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When PTSD Turns Positive Emotions Sour

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I am in my stage of PTSD recovery where my brain is processing all of my traumas. Emotionally, I am going from feeling intense periods of distress to being able to handle my emotions well. I have been experiencing more positive emotions lately. I know you’re thinking feeling more positive emotions must be a great thing, but it’s complicated.

• What is PTSD?

Take earlier today for instance. I found a special gift while cleaning my room, showing that someone truly cares about me. I held the gift in my hands while trying to process the fact that it might have been one of the most meaningful things I have ever received. Initially I felt extreme happiness and joy; it was almost too overwhelming. I felt the urge to go and hug this person and tell them that I love them. I was happy and thankful.

Then my reaction started to turn sour. I felt a surge of uneasiness overtake my body; my stomach turning, a weak feeling in my chest, my body starting to sweat even though I was shivering from the cool air my fan was blowing on me. I sat there puzzled and worried. What was this reaction I was having? It feels like it could be trauma related, but I was feeling positive emotions, not negative ones. Why am I having this reaction?

I decided to turn my attention to my current state and actively search my mind for what memory this reaction stemmed from. I ultimately identified I was feeling scared and that this was definitely related to some experiences in my past. Many thoughts were racing through my mind, “Why would this person be so nice to me? I don’t deserve kindness. This is so meaningful to me. There must be a catch to this.” I put the gift away and listened to some music to help ride out the intensity of the emotions I was experiencing.

After a few minutes I found myself thinking about my ex-boyfriend. He had psychologically abused me for two and a half years. I pondered why my thoughts were gravitating towards him, and then it hit me. He made my mental state worse but he was predictable. I knew his patterns; I knew our patterns. I would never have to worry about an alarming positive reaction to a meaningful gesture with him. It was easy.

Maybe I’m scared of positive emotions because I’m used to being around negative ones. Positive emotions throw me out of my comfort zone. Feeling depressed, worthless, not good enough, disappointed and upset are all familiar to me. Humans crave normalcy, and that is my normal. I send my ex a message and slip back into my dysfunctional comfort.

Positive emotions for a PTSD survivor can be a difficult concept to get used to. Having these reactions to them is in no way a setback; they are a sign that you are healing and recovering. Even though these emotions may leave you feeling confused, frustrated and sometimes even in distress, you should welcome them into your life with open arms. Soon enough, you will be able to experience positive emotions without such troubling reactions to them.

Originally published: August 29, 2016
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