Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is caused by repeated and ongoing trauma from which there is no escape, CPTSD is commonly suffered by prisoners of war and children who grow up in dysfunctional families and it is a surprisingly common issue. Some estimates say that around 80% of people suffer with some form of CPTSD, in his book healing the shame that binds you John Bradshaw estimates that as few as 20% of parents are what he calls good enough. Bradshaw surmises that upto 80% of parents project their own toxic shame and trauma onto their children.
Many children who grow up in dysfunctional families with dysfunctional parents develop CPTSD symptoms; such as anxiety, negative self-image and an inner critic, a negative inner voice where the child has internalised the shame projected onto them by parents and other abusive adults.
Toxic shame is like a generational trauma, projected from generation to generation and it is usually passed onto children in the form of put-downs. Until the age of 7 is known as the imprint period, it is in this age range that our brain has the highest levels of neuroplasticity. It is a common theory that children are all born as blank slates, we look to people around us to form our sense of identity so if we grow up in a toxic environment we internalise these issues and think we are the cause. The environment doesn’t have to be abusive just growing up around parents who are constantly arguing could cause a child to develop a negative self image.
After a back injury and several strange events I reached a point when I realised that I had to change, my mind was full of negative thoughts, I had gone through a horrendous divorce and I kept finding myself in dysfunctional relationships. One of the first things I tried to calm my mind was meditation which was difficult at first, I couldn’t sit still for long and I kept trying to stop my thoughts which didn’t work.
I listened to a lot of stoic and eastern philosophy, I watched every Alan Watts video I could find on YouTube. Alan Watts spoke about meditation and how to do it in a number of these videos, he explained the purpose was not to stop thoughts but to observe and detach from them. So I started sitting quietly and watching my breath, labelling thoughts not as good or bad but just as thoughts. Then a lot of memories came up, a lot of anger came up but I just sat with it and let it pass, everything passes eventually, change is the only constant. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism but it’s not a religious practice it can and is practised by atheists and people of any religion.
How Does Mindfulness Help
Mindfulness can help with all kinds of issues such as depression and anxiety, Harvard researchers have actually found that practising mindfulness can change the brain of depressed patients.
Mindfulness is about accepting all emotions and feelings without resistance, it’s not about creating a trance state and any particular kind of feeling it’s about connecting to the present. Lao Tzu said “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Until I started practising mindfulness a lot of my suffering was caused by worrying about what had happened in the past or what might happen in the future, I have found that by living in the moment I don’t experience anxiety as much as I used to and the negative self-talk has pretty much stopped. I don’t get angry or react to negative people anymore, I am able to just let things be and I tend not to ruminate as much as I used to. Things still come up from time to time but I am able to let go of issues much quicker.
Besides reducing anxiety, depression and helping regulate emotions mindfulness has a number of other benefits. People who practice mindfulness experience increased focus, improved self control, increased empathy, reduced stress, increased empathy, mindfulness can even reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.