I saw this meme this morning and it just made me cock my head to the side to take another look at it. And I thought about it. Probably too much.
And, I realized I was having a feeling. A pretty strong one by my standards. I mean, I actually noticed it.
Here – let me show you the meme.
For those who may not be able to read it allow me to tell you what it says.
It is not what happened in the past that is hurting you now. It is your interpretation of what happened that is hurting you now. Change your interpretation of what happened and you change how you feel about it.
Pardon my language: I call BULLSHIT.
Let me make a couple of statements –
First, I am looking at this through a lens of CPTSD. And perhaps, this meme is not intended for me as its audience. I can fully accept that possibility.
Secondly, I’m going to talk about my reaction to this. If you want to tell me how it makes you feel that’s cool. Any comments telling me I am wrong will be trashed.
Let’s break this down, line by line and idea by idea.
First line – It’s not what is in the past that is hurting you now.
To some extent, I will say this is true. As a child, I had lots of bumps and scrapes and those are in my past. Also, true those injuries no longer hurt me.
But what about those injuries that leave a mark? Cigarette burns? Broken bones? Neglect?
Even here I can see wearing those marks not at a source of shame but as proof that you have survived. And yes, that is dependent on how someone chooses to interpret the mark or damage that is left.
However, we haven’t addressed another type of result from events in the past. Neural remodeling. Or, in the case of very young victims brain development. Of those of us who walk around the world with CPTSD many of us have a fundamentally different perception of the world and ourselves. This is hard-wired. Our brains were literally changed or diverted from normal development.
In that sense – yes the injury is still with me. I function in this world with a brain not developed for this world. It’s work.
Second line – It is your interpretation of what happened that is hurting you now.
While I can envision that this meme is not made for the CPTSD community I must admit that I don’t know who it is intended towards. It makes no specific reference in the meme and the words are rather broad and inclusive.
The first thing this sentence says to me is “You are WRONG.”
Wrong in your interpretation.
Wrong in your memory.
Wrong in wanting to move through the trauma.
And, what the Hell, just Wrong in general.
That is what that sentence makes me feel. My interpretation is wrong.
(A long string of deleted explicatives.)
Talk about a classic example of devaluing a lived experience.
Let me talk about this from a different angle. CPTSD is a condition resulting from long-term repeated trauma where the victim has no opportunity for escape. So think, child abuse, think sex trafficking, think POW. This form of PTSD is the result of extended durations of trauma. It’s not a single event that is captured in the definition of PTSD.
My personal experience is being a child and growing up in a severely dysfunctional household. There are several hallmarks of CPTSD. As I mentioned above there are changes in brain development.
There is a fundamental lack of self-value. Commonly there is a feeling of being worth less than everyone else. Of being permanently flawed and unlovable.
These are not things we interpret. These ideas are what shape our selves. They are integral to who we are. They are not conscious thoughts or interpretations. This is, for us, our reality. It is not who we ‘think’ we are. It is who we are.
That brings us to the third line – Change your interpretation of what happened and you change how you feel about it.
Well, if that just isn’t a load of unicorn farts and lollipops I don’t know what is.
Here we come to another interesting way that CPTSD can affect a person. Like PTSD there is the experience of the ‘flashback’. The flashback in PTSD transports the person back to the moment of their trauma. It is not a memory. It is a re-experiencing of the event.
For someone with CPTSD there is likely no single event. For someone like myself who has very little memory of my childhood, there is nothing to flashback to, no single event or even group of events. What some of us with CPTSD suffer is the emotional flashback.
Walker in his work Complex CPTSD: From Surviving to Thriving describes the emotional flashback this way:
Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions to the overwhelming feeling-states of being an abused/abandoned child.
Read that again. It is not memory but instead a feeling-state, an emotion. And for folks who have little childhood memory, or where the abuse or neglect started before the ability of the brain to create and hold memories was developed, the emotions are what overwhelm us. When this happens, unless you are aware of what an emotional flashback is, there is no reasoning with it. Any or all of the physical symptoms of an overloaded vagus system can surface. Shaking, muscles tightening, hyperarousal of the senses, etc. It is not something that can be reinterpreted. It is a physiological reaction to an emotional response triggered by something in the environment.
As we recover from CPTSD we can identify the situations and events that might cause us to experience an emotional flashback. Then we can learn to avoid these triggers until we are ready to conquer them.
And I can see folks saying – well isn’t that exactly what the meme said? Change your mind and you’ll feel better?
That could be argued. But, it is a gross oversimplification of a process that will take some people years. By minimizing the process of recovery the meme perpetuates the idea that mental illness, or traumatic events are somehow controllable. Or minor. Or a flaw in a person’s character. Essentially, we are just Wrong.
And that thought is so far from the truth. So I will end with these words.
You have value. You are, in fact, irreplaceable.