Sarah Covert

@sarahcovert | contributor
I have struggled with depression and ptsd for many years. I use my writing as a way to cope & hope to help other people feel that they’re not alone.
Sarah Covert

My Experience With Toxic Shame as a Person With Complex PTSD

To be honest, the last few days have been really hard. As in, I can’t get out of bed and I don’t want to take a shower or eat because it’s too much energy. My depression has reared its ugly head once again like an unwelcome guest. As always, when my body feels slow and sluggish, my brain lights up and goes into overdrive. All the nasty, awful things that have been said to me or I think about myself are making their rounds in my head. I wake up and they’re there and they stay with me all day long. I got into a huge fight with my husband because I’m shutting down and not talking to him. I push him away. Why? Because sometimes I think I am an inherently bad person, almost a poison to the people around me and this is the very definition of toxic shame. It’s when a person doesn’t just feel badly about something they did (like lied or cheated) but they feel as though they themselves, at their core, are bad. Toxic shame comes about when a person has an irrational feeling of worthlessness, humiliation and self-loathing that has been inflicted repeatedly during traumatic experiences. This normally occurs in childhood developmental trauma and is one of the main symptoms of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). These feelings are so strong that they can debilitate a person and cause difficulty in forming healthy relationships with others. People with toxic shame tend to be shy and often end up in unhealthy or abusive relationships. These feelings can cause emotional flashbacks when a person “doesn’t feel right.” They might feel scared or ashamed or abandoned, but aren’t sure why because they’re in a safe place now. I always think of it as an echo of my childhood feelings. These are the thoughts that run through my head: you’re worthless, stupid, ugly, fat, no one could ever love you, you’re trash, how did you ever think you were smart enough to do that, you’re dirty, you’re disgusting. I hear these words said to me by my abusers. They are loud and insistent and are very difficult to control. Sometimes I just want to grip my head and shout at the voices to shut up! But then I think they’re right. During those times, I think I am to blame for my abuse and then I feel ashamed about it. It’s a vicious cycle that never seems to end. I freeze when I have to make a decision or go out in public because the voices telling me I’m such a horrible person become so overwhelming that I shut down. I’ve read this symptom is the most difficult to treat because most toxic shame comes from developmental trauma which impacts the developing brain. When that small child’s brain is constantly being bombarded with confusing and negative signals, it creates pathways that become permanent thought processes. Changing those ingrained pathways seems like an almost impossible task, but I am growing tired of fighting these voices, of always having to push back. They take away the little bit of energy I have and clog my brain, slowing it down. It seems like most theories have a word for these voices. The one I like the best is from Internal Family Systems (IFS) which terms this “the Inner Critic:” the voice(s) that are always negative and causing me to question myself and my worthiness. I understand what the IFS workbook tells me logically, but it feels like these are such irrational feelings. I don’t know how to get at them. I’ve tried imagery and positive self-talk and affirmations, but my voices overrun those attempts like a giant truck running over a cup. These are hard symptoms and it’s hard work to decrease them, but it’s also worthy work. I have to remind myself I’m worthy of putting in the effort to do this work. So I do put in the effort and I will continue to do so. Follow this journey on Surviving Complex PTSD

Sarah Covert

How My Trauma Leaves Me Feeling Completely Alone

Lately I’ve been feeling disconnected from the people around me. I’ve been feeling alone and isolated. This is how I’ve spent most of my life. Even when there are people around me, I feel there’s a barrier between myself and others. I can laugh and smile and engage in small talk, but I never show my true self. When I was younger and has less social experience, I found social interactions to be very confusing. I would watch what other people did and mimic them. I think the only place I was ever myself as a child was when it was just me and my siblings. I’d play with them and feel comfortable, but otherwise I was always on guard, watching to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing. As a teenager, it was even worse. For most people, these are awkward years, but they are years many people figure out their values, how they think and what type of person they want to be. I’m not saying the process is done for people by the time their teenage years are over, but it’s definitely a start. However, I felt stunted during this time. It’s one of the few times in my life where I had friends, but I never showed who I truly was. I changed constantly from one friend to another. I was a chameleon, always changing to fit the situation. My personality was fluid due to fear of rejection, so even if I didn’t agree with what my friends did or said, I would still follow along. I don’t think this was because of peer pressure — I think I missed an important step in the developmental process most people go through because of the years I was abused. I had no idea who I was or what I liked or didn’t. I had no idea how to disagree with someone and be confident in what I was saying. I’ve been realizing lately how truly stunted I am. I’m an adult and I have little capacity to make and keep friendships. I am blessed to have an amazing husband. He is my best friend and with him, I can be almost who I truly am and I worry less about rejection. I am lucky to not be completely alone, but there is no one else. I have no girlfriend I can complain to, shop with or have coffee with. There is no family member I feel comfortable enough to open up to when I’m having a hard time and explain why. Even with my husband, there’s a disconnect, I don’t quite click with him 100%. It’s always as if there’s a glass wall between myself and other people. I think that glass wall is made up of shame and secrets and insecurity. It prevents me from fully touching others and allowing myself to be embraced by them. I feel weird, separate and alone. To me, this is one of the worst things about trauma, the eternal feeling of loneliness. To never have anyone understand what I am going through and the level of depression and despair I frequently fall to. I don’t think the English language has the right words to describe the agony of abuse and how it changes someone forever. For me, trauma is a life sentence of walking alone with your experiences, rage, humiliation, shame, fear and depression. That is the gift trauma gives us. I am alone and have accepted this is the way my life will be. I accept that I am stunted, that I will never be in sync with people. I know I can adapt, but not in the same way as someone who has not experienced trauma can adapt. Sometimes I think that’s why I write (I have a blog as well), because I hope someone will read it and feel less alone. I think loneliness is so corroding to our souls and minds. It’s like rust on a car, it breaks us down and we fall apart. So even if just one person reads this and realizes there’s someone out there like them, saying this and sharing my story is worth it.