Many of us have probably heard the saying “healing isn’t linear.” But for anyone struggling with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (c-PTSD), the path to healing may be hard to see at all. C-PTSD is a specific form of PTSD that is now gaining recognition in the mental health community. While PTSD typically develops after a single traumatic event, c-PTSD is often the result of repeated or prolonged exposure to trauma, such as emotional or physical abuse. The symptoms often go beyond those of PTSD, including difficulty regulating emotions, interpersonal problems, negative self-perception, and chronic feelings of shame or guilt.
This kind of trauma can have a lasting impact on your mental health and well-being, but Madeline Popelka wants people to know that the pain doesn’t have to last forever. With her book You’re Going to Be Okay, 16 Lessons on Healing after Trauma and her popular Instagram page @healingfromptsd, she is on a mission to help others overcome their trauma. Below, she shares four pieces of advice that she wishes she would have heard when she was struggling with c-PTSD.
Disclaimer: I first want to acknowledge that because trauma is deeply personal, so is healing. I want to remind readers that they are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their healing. There is no “right” way, and your healing doesn’t have to look a certain way for it to be valid. With that said, there are some things which I have found to be helpful:
Tip 1: Seek therapy
I’m a huge advocate for therapy. Healing can be so heavy and isolating and having a professional in your corner who can meet you where you are, teach you coping skills, and help you process your pain and feelings can make a huge difference. It’s important to find someone who is trained to treat trauma — not every therapist is trauma-informed — so I recommend that survivors do their research and ask questions to potential providers to make sure they are getting treatment with those who are adequately trained to do so (e.g., What training have you received for c-PTSD?). I recognize that access to mental health care is a privilege, so for those who cannot afford therapy, I recommend looking into support groups led by a licensed therapist or nonprofits that provide therapy grants and support for your community.
Tip 2: Cultivate self-awareness
Self-awareness is a critical skill when it comes to healing, and it takes practice. Even if you’re in therapy, you’ll be responsible for relaying information to your therapist to help with your treatment, so I recommend that survivors start building self-awareness by journaling and observing their thoughts and feelings. (Journaling can also provide a release!) Self-awareness is also important for recognizing your needs and communicating them to others.
Tip 3: Practice self-compassion
Many of us who struggle with complex trauma have a strong inner critic, so self-compassion doesn’t come easily. But when we judge and criticize ourselves, it often adds to the pain, and we can sometimes get so stuck on what we did “wrong,” or what we wish we could have done, that it keeps us from moving forward. On the flip side, when we meet ourselves with comfort and compassion, it often alleviates the pain, and makes it easier to move forward. Dealing with c-PTSD is so hard, and showing yourself some compassion as you heal will help make the journey more endurable.
4. Let yourself be held by community
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: don’t isolate yourself. When we’re struggling, many of us have the urge to hide, but this only adds to the weight we carry. The truth is that we heal through connection and safe relationships. Even if we don’t talk to people about our trauma, just talking to people at all can help remind us that we aren’t alone, which can make a huge difference.
Would you like to dive deeper into this topic? Check out issue two of Heal Magazine where we explore more of Madeline’s valuable perspective and journey with c-PTSD.