptoms of toxic shame as indicated in my program:

*  Believing I am a bad person.
*  Constantly belittling of one's self or others
* A compulsion to rescue hurting or needy people.
*  Excessive sensitivity and defensiveness to imagined or actual criticism or rejection
* Habitually putting one's own needs or welfare last
* Rarely buying anything nice for one's self or going on special trips
* Deflecting compliments
* Chronically giving time and energy to others and getting little or nothing in return
*  Repeatedly choosing, justifying, tolerating toxic relationships or situations.
* Not setting and enforcing holistically healthy boundaries with self and others
* Self-sabotage: setting one's self up for failure
* Choosing a direct-contact human-service profession i.e. clergy, medicine, education, law enforcement, social worker etc.

When I told my therapy group that my father had devoured my heart with his ungodly actions and hateful words, and that I was incapable of love, they again were surprised at my comment and told me I had repeatedly demonstrated I was an extremely thoughtful person always supporting others, showing compassion and kindness whenever it was needed and without hesitation, but they also observed I never do those things for myself. Instead, I beat myself up for not doing enough. I couldn't hear those words either. I wanted so badly to believe what they were telling me, to hear them, but it goes against every core belief I was ever taught which is that I'm a bad person. I broke down and cried at the realization. Shame is a major symptom of PTSD whether the trauma is related to combat, policing, or childhood abuse. We often feel "I could have done better", "if only...", "it was all my fault" when in actuallity none of that is true, if we could only objectively examine the facts... another example of our toxic relationship with ourselves, our trauma bond, we remain attached, tied to our trauma and our pain.

Attachments are a normal much needed part of our development. We can learn healthy attachment or unhealthy attachment even as adults where you may have been held captive or felt trapped for a long period of time. Some survivors are so traumatized and hurt that they feel they don't need anyone, so they isolate which leads to major depression and possibly suicide. The unhealthy attachments we learned are what we look for throughout our lives because it is familiar, thus we victimize ourselves over and over again, if we don't break that bond.

I'm terrified of making a shift in my beliefs even if those new beliefs are healthier, but that is the nature of a trauma bond. We fear the unknown, change, unpredictability, we need to feel in control, and we become very anxious if we don't feel we are in control, so we would rather stick with what is familiar, shame, unhealthy relationships, isolation, toxic work environments, playing our role as rescuer or care giver to our own detriment even though we KNOW these behaviours are unhealthy. Some of you might be saying, "come on, just make the choice to believe differently." Easier said then done. For example, suppose evidence came to light that perhaps God doesn't really exist and then asking a Christian to accept that truth.Not only is it preposterous in the Christian's mind, but the very thought of even trying to make that shift causes such suffering that it would hurt them deep within their souls.

We all wear masks. When asked "how are you?" we almost always respond "good, fine, great"... not always true, but easier than explaining how we're really feeling. The mask worn by trauma survivors isn't always easily hidden. Sometimes we just seem numb, unable to connect emotionally, or sometimes we seem angry for no reason, irritable, hot-tempered, sad,  and have no idea why. Many can't even identity their emotions, because the only one they ever feel is anger and justifiably so. Why? Because we are stuck in the past, we are stuck in the moment or time our trauma occurred. Naturally, the feeling at that time was anger and that's where we remain stuck for years in some cases, four decades in my particular case. Anxiety is another feeling we live with because we're stuck. We're in a low grade "flight or fight" response all the time.We don't know frustration, giddiness, disappointment, cheerful, joy, sorrow, aggravated, reticent, apprehension, caution, and the list goes on and on. The possible spectrum of emotions we can experience is completely unfamiliar to us, so in my treatment program, I am being taught to practice identifying my emotions, not an easy task when you've been faking it all your life.

The trauma bonds are strong, my core beliefs, my attraction to people who need help, my tendency to get involved with people or situations that hurt me. They're like a demon clutching your soul in its claws, you're too afraid to move, because you know it's going to hurt like hell if you do. However, if we are to heal, if we are to recover, if we are to become unstuck so that we can live life in the present, enjoy and be grateful for what's right in front of us without subconsciously poisoning it with our past, then we need to fight that demon and break those bonds or at least begin recognize them. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, right? Well, if I'm going to hurt anyway, then it might as well be with the hopes of living life in the present not in the tragic past.

If you feel you might have been exposed to trauma, if any of this sounds familiar to you,  there are tests on line to assist you if you might  be concerned about PTSD. Even if you don't do the tests, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and possibly your trauma. Help is available, and you deserve to be happy just as much as anyone else.

That's the view from here right now.... I'll keep you posted on the remainder of my journey. Thanks for stopping by. :)

Kaufman, Gershen. (1996) The Psychology of Shame 2nd Ed., Springer Pub. New York

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