C-PTSD and Relationships
Triggers, Attachment Styles and Deep Dives
Season 1, Episode 11
January 14, 2021
There has been a lot of C-PTSD anxiety in me this week and as usual I am here to tell you all about it. There is a lot going on in today’s episode, from triggers, more stuff about attachment styles and what I call deep dives.
I bring up the idea of Inner Child Work and I wanted to give you a good resource to learn more about it. I’ve gone to them before and I’ll probably go back to them in the future. The CPTSD Foundation is a solid source of science backed healing information and support. They are doing a great job.
I also talk about Native American Journeying and Shamanic Drumming as one of the many methodologies I have explored. Here is a nice description of the process of a Spiritual Journey.
I also spend a great deal of time talking about relationship and C-PTSD, my relationships in particular. There is a lot out there on this topic, but here’s a rather good one.
Thank you for listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica and please come back. Tell others about this podcast. Write me a note at [email protected]. Help me be that soothing voice so many people need. Thank. Until next time.
Be Courageous. Be Strong. Be Kind
I’ll catch you later.
C-PTSD and Relationships
Triggers, Attachment Styles and Deep Dives
Season 1, Episode 11
January 14, 2021
Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson.
This week has had its share of challenges with C-PTSD anxiety. It’s been pretty high this week and if you don’t know, the anxiety I feel tends to be directly proportional to how I feel about my relationships, my primary relationships, primarily. I’m going to tell you a little bit more about what’s going with me and hopefully, it will help you.
It’s been really windy the past few days here on the hill and when the wind really blows, my roof begins to vibrate, and it sound like this. (Enter Wind Vibes.) Hopefully, that will not happen, and if it does, I will do my best to edit what I can out of the recording. Thanks for your indulgence.
Last week I told you about a triggering event related to a misunderstanding with another podcaster, Jess at www.t-mfrs.com. All is good with her. The big problem this week was about responding to a proposal by my wife.
For those of you who do not know, my wife and I are currently separated and each of us are testing the other around the edges to see if it is safe. The bottom line for me is this; at this time, it is not safe for me to have prolonged contact with her. I know that sounds harsh, and I don’t mean it to be harsh. It is a decision that I needed to make in order to support my integrity with myself. Things are still pretty raw.
For the first time in my life, I’m the one who is letting go of the burning hot pan our relationship had become. It was my choice. I made the decision. I had to say no to her idea. Not at this time. This was really, really hard for me. I still feel vulnerable to being triggered when I am around her. Each time I get a message from her, my phone notifies me, and I have a mini trigger. I don’t even know what the message is about. I’m turning into Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the sound of the bell. It’s terrible and I need to take care of that response.
As I considered her proposal, which suggested she return home on the coming Sunday and stay until our meeting with Migración, the Costa Rican Immigration Department. This is a critical meeting. It is the 3rd and final year of my “probation” and if successful leads to my permanent residency. This is huge. This paves the way to citizenship if I so desired. Needless to say, our separation has come at an awfully bad time. But that depends upon your perspective. Personally, I think it is coming in the nick-of-time.
I don’t see any problem with Migración. We are certainly grown up enough to present a positive front for a few hours. My biggest concern about her proposal was she was suggesting staying here for 2 weeks. This is when my heart jumped into my throat. I initially brought up the idea of her visiting because we expected our Subaru available on Friday. She wanted to meet on Sunday. She had scheduled an appointment with for Monday with the CR version of the DMV. You don’t need to know the details. But the car was not ready on Friday. She canceled the appointment and called the mechanic. Now, the car is scheduled to be ready on January 20, the day of our appointment with Migración. I seriously doubt the car will be ready. After all, the mechanic has only been rebuilding the motor for 8 months. Pura Vida. Don’t ask.
I’ve talked about how my wife and I can handle the business parts of our relationship. You know dealing with bills and payments and so forth, but what we have a painfully difficult time with is communicating at a feeling level, a deeper level. As a clinician, I swam around in the deep waters of my client’s lives. Communicating with another human in a deep and empathic way it opens the heart for true intimacy. This is what my clients were seeking, and my job was to be there and go with them wherever they needed to go. That’s what I did, I dove deep with people for more than 25 years.
Communicating deeply is who I am. Even in my self-reflections, I go as deep as I can. And in my fantasy world, my lover also dives deep. Unfortunately, that has not been my experience in any of my long-term relationships. In fact, most my experiences have been pretty much the opposite. The women I have loved were wonderful people. They were smart, creative, resourceful, and successful in their own right. But in every case, we failed at supporting the deeper aspects of our relationship. There is no one to blame, but we share responsibility for our parts.
All of the meaningful, long term relationship in my life began in a marvelous way. The chemistry, the connection and the sex was amazing. Well, from my perspective, they were amazing. These new loves swept me off my feet and I was hooked and gaffed into the boat instantaneously. But over time, and without fail, the triggers began to appear. The struggles began and for years, the triggers and the struggles that followed slowly eroded at the bonds of our love. The pattern was always the same.
What triggers people is personal, very personal and it depends upon the kind of trauma they faced. But what happens to people when they get triggered may be a common experience. I’m going to try to describe, in slow motion, what happens when I become triggered. It’s important to note that on many occasions I was in a playful mood before the triggering event and the mood shifted 180 degrees in a millisecond. Here goes.
The moment right before I feel the triggered, something happens, there is an event. It could be anything. But when it happens, it confuses me, and I try to get clarity by asking for more information, but my anxiety is exploding. In my partner’s hypervigilance, they sense my anxiety, and withdraw by becoming defensive or denying anything happened. This confuses me even more as my perception of reality is challenged. My amygdala identifies as another abandonment and sounds the alarm. There is a chemical rush and I turn into a 6-year-old traumatized child pleading for reassurance.
My anxiety shoots through the roof and I vigorously pursue them in an effort to resolve the misunderstanding. This does not help. In fact, it makes things worse and causes my partner to flee, as fast as the can. As they do their best to 23 Skidoo, I am begging and pleading with them to stay, please stay and work it out. They have no desire to work anything out at that moment and in the end, there I am, alone, deeply depressed, with no resolve, waiting for their return. When they are gone, they are always gone too long. When they return, there is no discussion, only deadly silence. This pattern has repeated itself in all of my primary relationships. Eventually, we drop the knife and continue on, as if nothing had happened. Both of us a little more fearful of the next time.
C-PTSD is defined as ongoing trauma and stress at an early age, and for most people, the root cause of C-PTSD involves our primary caregivers, usually mothers and fathers. These are the two people we depend upon and they tell us about life through their actions. As I have said on a number of occasions, I don’t have any concrete memories of chronic abuse or neglect and this makes addressing my symptoms of C-PTSD a little complicated. I don’t recall the experiences, but I definitely have the symptoms. When the sexual abuse was exposed, there was never a resolution with my family and throughout my life there has been no resolution to the triggers I experience in my primary relationships, those closest to my heart. The C-PTSD slowly eroded away the love and there is nothing left to rebuild upon.
The longer it takes to resolve the problem, the greater my anxiety becomes, and the triggers escalate to a point where I am out of control. I am out of control, but at the same time, I am very much in control. I am sharp as a tack and I am outraged. I know exactly what I’m saying and exactly what I’m doing. I am completely conscious of this process and each time I am horrified by what I see. I just can’t stop it. I am on automatic pilot. This is what happens to me when my hippocampus injects that chemical cocktail when I get triggered.
My life has been a series of these cyclical relationships where, at some point, usually years down the road, my psychological well-being becomes that of a terrified 6-year-old boy. Boom! Just like that! It happens so fast that I have wondered if this Triggered Ray is even Ray at all, or an alter that was created by my mind to protect the small-vulnerable-Ray that still lives within me.
I don’t think so. This is known as Dissociative Identity Disorder and it used to go by the name of Multiple-Personality Disorder. The reason I don’t believe I am dissociating is because most people with DID have time and memory lapses while the alter is active. No, I believe it is what it is, a trigger which occurs as a result of having Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. But I could be wrong.
C-PTSD explains a lot about my experiences in relationships. And if you include Attachment Theory in the picture, the insight becomes 3-dimensional. It paints a clear picture of my relationship style and patterns and makes the cyclical history of my life make sense, but how the hell do I get off this Merry-go-Round? How do I get this monkey off my back? Many of you are probably asking yourself the same questions. Jumping off the Merry-Go-Round, is scary. Nevertheless, I need to jump. I think of those movie scenes where the Hero, jumps out of the car just as it flies over the cliff, and in the next scene, they are holding onto a root struggling to drag themselves up to safety. That’s NOT me. I stick with the car and crash and burn with it. But, like the Phoenix, I tend to rise from the ashes, and I am born again. This has happened on multiple occasions.
With each trigger, I go flying over the cliff in the car screaming “No wait, we can fix this. Please don’t goooo……” I have played this scene repeatedly. Like Yogi Berra said, “It’s Deja Vu, all over again.” (Google Yogi Berra. He played for the Yankees in the 1960’s). It happens over and over and over again. My lover and I locked into a death spiral, slowly falling over the years until we crash into the metaphorical ground and go up in flames. It’s a wonder I have any optimism left at all.
Hey, look, I know I’m not an easy man to live with, but I sincerely try to do my best. Maybe I try too much. Maybe I need to be more aloof, more distant, and colder when it comes to relationships. Maybe that would work better than always trying to be the good guy, only to sabotage that façade with my triggered behavior. How many of you have been there? There is only one real solution to this problem. I need to hold on to me if and when I ever enter another relationship. Instead of giving little pieces of me away until I disappear.
It’s not a pretty picture and the patterns continue to show up in my life. On Saturday morning I decided to address my wife’s proposal to stay with me until our appointment with Migración. I wrote her a lengthy email where I told her I did not feel it would be a good idea to meet at the airport when I picked up my friends. I also did the best I could to explain to her why I arrived at that decision.
Twenty-four hours later, she responded, explaining why she did not respond the day before. She had been working, which meant, she was writing, and she promised to read the email that day. I have been sending her articles, literally, for years and there has been extraordinarily little response on her part. My expectations were low. Often, when I asked about an article I had sent, she became defensive. If I backed off, then there was no problem, but if I pursued, even a little bit, she backed off completely and shut down. This has been going on for years, but I continue to hope for a meaningful response, and I continue to send her relative articles. But mostly I get silence and the elephant remains in the living room.
The latest article I sent was about Attachment theory. It was a fantastic article with critical information. It did a nice job of establishing a baseline understanding of what she and I were going through. Even though I should know better. I sent it anyway. I don’t know why, but I continue to try. I would love to establish some common ground where we could begin to talk about what is going on between us. We need to take concrete steps to change our destructive patterns. So far, there has been little to no input from her.
I was very firm in the email and made it as clear as possible that not responding is not working. Talking is the solution and not talking will never work. I fantasize about the two of us sharing our experiences like two grownups and not like two stubborn and irrational children. If we can’t talk things out, then there is little point to invest any more energy into the relationship. Even though our lives will be entangled with each other for the rest of my life. We are going be connected so, we need to redefine this relationship into a mutually aggregable form.
On the next day, Sunday, I felt depressed from the moment I opened my eyes. It’s kind of like a buyer’s remorse depression, only in reverse. In this case, I returned the product to the store and now I am sad because I no longer have it. I was regretting writing the email. Have you been there? If you have, then you know, it sucks. Part of me feels regretful about writing the email and part of me feels relieved because I needed to set the boundary. Regardless of the reason, it still sucked and as the anxiety drained my body of its energy, I could feel the depression, waiting, just below the surface, waiting to flood my mind. It’s sad, really sad. I don’t want to continue living like this.
Fortunately, reality kept poking its head into my consciousness, reminding me I needed to pick up my friends at the airport, I had to do something. First things first, I made a good breakfast, then I watched my sorry Sacramento Kings get blown away by Portland and then I went to my desk and began to write about this experience. It helped a little bit to ease the anxiety, but I needed more serenity, so I meditated. Hopefully, focusing on my breath would help me let go of the anxiety I felt in my chest. If I can relax, then I can “be there” when I meet my friends at the airport.
To make a long boring story short, everything went well at the airport. I didn’t get lost AND I discovered a beautiful route to the airport. My day was going pretty well, so far. I managed to make it to Juan Santamaria International Airport without incident and I arrived early. How about that! Arriving early, has never been much of a skill set for me. I waited, they arrived, the car didn’t break down and we all had a Welcome back to Costa Rica toast with an ice-cold Imperial Beer when we arrive at their house.
By the time I got home I was exhausted. It was after 5pm and I had been on the road all day. Somehow, we all forgot to eat lunch and I didn’t have any energy left in me to cook dinner, so I opted for a perennial favorite, granola, and fruit. This is my second favorite thing to eat, after peanut butter and jam. I know that sounds terrible and I want to assure you that I love to cook and generally I have a rather good diet. It just that things have been pretty intense for the last 6 to 7 months.
So now I wait for my wife’s response. Waiting for her response is not easy for someone like me. The longer I wait, the more the anxiety builds and the more I ruminate. Writing down the stories of these experiences really helps. Writing takes it out of my head and puts it onto my monitor where I can see it with my eyes. Seeing it helps me to step back from it. When I ruminate, the distorted thoughts go around and around and around in my head, but when I put these distorted thoughts on paper, they are stuck there, and I can see those thoughts for the distortions they are.
You know a thought is distorted if when you write it down, it sounds ridiculous. Your rational mind sees it right away. “Nope, not this one.” I encourage all of you to look more closely at your own cognitive distortions. See where they comes from and why they are there? It takes courage to face your faulty thinking and be honest with yourself about it. Don’t be that kid who stumbles on the stairway, gets up and says, “I meant to do that.” That’s bullshit, you know it and the kid knows it. Our ego does this to us all the time when we are stressed or anxious, or depressed or grieving a loss. It’s natural for our minds to distort our perception of reality because, frankly, there are times when reality needs to take a back seat.
In the long run, it not a good idea to continue entertaining distorted thinking. And in the middle of a trigger doing this is extremely challenging. My triggers always involve another human being, usually someone I love and trust with my life. Plan A is simple. Take a Time Out and get space from each other NOW! Do not pass go and do not collect $200. I make a solemn oath to you that I will do my best to beat feet at the first sign of a trigger. My wife does this. The moment she senses my anxiety, she outta there. Poof. Gone. No more problem. And she is fully committed to that response.
As scary for me as her withdrawal is, she is not responsible for how I respond to my trigger. I’m responsible for how I respond to being triggered. We both agree that when I am triggered, I need to reduce the stimulus, which means going someplace else, by myself and take my mental rantings with me. My wife doesn’t need to hear what’s going on in my head. BUT I become laser focused on her no matter who the “her” is. I am triggered, I feel abandoned. And I am watching myself being abandoned, in real time. This increases the anxiety and increases the urgency of my need for resolution. This response never works. It never has. I may have been a child when my brain was wired, but I am not a child now and I can rewire my brain. There was no resolve then and there will be no resolve now. The only change that will work is the change I make within myself.
The trigger does not represent something that is going on at the current moment, even though it feels like it is happening right now. The trigger represents something that happened a long time ago. My not-triggered mind has no problem seeing this, but my triggered mind is moving at the speed of light and doesn’t even consider the possibility of taking a timeout. “Time out? That’s ridiculous!” At that moment, I’m a terrified 6-year-old boy, for crying out loud. “Can’t you see that? Please tell me everything is alright. I’m just a little boy, don’t leave here me all alone.” It is a pitiful performance.
I am completely consciously aware of how intense I become. I’m a six-year-old in a 70-year-old body with a big brain and a big mouth. I’m basically having a tantrum. I’m begging and pleading for them to stay and talk it out. “Mommy, I don’t want to go to my room!” If I were on the other side of my triggers, I would not want to talk it out at that moment either.
The challenge for me is to be prepared to exit, stage left, and find a nice quiet place to plant myself until, the raging and the ranting in my head subsides. All the insight in the world, may not have any impact on your response to a triggering event. But, with patience, practice, and support, this deadly relationship pattern can be disrupted and a new pattern of responding to one another can be created in its place. But it takes two people to build this bridge with each person expanding their parts until they meet in the middle. It’s a lot harder to do, than it sounds.
“Relationship, relationships, relationships. Could they all start with the relationship I have with myself?” I hate to admit it, but probably. Heck! Everyone’s life experiences begin and end with themselves. Our experiences are uniquely our own. So maybe, just maybe, the quality of my life is directly connected to the quality of my relationship with myself. Hmm…That’s something to think about. What do I REALLY think about myself? Am I prepared for the answer? Am I willing to ignore my Ego’s attempts to disguise my shortcomings and my faults? Am I willing to look directly into the eyes of my deeply, held shame? I don’t really think I have a choice in this matter. The only way out of this is through it.
I call this Diving Deep. Most of my deep dives are done in a meditative state although I’ve done a lot of deep dives using different methodologies over the years. This is not an exercise in futility. Each internal quest I have made has yielded positive results. Besides meditation, I have used Native American Shamanic Journeying to access a rich inner world where I would meet my spiritual teacher for consult and guidance. It has been a long time since I have been there. Maybe I will return soon. I’ll let you know how that goes in another episode. Yeah, I’m feeling a good vibe about it. Now where did I file that Shamanic Drumming audio.
For years I have noticed that each time I begin to meditate, a ball of anxiety forms in the middle of my chest and my heart pounds. Each time I feel this, I attempt to follow that feeling to see where it’s coming from. I say try because I have yet to identify the source of that anxiety. My body is talking to me and inviting me in to look around, but I’ll be damned if I can see anything. Part of me is a little terrified of what I might find and another part of me hopes that the source of this anxiety fills in a key empty spot and I will be free of the C-PTSD. I have no idea, but I gotta tell you, it’s a bit scary for me whenever I dive into that emotion.
Here’s another thought I have about the anxiety in my meditation. Maybe it is coming from that long-lost child that was me when the trauma occurred. He’s the one who has been abandoned, repeatedly. Maybe, whenever I meditate, it is his heart that pounds and a lump appears in his throat. He is unable to speak other than through his fears. A big part of me feels like Inner Child work would really help. Maybe it could help you as well. I have provided a link in the description about Inner Child work. Check it out.
So, I’ve been playing more with my inner child when I meditate. In my meditation I create a visualization of me, the Grownup Ray, sitting on the floor with my Child Ray sitting between my legs. We are facing the same direction and I am embracing him from behind and he is snuggling into my embrace as if I were a big pillow. It’s a very warm and comforting scene for both of us. I think he didn’t get enough of this when I was young.
It may be easy for some of you to visualize scenes like this, but I never had children and I have been estranged from my family since my late 30’s, so I don’t have a lot of sitting on the floor playing with children experience. I worked with hundreds of teenagers, but none of them were very interested in playing on the floor.
My Inner Child is six, no he is six-and-a-half, and he has seen and experienced way too much for someone that age. He is timid, but curious. He has an infectious laugh, and he is not afraid to cry. Is it possible that the anxiety I feel as I begin to meditate, is the anxiety of my Child Ray hoping that I will stick around for a while? You know, hang out? Maybe play cars or dig in the dirt? I know I have neglected Child Ray and even worse, I have been inconsistent in the attention I placed on his care. Inconsistency causes trauma by creating an environment and a caregiver that is unpredictable. It makes me sad.
Have I been that bad of a caretaker of myself? Probably. Hell, look at my life. Yeah, maybe on the outside, I looked all put together, but let me tell you, there were many times when the fabric of my life had unraveled completely. This is what C-PTSD does to people. It pulls at those loose threads, like on your sweater and pulls them and pulls them and pulls them until the sweater is nothing more than a pile of yarn on the floor.
I am making a new commitment to Child Ray and I am making sure that each time I meditate, that I go visit him and see how he is doing. I don’t think he needs much from me. He just needs to know that someone is going to be there for him. All of my life I have been searching for that special mate who will always be there for me and guess what. They ain’t there. I’m that mate and it is Child Ray who needs me to be there for him. Fortunately, we are located pretty close to each other. He is a simple three deep-slow-breaths away. Knock, knock. Is anybody home?
Thank you listening to today’s episode, C-PTSD and Relationships. I never really know where these episodes are going to go when I sit down to write. They go where they go and if I follow their lead, then I usually find something interesting to say. With any luck and lots of editing, maybe the lessons I have learned will help you with your own Hero’s Journey.
Please comment if you can, write me a note at [email protected]. I will give you a personal response. Share these episodes, tell your coworkers about Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with C-PTSD. Sound the alarm. People need a comforting voice. Help me be that voice.
As usual, I have found some websites that I believe will help to enhance your understanding of today’s focus. Thanks for listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica and until next time.
Be Courageous. Be Strong and Be Kind. I’ll catch you later.