From CPTSD Foundation: “For ages, I have been labeled and subsequently felt: weird, alienated, not fitting in, different, special, highly sensitive, asocial, introverted, from another planet, and the list goes on. At age 45, I discovered the world of trauma, and complex trauma or C-PTSD in particular. Thus far it never occurred to me that I was ‘traumatized.’ Until my destructive behavior and toxic inner critic resulted in severely impaired self-regulation, impulse control, and emotional resilience. If I were to fit into one ‘label,’ then it would definitely be that of complex trauma, as ‘complex’ is my middle name, I have been told.
The epiphany happened when reading the seminal work of Dr. Bessel van der Kolk – The Body Keeps The Score: ‘trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens’ (p.92). I finally found the ‘evidence’ that it was not me, it was them! It was the entire world going crazy! Or was it me after all? On a physiological level, I felt relief, an unprecedented level of relaxation: in that very moment I did not feel rejected nor alienated…be it for a fraction of a second till my inner critic woke up.
C-PTSD and alienation?
By undergoing the tensions in our childhoods between authenticity and attachment, favoring attachment over authenticity at any cost, children start losing touch with their inner world in their subconscious efforts to survive. That emerging and growing disconnection creates a distorted view of the world (and ourselves) which makes us feel significantly more or less than the present moment requires, it disconnects us from many relationships and includes a sense of toxic shame about who we are. Eventually this psychological and physical dysregulation results in a separation, a rupture, a turning away from our authenticity, and leads to alienation.
Reading the work of Gabor Maté, Bessel van der Kolk, Arielle Schwartz, Laurence Heller, and others… I came to see how trauma shaped my alienation narrative:
- During my pre-school years, being raised in a ‘golden cage,’ I was overly protected by my mother and lacked any bonding with my emotionally unavailable father. Whereas dad could not genuinely take care of mom, somehow I started to take over that role, soothing the only person in the world where I felt safe. Clearly, attachment won over authenticity, and the process of having my developmental needs met, was arrested.
- At school, being bullied for being overweight and stammering, every single class was literally a nightmare, resulting in a hyper-search for ‘safe’ places where talking and physical activity were absent. As a consequence, I hated classes that my classmates loved (e.g. physical education) and loved activities that others hated (e.g. study time).
- Raised with the mantra ‘working hard is the only thing that matters,’ I hyper-focused on and found ‘safety’ in studying, and rarely engaged in social activities during college. I was utterly unfamiliar with parties, pub hangouts, sports, and other common student activities. The recurring question ‘What the hell is wrong with me?’ turned into an alienation process of my emotional and social life: my head was safety heaven and the world out there was a war zone. Dissociating was the default option.
- Once dissociated from my inner world and from the present moment, my sense of ‘being different’ grew exponentially, to the extent that – subconsciously – I enacted this reality by living and interpreting the world through emotional flashbacks. It does not come as a surprise that I started to fly obsessively from any perceived fear of rejection, and to thrive on the instant gratification of unreal expectations.
- This sense of alienation reached a climax when toxic shame and feeling like an imposter took the driver’s seat. Every glance (or lack thereof) directed towards me resulted in toxic inner critic attacks (‘there we go, people stare at the alien’) and an all-encompassing feeling of shame (wanting to become invisible or sink into the ground). I was E.T. wanting to go home.
This sense of alienation, despite its life-arresting outcomes, was the automatic ‘preferred’ option to suppress and escape the increasingly unbearable sense of rejection and weirdness. It is only recently, having been referred to Pete Walker’s C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by a psychiatrist, that I started to acknowledge the extent to which trauma ruled my life.”
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