Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Reality of Psychological Trauma and Complex PTSD

Trauma is hard for me to write about.  Why?  I'm not really sure.  (For an excellent read on psychological trauma, please click on the link.)

Trauma appears to be a term that is widely used, but just as widely misunderstood.

Rather than being a diagnosed illness, it is more of a concept for most people.  Even, and perhaps especially, those of us caught in its throes - and the people closest to us who are walking - and hurting - alongside us.

Even among professionals, there are differences of opinion.  For some professionals, a person can only be suffering from PTSD if they've had a life-threatening experience.  Which would mean that the young child who at five had a six year old try to strangle her is definitely a potential candidate for PTSD.  But would also mean that the adult who has been continually isolated and excluded in the workplace is not.

By the same token, the person who was consistently emotionally and psychologically battered by verbal abuse in the home, the workplace, the church, the neighbourhood, wherever, is not a candidate for PTSD according to those who define psychiatric disorders in the DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

However, there is an increasing amount of literature on the net about psychological trauma.  About something calledcomplex PTSD which is not in the psychiatric bible, the DSM.

Yet, whether it is recognized by professionals or not, psychological trauma and complex PTSD caused by repeated non-life threatening occurrences such as repeated molestation, angry outbursts by parents or significant others, bullying at school or at work, etc. is real.  At least to people like me.  People who have gone life a lifetime of these experiences.

Even with those traumas which are recognized as such, i.e. death in the family, car wreck, fire, etc., I've heard people after after a few weeks use those infamous words:  "Let it go."

Many people incorrectly assume that there is a time limit to grieving or to healing after a traumatic event.

Many people also, just as incorrectly, assume that all the victim (or survivor) needs to do is "just let it go."

I heard that phrase so many times, times too numerous to count, in the initial days, weeks and months post the first abusive workplace situation.

In those days, I felt a compulsion to talk about what had happened.  Probably ad nauseum.  It was so fresh in my mind.  Even months later, it was continually before me.  When I went to bed at night, on waking in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning.  It was continually there.  Always there.  Never taking a break or a holiday.  More importantly, never letting me take a break or a holiday from the psychological ravages of workplace bullying.  Six weeks after the contract ended (or was I fired?), it still felt as fresh as if it had just happened the day before.

I felt compelled to talk about what had happened, but so often did not get the chance.  When I did, the person might listen for a short while and then, predictably, as I went on, their face would change.  I could see that they had had enough.  And then inevitably, I would hear the words:  "Just let it go."  And they would turn - and walk out of my life leaving me emotionally bleeding all over the floor.

It is hard to describe the impact those four words, spoken over and over again, by a variety of people, over an eighteen month period of time, had on me. 

But I will try.

First, I felt judged by these people.

I felt they were telling me that I had failed.  That there was something I could do, but was willfully refusing to.  That I was the author of my own confusion and tremendous hurt.

I felt alone.

After the pronouncement, these people would inevitably go back to their own worlds - and leave me along, hurting, in mine.  I realize now that I was trying to get people to recognize the deep hurt and walk with me on my journey.  But none of us realized it at that time.  I could not tell them in so many words that I needed someone - or ones - to walk with me through something none of us could understand.

I felt confused.

Not only did I have no understanding at that time of what had happened to me in the workplace and it's long-term affects on me, I had absolutely no clue as to how to heal.

I felt lost.

No one who said those four words, "just let it go", gave me a blueprint from point A to point B on how to accomplish that.  I had no clue how to just let it go.  However, I assumed that they did and that there was something obvious that I was missing.

And I tried.

You don't know how hard I tried.

During those eighteen months, and especially in that initial period post workplace abuse, I did everything I knew to do.  Everything that had worked in the past.

I prayed.

I tried to forgive the people involved.

I tried to move on with my life.

I even got a new job rather quickly.

I kept on with my life as I knew it.  Inviting people over for barbecues and bonfires.

I even went back to a counsellor that I had seen off and on for many years.

But nothing worked.

Nothing offered long-term relief from the pain.

The pain accumulated over time.  Never going away.  Multiplying as the days, weeks, months went on.  Never taking a holiday, a break.

If I only knew then what I know now.

I know I'm leaving you at the top of a cliff today, but I see no way around it.  It's time to close for now.  Tomorrow is another day on this journey of healing. 

Rest assured, tomorrow will come.  We will get through this.  We will survive.

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