I think I have spent the last two hours trying to settle. My mind seems unable to organize itself, and I wonder why. What unsettled me so much, and why does it manifest itself in this kind of internal inability to decide what’s important.
In other words, why does PTSD make it so hard to concentrate? Does everything signal and nothing is sound?
I have been thinking that a part of complex trauma is that the individual experienced PTSD symptoms throughout their lives. I didn’t start to experience intrusive thoughts or memories, hypervigilance and difficulty concentrating as an adult. This has been going on for as long as I had any awareness of myself as a person.
It seems to me as a child trying to cope with that, I was often experiencing life in a different way from the children around me. I wasn’t feeling or even thinking in the way that the adults expected me to or that most children could understand or relate to.
I don’t know how to say this, but it seems to me that a lot of child abuse (not my dad’s well-planned sadism, but other kinds) is about high levels of impulsivity that affect how much the parent restrains the urge to punish. When boundaries are enforced very harshly and reactively, that generally results in what we call abusive behaviour. So if I have grown up with an adult who doesn’t curb her natural instinct to punish me for violating boundaries, and if those boundaries relate to a trauma history I don’t even know about to the extent that it makes it hard for me to decipher even what those boundaries are likely to be, then I am going to expect that the people around me won’t tolerate my having a different experience of life, especially if my trauma-related impulses do violate social norms which are a kind of boundary around behaviour. I mean, if I am triggered in the middle of story time, and I scream or hit the kid behind me who is scaring me, then that won’t be received well. Less dramatically, if I start alluding to sex acts or dead bodies—all of which are a normal part of my life—no one is going to have anything nice to say about it. I mean, I am thinking about how I feel now and thinking I was sitting in class or playing at recess with all of this going on.
You can only imagine that I would try to hide my PTSD—not just the abuse, but what happens inside my head because of the abuse and that I might not always even connect to abuse. I wouldn’t necessarily that I can’t concentrate or have funny feelings different than other children because I have been abused. I just know that thinking or feeling what I think and feel is not going to be okay.
If you build on my current understanding of shame, which is just that it is an emotional indicator that a rule has been violated, then I will feel ashamed of having PTSD. At home, I learned to be ashamed of the needs and feelings any child might have, because my parents were unable to meet them and responded by punishing me for trying to get them met. But all the time, in every context, I learned to be ashamed of having the symptoms of abuse.
I think that might be why the narrative around growing up with abuse is slanted towards various ways of denying the impact of abuse later: either the abuse didn’t happen, or it didn’t affect me, or it did affect me but I overcame it. Because the really big shame might come from having the symptoms all of your life. The abuse might have happened in briefer moments, but the effect is really pervasive.
That sounds very intellectual, not tangible, because of the space I am right now—this kind of unsettled, ungrounded place that creates an internal distance from what it all really means. But I do think it means when I feel the absolute worst, I am acknowledging how my experience of life is impacted now by what happened in the past. I think those might be the absolutely most difficult moments for me, the ones where I want to rip off my own skin, I hate myself so much. That might be the biggest, most important rule I am violating: I am not supposed to remember these things or have feelings from them that leak into the present.
The hard part of this is that it is not articulated generally: no one ever says you shouldn’t remember what happened to you. Not precisely. But when I left the doctor’s office yesterday engulfed in shame, I think that’s probably why. I think that was the strongest element of what triggered me: I feel I should not know or remember what happened and here I am remembering. All I remembered was fear, but I think that was enough.
I don’t know. I was thinking about this yesterday, when I was in a more connected place, but today I am not in that place.