For many years it felt normal. I mean, it still IS my baseline normal but now I understand that not everyone feels life as intensely as I do. I’ll try to narrow it down to the main ways it affects my day to day life.
I was raised in a family where things weren’t always explained – you were expected to read between the lines and adjust your behaviour accordingly. I became adept at reading my mother’s facial expressions & non verbal cues and discerning the ‘emotional temperature’ of any room.
As an adult, I can’t switch this off.
Hyper-vigilence is common in people who experienced an abusive childhood. My mum was unpredictable and could fly into a terrifying rage with little to no provocation. She was equally as likely to remain devastatingly calm and slice through your very soul with some throwaway comment that went unnoticed by everyone else. It was handy knowing which extreme to prepare for.
2. Toxic Shame
My biggest daily struggle is with the noxious cloud of shame that lives inside me. My parents ruled by fear and my sibling was complicit. I was humiliated on a regular basis, often publicly, and contribution from my sibling was actively encouraged. By the age of seven or eight, my main priority in life was not taking up too much space wherever I went. I cannot remember a day when I’ve felt even vaguely comfortable in my own skin.
My mum used to tell me she couldn’t love a fat child. She didn’t want an ugly, greedy girl with jowls; the real irony being I wasn’t even overweight back then unlike the flesh mountain I’ve become today. For far too many years of my adult life, I had to give myself permission to eat.
‘There’s no point buying you nice clothes until you’ve lost some weight.’ I lived in long shapeless skirts & baggy hoodies until I went away to uni at which point I developed a shopping addiction and ran up huge debts that took years to pay off.
3. Deep Feelings of Inadequacy
I am hardwired to hate myself. Years of being not good enough, having affection withheld while watching my sibling being showered in it.
They were and still are held aloft as a shining example of what a person should be, while I was always too loud, too big, too sensitive, too emotional, too much in every way.
4. Inner Rage
Yep, I am a vengeful bitch when sufficiently wounded. My threshold for abuse is stupidly high, especially if the abuser is someone I admire, but once that line is crossed I can lash out with any tool at my disposal and I don’t fight fairly or honestly. As a child I learned that emotional honesty is rarely the best policy and as an adult I’m not above using complex manipulation strategies to suit my own ends.
5. Unstable Sense of Self
I have an abnormally good understanding of myself and my failings as a human but don’t really know who I am and what I stand for. Many years of being in a family where image was everything mean any interests I had that weren’t gonna make my parents look good were basically not allowed. I was actively encouraged to have strong opinions, provided they matched the family narrative. Any challenge to the status quo was rubbished, belittled or humiliated away.
6. Relentless Anxiety
Every decision I’ve made in my life to date has come from a place of fear. It’s all about minimising risk and keeping myself safe. I worry about EVERYTHING and often catch myself actively searching for the next thing to fret about. My husband & kid cannot leave the house without me telling them I love them, just in case it’s the last time I see them. My mind is stuck in catastrophe mode and I ALWAYS need to know the worst case scenario because experience has taught me to be prepared for disaster at any moment.
I run simulations in my head of how I will cope when my kid dies, which they surely will because I am their mother and I do not deserve the joy they bring to my life.
7. Inability To Trust
Now this is a weird one for me. Having lived around thirty-five of my years as a naively open book, I have been shat on more times than I can probably remember. Show me a damaged, emotionally unstable wreck, the more sociopathic the better, and I was right in there wanting to make it better for them. In the last five years I’ve done a complete u-turn. I now refuse to engage with anyone new beyond the superficial. If I feel like a new friend is becoming dependent in any way I’m out of there. I keep my close friends at arms length and I’m rarely emotionally available to them because I don’t expect or want them to be for me.
Having been on the receiving end of seriously corrupt & consistently shit policing throughout my life, I now have zero respect for authority and have taught my kid to never trust a copper. My husband and I watch those man-down cop shows for kicks.
Incidentally, my husband has cheated on & lied to me to such an extent that I believe sexual desire to be the root of all evil. To me, men are simple creatures driven by lust & ego therefore sadly easy to manipulate. Women on the other hand are sadistic, ruthless creatures who will only ever be counted on to fuck you over. My lowest human-related ebb to date? A toss up between the fake friend who conspired with my husband to drug me on countless occasions so they could shag each others brains out beside my sleeping body; and the time I was expected to die because my cancer was chemo-resistent and my sibling took umbrage at the attention this elicited from my parents. It’s always interesting being called selfish while fighting for your life 😏
8. The Art of Compartmentalising
I am adept at constructing a persona. If I want you to like me, I have an encyclopedic memory for your likes & dislikes. I’ll tailor my humour, adapt my world view and become proficient in things that don’t interest me in order to gain your approval. I’ll carefully curate my anecdotes to include only experiences that reflect the idea I want you to have of me. I’ll be a loyal friend and go to the end of the earth for you unless you fuck me over once too often and then I’ll scorch the earth you walk.
9. Lack of Boundaries
I wasn’t taught how to set them. Assertive people scare the shit out of me and watching someone make themselves a priority makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. I’ve run the entire gamut from being a total pushover to being a cold, selfish prick. I can still appear anywhere on that scale. If expectations are placed upon me to be consistently and soley responsible for something or someone, I descend into panic. I engage in risky, impulsive and ultimately self-destructive behaviour and am an expert at sabotaging my own success.
So this has taken a good hour to write out and the self-loathing is setting in – #10 will have to wait.
You asked what does C-PTSD feel like: welcome to my personal hell 😉