When peeling an onion have you ever noticed that the layers contain more layers? I found this a challenge in my younger because I never knew which layer I was supposed to stop peeling at in order for the onion to be used.
I'm finding Complex Ptsd recovery similar to peeling an onion. It's a multitude of layers. Recently I became aware that my body was reacting in a safe environment so I went looking for more information to help me through this stage of recovery and here's what I found.
Polyvagal theory, by Dr Stephen Porges, explains the different circuits in the Vagal System. One circuit, in particular, spoke to my experience, the immobilisation. Predominately our Vagal System is calming but when we've experienced Trauma where we can't get away and we can't use fight/flight, we use our primitive neural circuit which functionally is a shutdown circuit.
Now, here's the crunch point. We literally have zero choice when this neural circuit kicks in. Back in the 50's scientists stopped researching this because back then they believed everything that happened in our body was a choice we made. Anyone with Complex Ptsd knows that our entire brain/body system can go offline and we have zero choice in what is happening.
That's right. Our whole internal system can go offline, can respond to the data around us, and go offline, or any variation in between, from fully present to offline. Think of the spectrum, and you'll understand. On one hand, I may experience a panic attack or an anxiety attack, or my breathing and/or emotions may begin to dysregulate - all out of my conscious control.
Recently, I became aware of my emotions as they fluctuated internally. They felt chaotic, and I was sitting right in the middle of a very safe environment. No matter what I did I could not get my emotions to reflect that I was happy and enjoying myself. Very, very frustrating. And the first thing I did was blame myself that I couldn't change my internal system around.
I came home and began more research and came across this information on the PolyVagal System and was mind blown. I could look back and literally see how my body/brain had a response automatically in the situation I was in, and there was no way I was going to be able to control it. Science has proven this now. We have zero control over these automatic responses.
Here's what the science does know so far to help in these situations, plus what I'm learning to do for myself.
Some of the science recommends not going into the situation where you know you'll be triggered. For me, this doesn't work because with CPtsd we literally need the healthy social engagement to move through recovery. As this response is linked to not being able to get away in future I'm going to write down a list of strategies to help me reaffirm with self talk how I can get away, how I can speak up and how I can move my body to help me not go into immobilisation.
The writing down helps put things in order. Our brain needs this order, we need to retrain our brains into order. With this order it will help my brain and body to feel safe. Also, if we get up and move our body and focus on the muscles we are moving it does help get the prefrontal cortex back online.
I can look back and see how I was triggered all those years ago. I felt super unsafe and believed there was no way I could get away. The decent was painful and rapid. I understand it wasn't my fault my entire system went offline. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back, which happened to be my brain.
It's time for strategies and to practice them before the old systems kick in.