Someone with COMPLEX Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) or Response (CPTSR) is someone who has pretty much “given up” their core identity, in lieu of serving others. This is NOT a natural state of being. This is a TRAINED state of being in which his or her ego-boundaries have been broken down or significantly cracked.
Young, healthy children know what they need and want. They can articulate it, even if it’s with a yell. And they know how to say NO. People suffering with CPTSR/ CPTSD or severe codependency do NOT have these skills. They’ve been BROKEN. They can stay bonded to their abusers for years because of this brokenness.
And so, healing has to happen FIRST, prior to being given any of the following smart spiritual suggestions. These spiritual suggestions work well for people who have healthy and well established egos, but for people with CPTSR/ CPTSD or severe codependency, these suggestions can BREAK THEM FURTHER. It can easily re-traumatize them into further self-shaming. PLUS, because there’s a tendency for uber-people-pleasing within this post-trauma response, and because this experience can be SO DIFFICULT to articulate (it’s taken me 30 years), THE PERSON WITH CPTSD WILL PROBABLY NEVER LET YOU KNOW JUST HOW BAD THEY FEEL.
First, a Quick story about a Taekwondo champion and leukemia
A few years back, one of my clients, a 6x world champion in Taekwondo, was in remission from leukemia for the 3rd time. He was TERRIFIED because he had heard that his fears and his mind could re-create the disease. He contacted me out of sheer desperation. He was so terrified that he was actually having problems with hyperventilation.
I offered him a couple of assignments that were in the genre of relaxing, chilling out and laughing. He practically yelled at me, “Is this DEBBIE HAPPY COHEN I’m speaking to? Aren’t you going to kick my ass?” I’d been referred to him by some of my favorite fitness gurus who LOVED my ass-kicking, out-of-the-box assignments. When I would tell them to jump, they would always respond “HOW HIGH?”
I replied to my new champ, “Right now, there’s no ass for me to kick. I need you to get better first.” He did what I asked. He got better. He contacted me a few months later and then a few years later to let me know that he was continuing to do well and that he was still enjoying floating on the clear river we had co-created in his imagination.
7 things spiritual teachers or friends should NEVER say to people who have unresolved CPTSR/ CPTSD or severe codependency
- Surrender yourself to life. Or God. Or the teachings. Say YES to whatever shows up, and go with it. Michael Singer is a great teacher of this practice. But oh, dear. Someone with unresolved CPTSR/ CPTSD or severe codependency is already surrendered. There’s nothing left to surrender! They need to build their egos back up and strengthen themselves first. You’ve got to reset the bone before you kick the next ball! Did you know that Kabbalistic rabbis in the old days were held to a standard of “groundedness”? Before they could be considered for studying esoteric kabbalistic teachings (such as past lives, numerology or astrology,) they had to be at least 40 years old and with a family. They had to be IN THE WORLD, in community. They had to be present in their bodies first.
- Be humble. Honey, if you could live in the imagination of someone with CPTSR/ CPTSD or severe codependency for just one moment, you would experience someone so dissociated from their true self and so disconnected from their bodies. You would just want to give them a freakin’ hug. Seriously. What they need is to grow their boldness, brag about the little tiny things they’re doing right. Being broken is NOT the same as being humble. They need to build a foundation of IDENTITY before they can really practice being humble.
- Don’t take credit. Give God all the credit. Are you fucking kidding me? For egotistical boobs, that’s great advice. For people with CPTSR/CPTSD, Please re-read #1 and 2. One of the things that can be tricky is that the person can show an expression of arrogance as a cover-up for their woundedness. I know this can be tricky. That’s why I’m writing this article. I hope you will be inspired to deepen your awareness of this issue which affects A LOT of people.
- Tone down your ego. Again, sage spiritual advice for people who have big egos. A recipe for failure for those without a strong sense of identity to begin with.
- Be loving. Okay, one of my favorite metaphors for people with CPTSR/ CPTSD and severe codependency is CINDERELLA. These are some of the most loving, generous, resilient people you will ever meet. This person needs to learn to be loving to themselves, but before they can do that, they need to actually “catch” the inner dominating judge and dethrone him or her. They need to level the playing field so that the inner child feels safe and the inner adult stands a chance. How? See recommendations for deeper study below.
- Your parent/ boss/ adult child/ abuser REALLY LOVES YOU or CARES ABOUT YOU. Are you kidding me? You’ve just suggested they deepen the trauma bond, tighten the sensation of “double bind” and created more confusion. If you don’t know what gaslighting is, you need to look it up. CPTSD doesn’t come from out of the blue. Just because it’s invisible, doesn’t mean it’s not deadly and sucking the life force out of some very beautiful people.
- Love can heal everything. Well, yes, you can say this. I do believe love can heal everything. And I actually LOVE this saying. It’s given me so much hope during the darkest of times. But the “healing” might not look like your client or friend wants it to look. And it might not ever happen in this lifetime. So this lovely, shiny, idealistic, beautiful saying it has to be said with a caveat: Love includes deep self-approval as well as healthy boundaries. These require practice and development.
Here’s what you CAN SAY to encourage and support your client or friend:
- I want to see you thrive, not just survive.
- I believe in you.
- Let’s focus on what you’re doing right.
- Let’s build you back up.
- You’re so worth it!
- What do you need in order to thrive?
- You got this. I’ll keep believing in you until you can do it for yourself. I’m right with you.
Practices that can help resolve CPTSR/ CPTSD: Embodied self-awareness, embodied self-worth, emotional literacy. Check out my book SANCTUARY which discusses these ideas. Share the book with your clients. It’s free for now at http://www.joybasedliving.com
If you’d like to start a study group for SANCTUARY, check out my inaugural talk for Blooming Misfits:
Recommendations for deeper study:
- For healers, therapists, coaches: Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Herman, coined the term CPTSD in 1995. Study her work.
- For clients: Pete Walker’s book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving is a foundational book, especially his 13 Steps for Managing Emotional Flashbacks.
- For clients: Richard Grannon’s “Heal the Superego” 30 day course. I only recommend this after a person has completed reading CPTSD by Pete Walker.
- I highly recommend you, as a clinician or friend, read the Pete Walker book and take the Richard Grannon course prior to recommending it.
At Joy-Based Living, our mission is to help you turn up your heart light and share your love. Over and over again. As much as you can. We stand for healing trauma, spiritual connection and peak performance.
Debbie Happy Cohen
I want you to LOVE negotiating for JOY! | Author | Coach at Joy-Based Living
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