We have created this blog to fill a need, provide a place for survivors and mental health professionals to share their experiences and research, analysis and recommendations, for addressing the long term consequences of complex relational trauma.
Submissions from staff, volunteers, supporters and guest writers.
November 23rd 2022
I have been going backwards and forwards to the doctor since my early twenties. I have been on several types of antidepressants, and have had private counselling as well as rounds of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Psychodynamic therapy on the NHS. Nothing ever helped me make lasting changes, however, and doctors and therapists would show signs of frustration at my failure to recover.
I had managed to get an education, a career; I was independent, I didn’t have financial worries or a young family to look after. I could coherently discuss the trauma and abuse I had suffered since I was a little child; all the terror, the neglect, and how it had hurt me. Why couldn’t I leave it all behind? Yet still I regularly turned up at the doctor’s office feeling desperate. During the worst moments, I would call in sick to work, hide away and numb myself, mainly by overeating or watching television, sometimes needing the television on all night to be able to sleep. I was a puzzle not only to the doctors, but to myself also.
What nobody told me, throughout the years of seeking help, was that my nervous system was in meltdown, and that asking me to rationally consider my thoughts and beliefs about myself did extremely little to help me. Eventually, when, through my own research, I came across CPTSD, I learned I was being ruled by behaviours I was completely unaware were causing me great harm. They were behaviours that had kept me safe when I was young and living with a narcissistic father who terrorised our family relentlessly. I had developed hypervigilance, which meant I subconsciously scanned every moment of my life for danger. I was on high alert, subconsciously expecting the next slap from my father or to be abandoned by my mentally ill mother.
My depression, in fact, became more intense once I left home. I had so much hope I was leaving all the trauma behind me, but I had no awareness that my nervous system remained on high alert and I still saw danger everywhere. While studying, at work or with friends and family, I interpreted so much that is the normal rough and tumble of life as overwhelming or a threat to my survival. The smallest slight, or feedback that was even faintly negative would derail me. It was, and still is, an exhausting way to live. It causes me to suffer from poor concentration; I can’t relax and I feel anxious all the time. I had always been this way, so I didn’t recognise it wasn’t normal, and sadly no doctor or therapist ever really understood that my childhood trauma was still controlling many aspects of my life. It has had a detrimental impact on my career, friendships and relationships.
As I’ve learned more about CPTSD, I realised my behaviour was normal for a traumatised human being. There wasn’t actually anything wrong with me, as I had sometimes been made to feel in therapy or by colleagues, friends and family. I had developed habits to protect myself from being hurt both physically and emotionally in my childhood, but they didn’t work too well in regular, normal settings like the workplace or with friends. I was essentially trying to feel safe and I was trying to control my environment to create the security that I craved. I learned I did this in many different ways.
I was adept at fawning over people to make them like me. I was great at giving compliments and being a supportive friend, I could empathise deeply with people and I used these qualities to feel like I had people on my side. I made friends very easily this way, but I would lose them just as quickly once I realised I wasn’t getting the same back. But in other circumstances, I would freeze. In certain social situations, or in groups of people at work, I felt so threatened and overwhelmed that I couldn’t say a word. I also freeze if I feel I have been slighted or attacked or ignored, even long silences can make me feel anxious and hurt.
Often, I dealt with my anxiety or lack of control by giving up or ‘fleeing’. I regularly withdrew from occasions such as evening classes I’d just started or from a friendship because something didn’t feel safe. I still do it to this day. Sometimes I would behave in completely the opposite manner and rather than fleeing a situation, I would go on the offensive and I would fight my corner. In some instances, this has served me well, but on many occasions, I would have fared better if I’d been able to deal with the situation in a calmer manner, or simply by retreating to consider a different approach and come back to put my case another time. Ultimately, all these behaviours are me just trying to feel safe. Sadly, they often create more anxiety and shame, so it feels like a continuing cycle of emotional pain.
Some people’s responses may not include all of these Fawn, Freeze, Fight or Flight patterns, and some people, like me, are a mix of all four. Understanding how I respond to every day interactions and situations, helps me to feel more control over my life, so that I am not simply in survival mode seeking safety, and I can live a fuller and more rewarding life. This is just a glimpse into what CPTSD encompasses, there’s so much to learn about how trauma impacts an individual and it affects everyone differently. I’m grateful that people are beginning to understand it more and that places like RecoveryCodeX are now offering the help people desperately need.
© 2022 Tania May All Rights Reserved
August 26th 2022
Colourism was rife. Being a light skinned Asian male meant you were a traitor as you must be mixed race. I earned temporary respite by sticking up for some of my friends; but I was still called names like ‘%&$£! lover'.
To let teachers know about the bullying would have brought shame to my family and community, and given them a bad name, so I kept quiet. This is the true meaning of ‘honour’.
In many South Asian communities, issues such as ‘Besti’ (shame) and ‘Izzat’ (honour) take paramount importance, and there are certain acts that infringe on the cultural norms such as disobeying family and elders, sex before marriage, excessive drinking, drug taking, lack of adherence to cultural norms and appropriating what seem like Western ideals.
I assumed this was part of my heritage, to experience challenging circumstances. It must be normal.
I covered up unbearable feelings by eating, drinking and acting the jokey clown prince at home. I hated sport, shunning cricket and football, and had a terrible grasp of Punjabi, but was good at writing and lost myself in reading anything from Mum’s Mills and Boons to wrestling magazines.
I dare not speak my truth as money was tight and I feared what would happen to my mother and brother, often thrown across the wall like rag dolls by my father. Abuse came from all quarters: father, school, going to Bible studies – being the only brown face in the hall. I would smile in compliance, but inside I felt like an outsider. The children would chat amongst themselves about their holidays but I felt embarrassed, poor and dysfunctional.
The pressure to behave, keep the peace and uphold the family name, meant abuse and depression got driven underground. Mental health, police and social services seemed to turn a blind eye to domestic issues within the Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Police officers arriving at a domestic disturbance would ask basic questions then drive off leaving the victim and their families befuddled and stuck in cycles of abuse.
Around five years-old I attempted suicide for the first time; filled the bath and attempted to drown myself under water. A knock at the door saved me and I was wrought with guilt about leaving my mum to fend for herself. This was when I started self–harming, making incisions in my arm or bruising myself intentionally. Back then it was too dangerous to confide in people; there were repercussions.
Things improved over the years, but being shy and quiet was my way of not coming across as a burden. I met many angels: people from different backgrounds, who felt like soul family. I built a tenacity, a thick skin, and a flagrant disregard for self-worth.
Finding my vocation generated self-worth and openness. Many people’s lives have followed a pre-ordained script of marriage within the confines of cultural norms. I count my blessings. I have lost many people to addiction, suicide, misguided notions of normality, extremism, and criminality.
Honour-based cultures can be a breeding ground for trauma, fomenting chaos. Trauma can be multi-layered and proliferates when abuse is perpetrated within your family or community – when the enemy comes from within.
Complex PTSD flourishes with self–policing to maintaining domestic harmony, particularly within older generations. We mustn’t forget our predecessors, the first wave Indian immigrants, and what they suffered prior to coming to England: the partition, social economic hardship mixed with a parochial attitude to status, feeling they didn’t belong, while clinging to the old caste system.
My maternal grandfather served in the British Commonwealth Army fighting many battles and was invited to Britain as a result. He developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the atrocities he had witnessed.
The political landscape and the rhetoric at the time was characterised by the now infamous Rivers of Blood speech in 1968 by former MP Enoch Powell. Complex PTSD still winds its way through honour-based societies today, a silent cancer, bloodied by the turmoil of inner conflict in a hostile Western society.
Writer, poet, mental health advocate, mentor and social care worker in the UK.
No one knew I was an abused child
Now I help others heal
Photo: Model, by Mikhail Nilov
May 25th 2022
I fantasised about suicide years after. I was a chubby youngster who suffered poor body image for years. At home I was loud and overbearing, and at school withdrawn, too scared to talk as no one would believe me; dissociated from an early age.
Later on, I found refuge in toxic relationships and was drawn to be a healer. The spectre of abuse, cultural confusion and surviving domestic abuse has a taken its toll. I broke up with my university sweetheart (lovely woman) as I did not feel deserving of love. Self-deprecation and supporting my family lead to self-neglect.
The sad irony is that my Dad committed suicide 12 years ago, and I used that pain to forge a career in supporting those less fortunate. A tipping point in my life, it evoked a greater sense of purpose.
Trauma has no colour, but the dialogue needs to be had, particularly within an honour-based dynamic. My personal account is not shared for shock value but to enlighten. You can heal and grow. Life is not about attrition, but aspiration.
Writer, poet, mental health advocate, mentor and social care worker in the UK.
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