Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD

Episode 19: C-PTSD and Communication - Good Communication Communicates

March 11, 2021 Ray Erickson Episode 19
Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with CPTSD
Episode 19: C-PTSD and Communication - Good Communication Communicates
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 19

C-PTSD and Communication

Good Communication Communicates

March 11, 2021

Would you like to improve your communication? Here are Four simple steps that will make an immediate impact. Implement these strategies into your repertoire and life will get better.

  1. Stay in your own lane. You can’t speak for the other person. You can only speak to your own needs, your own wants, and your own desires. Keep in mind that it the responsibility of the speaker to be clear, and it is the responsibility of the listener to listen.
  2. Practice self-soothing. Use your breath to help you regain clarity in your message. Breathe deeply and slowly. In addition, know exactly, what you want to say. It must be clear in your mind before you can convey it clearly to another person.
  3. Use what they call an “I message.” This is a way of talking to your loved one, your boss, your child or pretty much anyone. It is easy to do and extremely effective. It helps you to stay on your side of the road. (#1)

I Messages have two “I’s” in them. Like your head has two eyes. It is basically a three-step process.

Step 1   State how you are feeling.  

1.      I feel sad …

2.      I feel happy …

3.      I feel anxious …

Step 2   State the experience. 

1.      when I am not included in your plans.

2.      when I see your smiling face.

3.      when I get no response from you.

Step 3 Together they go like this.

1.      I feel sad when I am not included in your plans.

2.      I feel happy when I see your smiling face.

3.      I feel anxious when there is no response from you.           

Repeat step 1, 2 and 3 as often as you need to.

Stonewalling turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The moment I realized I have been stonewalled for years, I realized that the jig was up and I had only one choice left.


I cannot stress enough the role that Attachment Styles and Communication come into play when it comes to healthy relationships. Here are a couple of sites that take a closer look at attachment theory and how people with C-PTSD have less social support.



Alexander Draghici, MS, LCPC, from e-counseling.com has come up with 20 things NOT to say to people with PTSD. E-Counseling is an online mental health resource for people seeking support, advice and a connection to a licensed counselor. 


Episode 19

C-PTSD and Communication

Good Communication Communicates

March 11, 2021

Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. It’s March 11, 2021 and today I am taking about communication. This is a subject that is near and dear to me., My job as a clinician was to help people communicate better with each other. It was a major focus of my practice for over 25 years. Poor communication is the number one problem that couples experience in their relationships. Good communication is the best intervention. Most of us are on our own when it comes to communicating effectively with our partners, our coworkers, and our friends. For me, a strong relationship or marriage is the result of good communication. 

Most people with C-PTSD never experienced healthy communication so, how the hell do we communicate effectively? We need to teach ourselves how to be a better communicator. Remember, you are responsible for you. If you become a better communicator, your relationship with your significant other will improve. Most people who struggle with C-PTSD grew up in a dysfunctional family where communication was terrible for many different reasons. But that was then, and you are smart. You can learn effective communication and listening skills. There is nothing mysterious about being a good communicator. Communicating is a skill. Listening is a skill. Just like riding a bike or jumping rope are skills. Speaking of skills…

I realized something on Tuesday. It was a typical day and as usual, I am asking myself questions and seeking out the answers when low and behold, “stonewalling” came into mind. “Hmmm…Stonewalling,” I said to myself. Is that what’s going on? After a couple of searches and reading some relevant articles, I realized that I was being stonewalled by my wife. In fact, I’ve been stonewalled for years. How can that be? How could I not recognize the signs? Me, of all people! I should have noticed this long before now! What a dope, I’ve been. Geez!

This is where I go in my head. I question my ability to test reality and I begin to feel despair. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of couples deep in the frays of a duel to the death with stonewalling used as the weapon of choice. It literally blows my mind that I was not able to see it. This is why it is so important for me to talk about this lethal and toxic communication pattern. 

It amazes me how blind one becomes when they are in love. Maybe what I feel for my wife is not love. Maybe it’s bondage. I am bound to the fantasy that one day, my wife would realize that her go-to response, stonewalling, is not working any longer. Silly me. After all the years of being stonewalled, I really should have known better (Heavy Sigh). This blindness to my reality is Complex-PTSD dissociation and I am just now recognizing it. I am still fucking dissociating, silently slipping through the looking glass into another world.

In my C-PTSD brain I have an image of what good communication looks like. It’s not a fantasy, it’s a real thing. At least I don’t think it’s a fantasy because the image has been painted with good science and years of clinical experience. I know what constitutes good communication, but I now see something that didn’t see before this week. Here’s what I think is happening. 

When in relationship, I default to my fantasy communication and when the stonewalling, predictably, occurs, I am caught off guard. I don’t see it coming and I am often triggered.  I am getting better at recognizing when I am in the fantasy and I am triggered. There have been more and more moments when I recognize that I am about to be triggered and this is progress. I’m not so good at shutting the system down at that point, but I am optimistic that I’ll be able to step back before a trigger has ignited the explosives. 

Even though I struggle with reregulating myself I have come to know that the triggers represent what my inner 6-year-old experiences. For example, I begin a conversation with my wife about a personal issue I am having with her. Because I am living in this perfect fantasy world, I am assuming she will respond in a healthy way and when she does not, I feel blindsided. I am surprised and confused. This triggers my amygdala, and I am off to the races. I seem to be wearing a veil of innocence and not realize I’m walking into dangerous territory. Lalalalala…

Along with the fantasy communication, playing in the background is another fantasy where my wife has my best interests in mind as well as hers. Tuesday, I realized that I am only half-right. She certainly has her best interest in mind but there is nary a whisper of my best interests at hand. When I directly confront the stonewalling, her response is even more stonewalling. Let me make this clear. Confronting the stonewalling only invites more stonewalling. This is another lesson I’ve learned. In my mind is a movie of a tiny, terrified person desperately piling stones in a frantic effort to build wall. This is an incredibly sad image for me. 

I also know my wife is not personally attacking me even though it feels like it. Her response not personal at all. It is how she sees the world and it is who she is. In times of crisis, she survived by stepping back and getting the hell out of Dodge. She retreats into her fortress of solitude where she is completely insulated, nothing gets in and nothing gets out. She truly does not see the relevance of communicating her thoughts and feelings. It’s her business. Therefore, she only sees my efforts as a personal attack, triggering her need to retreat, into her Fortress of Solitude. And nothing gets resolved.

Our relationship has clearly been the blind leading the blind. My blindness to the dysfunction in our marriage and her blindness to opportunities to risk feeling safe in a relationship. This mutual blindness has brought me to the breaking point, and I need to throw in the towel. There has been no evidence that my wife will risk her internal sense of safety and security and permit herself to be emotional vulnerable with me. And me? I am weary of this dance. We have danced this dance for years and I am tired.

The teacher will appear when the student is ready. I must be ready, and I don’t care if it took me more than a decade to realize that our marriage was doomed from the start. Sometimes, optimism can have some disasterous results. My blind optimism kept the fantasy alive for years, long past the time any normal person would have tolerated. I am frustrated and angry with myself. I’m fucking 70 years old, and I have started my life over so many times. I don’t know if I have enough juice.

I am trying really hard to be gentle with myself and at the same time to not become enraged at the games that have been played over the years. It grieves me so, to think about the repeated experiences of abandonment and triggering. I cringe at the memories of the suffering we have both endured. I used to call it determination or faith. I was determined to make our marriage work, but as of Tuesday I realize nothing is going to work. It’s really sad. 

I am beaten down, worn out, exhausted as well as angry, contemptuous, and bitter. It is best to let this relationship go. Nothing I do will make a difference. That said, there is not much keeping me in Costa Rica. For the first time since moving here, I am thinking about returning to the States. I don’t know when and I don’t know where. Not yet. It has only been a few days since the full truth was presented to me. I still have a bunch of grief and loss to process. 

It has been an amazing ride. I have learned and grown soooo...much. So much so, it’s hard to quantify. I will definitely look at this awakening experience and talk about it in a future episode. For today, I want to stay focused on communication in C-PTSD relationships. If you are in a relationship with someone who has C-PTSD you need to be a good communicator and you need to take responsibility for your communication. It’s the same for the person with C-PTSD. I hold myself accountable as well as all of you out there. Take responsibility for your communication. Practice good communication skills.

Good communication gets communicated. It’s that simple. The proof is in the pudding and when you speak, speak in a way that the listener(s) understand. If the person you are communicating with does not understand what you are saying, then you are not communicating. And it is not the listener’s fault. Don’t get frustrated with them. The communicator is responsibility for being clear and needs to communicate in a way the listener will understand. 

Take marriage for instance. If you want to see bad communication in its natural environment, then you need to look no further than your own relationship. That’s right, your very own relationship is tainted with lousy, ineffective, head numbing crappy communication and both, you and your partner are contributing to the problem. When one or both people in the relationship has C-PTSD, then the experience is magnified. These poor souls spend a lot of time in their heads having imaginary conversation with people all day long. That is part of what defines C-PTSD. The problem with all this inner dialogue is that it’s in our heads. In order for your inner dialogue to be effective you must be willing to put your self-talk into practice. 

Good communication takes practice, and it takes two to practice. When one partner is stonewalling, it means, they are unwilling or unable to practice good communication skills. They are stuck in their fantasy world which is a hostile and unforgiving world. I can’t tell you what fantasies my wife entertains, but I am quite sure they are dark and scary. She learned early in her life that stonewalling kept people at bay and it kept her safe. This is how she coped. This is how she protected herself. 

Now, if I message her a question related to our relationship, she simply does not respond to it. She hasn’t responded to any of my questions related to intimacy. Period. I have no idea what drives this behavior. Probably fear. Fear of what? I have no idea, but I believe she too, doesn’t understand what compels her to stonewall. In fact, I am sure she is unaware she is even doing it.

On Tuesday, it dawned on me as well, that I will never know who this woman really is. I will never know how she felt growing up and what her hopes and dreams are. There is no access to those life experiences. She can’t trust anyone with that information and that’s that. My observations over the past dozen years have convinced me her world is a battlefield, a warzone, men vs. women. And me, being a man, makes me suspect to begin with. Men are untrustworthy, lying, cheating, good for nothing bastards. Period. I’m sure that, at this point, I am just like all the other men. Am I? Probably in some ways. 

Attachment Theory does a good job of identifying our individual styles of attaching in relationship. Attachment theory is also spot on when it comes to the type of person I am attracted to. I know now that I am drawn to Insecure Dismissive types. My Insecure Anxious attachment style fits like a fine leather glove on the hand of the Insecure Dismissive person…that is until the seams are torn apart and all hell breaks loose. I’ve been here before, several times, but as I have said in previous episodes, this time is different. My eyes have seen the light and my ears will no longer tolerate the lies, the deception and the secrecy that are hallmark traits of dismissive types. I will not be dismissed any more.

Even though it’s been hell, I am grateful. I have grown over the past 3-4 years. The man I am today and the path I have been on for much of my life is now clear to me. My wife and I have each paid a heavy price to be where we are now. At the same time, I feel grateful for the awareness of my patterns and the patterns in the mates that I choose. I’m fairly sure the next time will be different. After all, I’m only 69 years old. Who knows how long my sorry ass will be around on this rock? This time it will be different because I am not the same person. I am no longer that guy who ventured to Costa Rica to meet a beautiful and exotic woman. I am more grounded and more conscious of the many ways that I am responsible for my life. 

Before I met my wife, I did not know I had C-PTSD. Hell, C-PTSD didn’t even “exist,” officially, 12 years ago. But over the past 4 years it has become more recognized. I am grateful for all of my experiences in this marriage, because without them, I may never have become conscious of having C-PTSD. 

I have given this relationship everything I could. I did my best and I believe she did her best. As hard as it is, the only solution is to leave. This frees me. I no longer need to struggle in a blind effort to make this marriage work. I need to let it go. When I release myself from the toxic aspects of this relationship, then the possibilities are limitless.

Yes, leaving is painful and my grief over what “might have been” is overwhelming. However, I have a strong heart and a strong will to moving forward in my life. All of the technical matters relating to our relationship will be worked out and both of us will experiences a positive net gain. At least I hope so.

Let me give you an update on the cannabis cleanse I began at the beginning of this month. Today marks day 2 of smoking again. It’s been a tough fucking week. Hell, what’s a guy to do? This week has been an emotional roller coaster and I have come to some incredible decisions. I always bounce back and get on that horse again. I’m confident that I’ll restart my cannabis fast as soon as I stop vibrating from the realization my marriage is over. You have to admit, that’s one hell of a son-of-a-bitch to process. I’m grateful that I hold myself to a low standard and I’m not bothered by my lapse. It’s alright. Not smoking pot for those 8 days opened up a window of insight and I definitely saw clear and concrete benefits to not smoking pot all of the time. 

My cannabis cleanse began with a lot of depression, but the tide is turning this week. Day by day, it has been slowly, but surely getting easier to get through each day. The depression is lifting. Over the past few days, I am sleeping better, and I have been more productive. I also feel less chest congestion and I’m not having coughing spells in the middle of the night. I still a struggle living life without my daily doses of pot and the ever so familiar euphoria. However, each day I remain clean, is another day that I feel this is a good decision.

Then Tuesday happened. Tuesday was a BIG day. I realized that day, there is no path to resolving my marital problems and there is only one path left for me, the one less traveled. The one where I draw the line. The one where I put my needs above the needs of the marriage. The road where I put myself first. In the past, I have made terrible decisions regarding relationships. But today I feel empowered and being empowered I take my power back. I reconnect myself with myself. It is high time I made my decisions based on my truth. From this point forward. No more coaxing. No more “educational material”, no more begging for a response. Today is a new dawn.

“No more, no more, no more, no more, I’ll hit the road, Jack!” ”and I won’t be back!” That’s right, “I’ll hit the road, Jack!”

Right now, today, I have more questions than answers and even though I am a recognized expert on communication, I am not exempt from having communication problems. C-PTSD is one big giant communication problem. C-PTSD is created from communication problems and it is fed and nurtured by communication problems. 

My experience of C-PTSD created a false sense of reality that I pursued for the majority of my life. It was a fantasy that I tried to attach my real life to. What could go wrong, right? Like you, psychotherapists also struggle to find solutions to their own relationship problems. Sometimes even the most gifted therapist is unable to find effective interventions for warring couples.

For most of my life I was flying blind. I was totally clueless about the state of my own mental health and it wasn’t until after I retired from the therapy office that I began to realize that something serious is going on here. C-PTSD has been a hidden shadow for most of my life and as painful as it has been when C-PTSD raised its ugly head, I am sitting here today feeling grateful that I am now aware of this shitty assed condition. 

You can only work on the problems you are aware of. If you are not aware of your problems, then you have nothing to work on. It’s the world that has problems. So, today, I am grateful for my marriage helping me to realize this truth. Learning about what has been going on all my life has been a welcome relief. Much of my life has been filled with overwhelming anxiety, depression, and hopelessness, but now, I am getting better at managing my triggers and I know what I need to do.

Knowing I have had C-PTSD has opened up doors to self-exploration and has given me a new lease on life. I credit my wife for helping me come to this awareness. I have been struggling with the communication problems in our relationship for years and I am still struggling with the same problems. It’s the same argument every time regardless of how I approach it. But as of Tuesday, I realize the changes I thought I needed are never going to occur. Sure, I’ve always had this hunch, but now it is clear. And I take full responsibility for my role. 

I have learned a lot about myself since moving to Costa Rica, over 5 years ago. My Spanish has slowly, but steadily improved while the intimacy in our marriage has slowly eroded away. C-PTSD has contributed greatly to that erosion. Acting out on my triggers has been extremely damaging to my wife’s ability to trust me and her only response, to withdrawal, has damaged my trust in her. Our attachment styles are polar opposites. We are human “Pushme-Pullyou’s”. There are many things I love dearly about her, but it dismays me greatly that our primary conflicts will never be resolved. 

The pattern has been the same for years. I would love to sit down and discuss these destructive patterns in our marriage, but I am doubtful we can make that happen. Each time I opened up a dialogue, it would fall into the void. There would be no response. Only a black emptiness. This lack of response lead to more anxiety for me and I doubled down trying to engage, which, of course, lead to more withdrawal on her part. It’s a never-ending death spiral. It’s time to pull the ejection cord on this flight and call it quits. She’s going down in flames. I wonder, what happens next?

For many years I referred clients to a book by Eileen McCann and illustrated by Douglas Shannon. It’s called “The Two Step-The Dance Towards Intimacy”. McCann’s imagination perfectly reflects the power dynamics of most intimate relationships and the illustrations by Shannon leave no doubt in the mind what the problem looks and feels like. The Two Step’s points are perfectly clear, regardless of the language you speak. In this case, a picture is clearly worth a 1,000 words. 

I was hoping The Two Step would help my wife and me with our struggles, but the only time the book came up was in the middle of a trigger and if you know triggers, you know this is not the time to do emotional work. She would angrily wave the book in my face and in my rage, I would snatch the book out of her hands and throw it across the room. “Fuck that book”, I screamed with righteous indignation. This is how two 6-year-olds handle a problem, not how two grownups handle a problem.

I know that was sucky of me. Her intentions were good, but her timing was bad. I needed to calm down so I could recognize and separate myself from the crisis. I become an emotionally distraught 6-year-old boy when triggered. I need to exit-stage-left and self-soothe. Instead of diving in head first. Diving in never works. Most people would agree that it is not possible to communicate effectively with an enraged six-year-old boy. A time out is in order here, which is a skill I am working on. 

I know my wife has a lot of anxiety when she contacts me, not unlike the anxiety I have when contacting her. When she told me there is pain in her stomach whenever she thinks about contacting me, I told her this pain is probably anxiety. She never responded to my assessment but went on to describe her Dr’s response. Her body is somaticizing her emotional load and she is unable to see this connection. She has faith in the science of medicine, but not in the science of the mind and there is no evidence this is going to change. She is who she is, and that’s the way it is. She’s a good person and just like the rest of us, she is trying to figure out what the fuck is going on and what the fuck to do? Join the party, eh?

Would you like to improve your communication? Here are three simple steps that will make an immediate impact. Implement these strategies into your repertoire and life will get better.

1. Stay in your own lane. You can’t speak for the other person. You can only speak to your own needs, your own wants, and your own desires. Keep in mind that it the responsibility of the speaker to be clear, and it is the responsibility of the listener to listen.

2. Practice self-soothing. Use your breath to help you regain clarity in your message. Breathe deeply and slowly. In addition, know exactly, what you want to say. It must be clear in your mind before you can convey it clearly to another person.

3. Use what they call an “I message.” This is a way of talking to your loved one, your boss, your child or pretty much anyone. It is easy to do and extremely effective. It helps you to stay on your side of the road. (#1)

I Messages have two “I’s” in them. Like your head has two eyes. It is basically a two-step process.

A.          Step 1 State how you are feeling. “ 
                1. I feel sad …
                2. I feel happy …
                3. I feel anxious …

B.            Step 2 State the experience. 
                1. when I am not included in your plans.
                2. when I see your smiling face.
                3. when I get no response from you.

C.           Together they go like this.
               1. I feel sad when I am not included in your plans.
               2. I feel happy when I see your smiling face.
               3. I feel anxious when there is no response from you.

D.           Repeat step 1, 2 and 3 as often as you need to.

Notice the conspicuous use of the word “I” in each of the examples. Usually, people put a “you” in there when describing the experience. Don’t do that. You will be tempted to put a “you” there, but don’t. If you practice these simple steps the communication will improve, but if you are in a situation similar to mine where your partner doesn’t respond, then don’t waste your time. Use that time to get real with yourself and your choices.

And for that, I recommend meditation and some cognitive-behavioral therapy. Fixing your fucked up thought process will make a big difference. If you are listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica, then you know the key to life is taking responsibility. Don’t go saying, “Oh that bitch never listens to nobody. Fuck her!” Thinking like this is a setup for the evil part of you that thrives on drama. Stop the drama. Put your big-boy pants on and go love yourself. The better you get at self-soothing, the more confidence you will have to step up to the plate and do what you need to do to reclaim yourself. It doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient, yet persevere with purpose.

Thank you so much for coming by my humble podcast where I do my best to do the right thing. The main takeaway this week is this: Self-Soothing is Self-love. This simple act of kindness will take you farther than you have ever been. Also, if you are so inclined, please help Out of My Mind in Costa Rica reach more people. Share it with everyone you know because everyone you know, knows someone who is suffering from C-PTSD. Got a question? Send me an email at: ray@rayerickson.com. I will get back to you right away. If you are listening to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica on a platform that allows you to rate the podcast or lets you review or make a comment, then let your voice be heard. It is time to speak out. It is time to unify.

So, until the next time. Be Courageous. Be Strong and Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.