C-PTSD & RADICAL SELF LOVE BY SALOMÉ JOUAN
Here at Inside/Out physical strength and activities play a huge part in our endeavors, but emotional strength is just as fundamental. And while we are bombarded with apps, websites, videos and class passes to help us develop our physical bodies, there is a marked absence of tools and resources for mental wellness.
We have thus decided to publish a series devoted to mental health and emotional intelligence. Testimonies, essays, expert advice, discussions and resources that we hope will bring solace, hope and support to continue to empower the women around us.
Today, Paris-based entrepreneur Salomé Jouan is the first to accept our challenge. The one to tell the truth. To reveal completely, fully and with strength. We hope that this text will resonate with you and thank her for having the courage to commit to authenticity. Finally, we look forward to hearing from you.
"Since late childhood I have suffered from bouts of what I used to call "descent into hell" episodes. I never had proper terminology to describe them so I used to say that it felt like a sudden urge to curl up into a hole and disappear.
These were not like panic attacks but rather like some sort of diffuse anxiety mixed with the need to escape, to go home and not see or speak to anyone. I couldn’t tell what triggered them nor how long they would last.
In those moments I felt extremely negative about myself and everything in my life. The shame and self-loathing was unbearable and I felt very tense. I was looking at my life as one failure after the next, felt extremely isolated, helpless, ugly and unable to face anyone.
As you can imagine these were very debilitating... Being around people was too difficult so I used to come up with excuses to leave the office and cancel professional and personal commitments alike. I could spend hours alone at home generally unable to do anything but curl up in bed. Sometimes it lasted a couple of hours, an afternoon, sometimes several days, but generally no longer than 3-4 days with oscillating intensity.
I knew that this was not "normal" but I’d never heard of similar issues in anyone and although I always had an interest in psychology those did not match any psychological phenomenon I knew.
It wasn’t depression since most of the time I could get up and have a "normal" life and achieve things, neither was it bipolar disorder, or any mental disorder I was familiar with. I just thought I was a weirdo who had some sort of curse in life.
That was until a couple of years ago when I had what some might call "a bad break-up."
It was a really bad break-up. Actually it was so bad that I knew that it wasn’t just from the break-up.
What had happened to me, in fact, was the ultimate and torturous chapter of a type of psychological abuse I discovered was called "narcissistic abuse." I realized that my boyfriend’s lack of empathy, his manipulative triangulations, his withdrawal of attention followed by his avalanche of suffocating love, were in fact the operating mechanism of a disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He had used our relationship to get "narcissistic supply." It was nothing personal, I was just a cog in a bigger picture of mental abuse and I had totally fell for his lies.
It took me feeling completely crushed - financially, emotionally, physically - to finally dig deeper. It made me look into how I possibly could have bonded with such a cruel man and allowed myself to be used in such self-destructive ways. It was also a little bit insulting since I had always considered myself to be a pretty good judge of character. So... There was something in my boundary-settings that was terribly maladjusted.
Looking into all the intricacies of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD for short) became my new obsession. I wanted to make sure I would never get fooled again and hurt that badly again. I read everything I could get my hands on about it and consequently all the mechanics of NPD became clearer. But as I became a self-professed NPD specialist I started to come across something else called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (or C-PTSD).
It takes two to tango and in the sick dance of the NPD who are cold, empathy-lacking vampires there was always on the other side an over-empathetic, low in self esteem - with porous ego boundaries counterpart; and those individuals seemed to have something called C-PTSD.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - also referred to as "combat stress" and "survivor’s guilt" - has become something many people these days are somewhat of familiar with. It’s the acute anxiety veterans suffer from, or people who have witnessed or been a part of a highly traumatic event: car accident, physical or sexual assault, etc. It’s been a part of popular culture for a few decades now, probably since the aftermath of the Vietnam war. Symptoms include flashbacks, extreme difficulty readjusting to normal life, hyper vigilance (hypersensitivity to noise, feeling jumpy) insomnia and more.
C-PTSD, on the contrary is still quite unknown. When you type "C-PTSD" into Google it asks: "do you mean PTSD?".
Not yet included in the DSM-V (the American official manual on psychology), C-PTSD has a number of aspects of PTSD because it relates to traumatic events too, but to those which happened during the developmental stages of life: childhood.
First described by Judith Herman in 1992, it became apparent that prolonged, chronic, repetitive abuse during the developmental stages of the human psyche had particular consequences on the brain because the very nature of childhood means helplessness and an impossibility to escape.
Children cannot protect themselves and look to their caretakers for protection. There is a big difference between being traumatized as a fully formed adult and being traumatized as a child when your mental structure is still in the making. Unlike being abused by a stranger, being abused by your caretakers creates an internal conflict which shapes the very foundation of your life experience.
As a result people who suffer from C-PTSD develop their own number of symptoms including: difficulty regulating emotions, eating disorders (food becoming a way to regulate aforementioned emotions), emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, re-victimization circumstances), attachment issues, trust issues, suicidal ideation, obsessiveness and addictions in general. You also end up interiorizing whatever negativity you faced and take them with you even long after the events. You develop an extremely aggressive inner critic: a negative voice in your head ("you are a failure, you are stupid, you are ugly etc...").
So... Talk about an epiphany! Emotional flashbacks were my "descent into hell" episodes. It was such relief to have a word to define them.
Another way to explain C-PTSD is to say that the tools you develop to survive in a hostile environment become default settings once the danger is gone and therefore become majorly debilitating in "normal" circumstances. Your very resilience to adversity - the way you adapted - becomes a new set of issues that jeopardizes your current well-being.
It’s not easy unlearning these coping mechanisms but there are ways to alleviate the symptoms, the one single most important thing - and I cannot stress this enough - is to start indulging in what I call EXTREME SELF LOVE and shut the inner critic up. C-PTSD sufferers are so hard on themselves that recovery must begin self compassion, self care and self protection. Positive inner speech, affirmations, meditation are tools that help redirect unhelpful mental mechanisms.
Another very important aspect I wanted to share, especially in the light of empowering yourself, is the re-victimization process. Most abused children with C-PTSD get into more abuse as grown ups. I know it sounds crazy and I am not sure why, but it seems we endlessly re-orchestrate scenarios of abuse and go from being abused children to being abused adults. So it’s important not only to address the predators behavior but also the deep psychological wounds that often draw us to replay the circumstances that will get us to hurt again. As you know, one of the problems with domestic violence cases, is that the victim often feels that she cannot escape, or simply doesn't want to leave her partner.
It makes me wonder does replaying trauma have a developmental function? Is it how the unconscious mind drives us eventually to awareness? Sadly, it somehow seems that the hurt we seek again is the clay that shapes us into finally seeking true healing and empowerment. As a matter of fact, intimate relationships are the place where you have to bear it all, get hurt at your very core and get burnt into change. It’s where you can start re-parenting yourself. It’s that friction that leads to change.
So... What studying C-PTSD has taught me is that what was damaged through human relations can only be healed through human relations. So today I am writing this piece at the off-chance that someone might read it and finally understand what they are going through."
My absolute favorite book on the subject is Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving. It is absolutely the place to start. If you are experiencing an emotional flashback and need relief you can use his "13 Steps to Manage Flashbacks." Pete advises printing the list out and sticking them on the wall. This technique is tremendously helpful. I also recommend his other book The Tao of Fully Feeling. Another interesting read on the subject - although slightly more technical - is Bessel Van Der Kolk's The Body Keeps The Score.
Salomé Jouan is an entrepreneur and artist agent based in Paris. She loves philosophy, music, traveling, the digital revolution and Game Of Thrones. She recently started Antics a video series featuring "people she likes." A pioneer in her field, in 2009 she became the first agent to represent a fashion blogger, none other than fellow Frenchie Garance Doré.