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When I Learned the Truth Behind My Complex PTSD

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The day I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) changed my life. Not just from that day onward, but it put my entire life up to that point into new context as well. Anxiety has plagued me my entire life, worrying about every little thing, hyper-fixating on the smallest thing and imagining it to be something cataclysmic. I’ve completed two courses of National Health Service (NHS)-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), holistic counseling, a private Thrive Counseling course and finally a small course of diagnostic talking therapies.

• What is PTSD?

“I’ve always been like this, a little weird.”

“I know I’m neurotic.”

“Nobody has ever really liked me for very long, I know I’m annoying.”

“I panic about everything, and I hate myself for it.”

All things I’ve spoken in the inaugural session of every single therapy I’ve encountered. It all became a different story when the question was asked, “Who told you you’re annoying? Whose voice is that?”


I remember on one of the many occasions my mother went to the school to have it out with teachers that I was being bullied. The outcome was always the same: I’d be removed from the classes I was in and told I was no longer to use the school bus. I realized a long time ago these actions led my developing mind to assume I was the person in the wrong, as I was the one enduring consequences. I deserved to be bullied.

The reality, actually, only emerged when I began connecting dots around two years ago.

“She’s different to the other kids, she doesn’t get on with people well.”

“She’s very emotional for her age, she doesn’t know how to stand up for herself.”

“She’s nothing like me, I always was able to put people in their place.”

“You need to do something about this, I’ve tried talking to her but she won’t stand up for herself.”

Right there before my eyes, my own mother was telling the school I was different, that there was a fault with me. What else could they have done but put it on me? Before the small connection was made, I was a lucky little girl, with a mother who cared so much about my well-being she would march up to the school and scream at teachers after I came home crying, again. The reality is why didn’t she ever try and comfort me? It was always someone else’s problem.

As an adult, things unraveled pretty quickly once I realized what was happening every time she told me I was ungrateful if I didn’t bend to her wishes, or she told me she was going to die soon and I’d regret “mistreating” her. Behind every public display of love and support on social media was a toxic tirade:

“Why haven’t you replied to me yet? I said something so nice! You replied to someone else very quickly and it hurt me deeply!”

The worst thing about the acknowledgement of this behavior is the narcissistic fleas I recognize throughout the years. They say if you lie down with dogs, you’re going to get fleas, that’s where the phrase comes from and it’s true to an extent — there’s always going to be a blend of that and the desperate need of an emotionally neglected child to just be acknowledged… they’re just looking in the wrong places. If a friend doesn’t reply to my message, but I see them interacting with others, I automatically assume I’ve done something wrong, I’m defective and I have to make it right. As you can imagine, this annoys people rather than inspires them to reassure me they see me, that they care.

There’s so much more under the surface, it’s easy to see why it’s been dubbed complex PTSD. There isn’t any one incident to overcome and understand, but decades of things that were normalized and shaped me as a person — only, that’s not who I am. It’s who I was taught to be and the reason I’m doing this — therapy, no contact, allowing the pain to rip through me, processing uncomfortable emotions — is so I can reprogram myself and learn it’s OK to have emotions that are mine. It’s really lonely though, which is why I try so hard to make it easier on others. Having boundaries is really healthy and learning how to use them is part of growing up, but doing it as an adult naturally rubs people the wrong way when they see it as a dramatic personality change. How can I even address that?

Every time I react to something, trying to be authentic and allowing myself to experience a true emotion, it’s almost always the same in terms of response. Frustration. Eye rolling. Walking away. It’s more painful and confusing than I can articulate, and words are usually my thing.

This might not sound like a story of hope, but believe me when I say I am already seeing the signs I am becoming a different person, and I have started seeing my “flaws” as they were always labeled, as strengths. No, I’m not petulant and stubborn, I am determined and dedicated to being a better person.

It’s just a painfully isolating journey when everyone you love is actually quite blessed in not being able to understand the genuine agony in every minute of every day.

Getty image by ruddy_ok

Originally published: August 12, 2021
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