C-PTSD and relationships go hand-in-hand. C-PTSD, also called complex PTSD, can happen when someone experiences repeated, chronic, prolonged exposure to traumatic events.
Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness are part of what can happen if you’ve experienced or had to watch traumatizing events.
Often, these ongoing traumatic events happen or begin happening in childhood or early adolescence. And they’re almost always interpersonal, meaning another person has done something to hurt you. You can’t traumatize yourself and develop C-PTSD.
Some of those traumatic events include:
- childhood abuse — sexual, physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, spiritual;
- being neglected as a child;
- having a self-absorbed or narcissistic parent;
- being raised by an active alcoholic or drug-abusing parent;
- living in a home where you witnessed or were directly involved in domestic violence;
- ongoing social stress, such as having been bullied or feeling like you didn’t belong;
- community and political violence ,such as refugee situations or being ostracized from your family or community;
- prolonged captivity.
C-PTSD & Relationships in Santa Fe, NM
If you experienced or witnessed traumatic experiences as a child, you might have learned that you had to abandon your feelings, needs, and desires to take care of other people. And when you’re taught that that’s how it is, well … that’s just how it is.
You haven’t been given a chance to learn how things really are, including that:
- parents don’t always do a good job for lots of reasons, including that they might’ve been abused as children;
- children are never responsible for being neglected, mistreated, or abused;
- your needs and desires deserve to be heard and respected;
- feeling emotionally safe and secure is essential to living a rich, rewarding, fulfilling life.
Feeling Powerless, Hopeless, & Ashamed
Learned helplessness and shame are big players in your worldview if you’ve experienced repeated traumas, especially as a child. When we’re young, there’s hardly ever a way to stop the abusive behaviors that cause the trauma. Children rely on the adults around them to take care of them, keep them safe, and to love them.
But when a child isn’t being kept safe and instead, is being hurt or repeatedly neglected, s/he learns that there’s nothing they can do to change things, to make it better. That’s learned helplessness.
And if you don’t believe you can change things for the better or that your needs and wants matter, healthy relationships can be pretty challenging.
Shame is another profound reason that adult relationships can be fraught. If children or teenagers are forced to watch or listen to the adults fighting, including verbally or physically hurting each other, it’s confusing for the kids. And then, they often feel as though it’s their fault.
According to research, ” … children often develop a fantasy that they are bad kids relying upon good parents to avoid confronting the terrifying reality that they are good kids relying upon bad parents (Jim Knipe, 2018).”
Kids easily believe that they must be bad since it’s their fault. What happens next is that kids can begin feeling defeated, hopeless, powerless, and ashamed because they’re bad.
Kids learn to feel helpless in the face of scary experiences that threaten them in one way or another. And they very often develop a deep, unconscious belief that they’re bad people — that’s shame.
The Double-Whammy of Learned Helplessness and Shame
Learned helplessness and shame are a double-whammy that can make relationships really challenging.
I mean, if you go into a relationship thinking that
- you’re a bad person, and
- you don’t have any power or agency or right to have your needs met, and that
- if you show your true self, you might not be lovable?
Can you see the potential problems?!
“Can I Be Myself and Still Be Loved?”
Because complex PTSD usually happens due to traumas experienced in childhood and early adolescence, that child’s ability to fully develop into a psychologically and emotionally healthy adult is interrupted.
Here’s the thing … if you’re not sure you can be yourself and still be loved, it can be tough to find and maintain successful long-term relationships.
Some researchers use the term “developmental trauma” instead of CPTSD. Because when we’re the target or witness of traumatic experiences as children, that can interfere with forming a coherent identity and developing into healthy, thriving adults. The trauma/s affect our development.
Not having a coherent identity means we might not be quite sure who we are.
We may have had to hide who we were — our feelings, and desires, and needs — to take care of others or to protect ourselves. Having to hide who we were and what we needed back in the day interrupted our ability to form secure attachments, know when we feel emotionally safe, and trust other people.
That attachment disruption gets in the way of developing healthy, give-and-take, I feel safe with you, and you feel safe with me relationships as adults.
You can see how CPTSD and relationships can be so intertwined.
Examples of Unhealthy Relationships & CPTSD
Have you ever had a friend who just can’t get it? Who keeps choosing the “wrong” person, no matter what? One of the ways untreated CPTSD can play out in adult relationships is that you keep repeating the same dysfunctional relationship dynamics.
In psych-speak, that’s called re-enacting the trauma, repeating the same patterns of hurtful, damaging or dangerous relationships.
You may lose yourself in relationships and know for sure that this is the one (until s/he isn’t). Or you might be so detached and distant that there’s no ‘you’ there.
These relationship/attachment patterns are consistent in friendships, intimate relationships, and work environments with both co-workers and bosses.
The good news is that you can learn a much healthier relationship attachment style by processing the early traumatic experiences and learning how to become a securely attached adult.
One other way that unfulfilling relationships & C-PTSD hang out together is when one person sacrifices themselves on the altar of trying to please the other.
Minimizing, denying, suppressing, repressing their own needs for the sake of the other one isn’t a recipe for a healthy relationship.
clears throat I’ve got more than a little bit of experience with people-pleasing as a life path. Can I just tell you? There are better ways to live into your best self, and make beautiful choices in relationships than I did for a long time.
Blaming and Shaming The Other Person
Another example of not-good relationships and CPTSD is a repeated pattern of reactive, defensive blaming and shaming of the other person.
Also, it can be hard to hear someone else’s point of view if you’re struggling with unprocessed CPTSD and stuck in a trauma-response communication loop.
It can be super easy to point a finger at them and everything they’re doing wrong, but not so easy to slow down and settle into how you’re feeling and what you need.
Your Brain is Hard-Wired for Connection, but …
… if you’re struggling with CPTSD, there’s an inner conflict going on inside of you.
There’s the part of you that needs to be connected with other human beings.
And there’s another part of you that needs to run away, or stand and fight no matter what just in case, or freeze like a scared l’il bunny, or constantly give in when you’re not feeling safe.
Then there’s another part of you who’s asking “Can I be myself and still be loved?”.
“I can take care of myself, don’t get too close, I only feel emotionally safe by myself,” vs. “I want to be seen for who I am (but I don’t know how to do that)” vs. “If I show you who I am you may hurt me, and you’ll def abandon me.”
It’s noisy inside your head. And that’s OK, because that’s just how our minds work. But the problems begin when one of those internal parts, or voices, is louder than all the others, and is making choices that are based on fear, nervous system trauma responses, and desperate attempts to control what couldn’t be controlled when you were young.
Using IFS, or Parts Therapy, you can learn to acknowledge all the parts of yourself, and integrate everything that’s happened into a beautiful, healed, and whole Self.
The Santa Fe Therapist Approach to Relationships & CPTSD in Santa Fe, NM
CPTSD clients have a special place in my heart. It takes so much courage to make that phone call or send an email asking for help! And then, opening the cage that’s been protecting your heart can be terrifying.
When you’ve experienced trauma, especially as a child, you have no idea who to trust or even what it feels like to trust someone else. “I don’t feel safe” is one of your strongest subconscious core beliefs.
But you absolutely can’t keep living so small and scared anymore. So you’ve got to dive off the edge of the world you’e know, closing your eyes and hoping it’s all gonna be OK. Because diving has got to be better than living the way you are.
It’s OK to Ask for Help
I’m here to tell you yes, it will be OK—more than OK. I’ve been there myself. When I was younger, there was a time when I hated who I had become as a result of unprocessed childhood trauma. All my crappy coping behaviors, like drinking too much, were suffocating me and making the people I loved miserable.
What to do? I got so desperate that I was forced into asking for help. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, for reals. But as I began walking the path of healing a lifetime of suffering, my life started changing for the better almost immediately.
And while my life began getting better, the truth is that it wasn’t a ton of fun at the beginning. There was a lot of toxic sludge to clean out of my thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs about the world.
Honestly, though? My life was at stake, and I wasn’t willing to give up on myself.
It gets better, my friend; it really does. But you’ve got to put in the effort to make it better. And that whole terrifying thing is so much easier, more effective, and long-lasting when you have a seasoned professional guide walking with you every step of the way.
Reach out for a free 15-minute consult here.
The Santa Fe Therapist
I’m Melanie, and I love helping people who are ready to work with a trauma therapist. In balancing the science of therapy with the art of healing, I’ll create an innovative program for you that sets you on a path of success from the very first session.
My compassionate, creative approach weaves together my ability to hear below the surface of the words, advanced degrees, years of specialized training, professional experience, and my own healing around trauma.
I use the latest neuroscience findings as I combine Western systems, Eastern wisdom, Earth-based practices, as well as creative, innovative ideas to help you process, heal and begin building your future.
My clients usually work with me once a week for 6 to 12 months. And some continue every other week for another few months. As we work together, you’ll be getting tools for long-term success and learning and using strategies and techniques to serve you for many years.
You’ll work hard for sure. But won’t all be horrible and terrible! I love sharing ideas about good books and films and laughing together once in a while.
My hope for you is that you’ll feel safe every step of the way as you transform “I don’t feel safe” into “Yes, I’m safe and well and happy.”
Online Therapy in New Mexico
Online therapy helps you find the time away from day-to-day pressures to calm your nervous system. It also makes it easy and convenient to process emotions and learn new neuroscience techniques to cope with challenges, heal the past, and begin building your future.
I strongly believe in the power of online counseling. Along with the research that proves its effectiveness, I see the positive benefits for clients every week. Please click here if you’ve got questions about online therapy.
Online counseling from anywhere in New Mexico, including Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, Los Alamos, Pecos, Las Vegas, Tesuque and El Dorado.
Begin Relationship & CPTSD Therapy in Santa Fe, NM
You don’t have to struggle alone anymore with feeling overwhelmed, afraid, and helpless.
Therapy for relationships and CPTSD can make a world of positive difference in your life.
All you have to do is send me an email to schedule a free, 15-minute phone consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s get you feeling better as quickly as possible.
Other Services From The Santa Fe Therapist
The Santa Fe Therapist specializes in several areas of health, wellbeing, healing and recovery. I know that one size never fits all. My services are individualized to each client, and are based on your values, your needs and desires, and your goals.
I provide individual adult counseling and guidance in Santa Fe, NM and throughout New Mexico for:
- dealing with overwhelming angst and despair
- anxiety help
- depression help
- emotional and spiritual healing
- processing grief
- overcoming low self-esteem
- learning how to make peace with the present
- PTSD and CPTSD/trauma
- helping you manage stress