PTSD and Living the Gentle Life

I am floating on the river -  my hand is trailing in cool water - I am moving gently I am moving on the river

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is often reactivated by ‘triggers.’  These can include people, places, things, or sensory feelings that reconnect you with the trauma of the relationship.  In the last newsletter, I talked about the gentle life and how an over-taxed and anxious body/mind needs a soothing life.  I cannot stress this enough: people MUST remember that their PTSD symptoms CAN BE reactivated if they aren’t taking care of themselves and living a gentle life.

What IS a gentle life?  A gentle life is a life lived remembering the sensitivities of your PTSD.  It isn’t ignored, or wished away—it is considered and compensated for.  Since PTSD affects one physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually—all of those elements need to be considered in a gentle life.  Just as if you had diabetes you would consider what to eat or what medication you need to take, so it is with PTSD.

Interestingly, although PTSD is listed in the psychiatric manual as an emotional disorder, PTSD has some very real physical effects as well.  In fact, it has been discussed having PTSD listed in physician’s manuals as well, because the untreated, ongoing effects of acute stress are well known in the medical community.  Since PTSD has both components of emotional and physical symptoms, someone recovering from PTSD must take those aspects into account.

 Physically, PTSD often becomes a chronic condition by the time you get help.  That means you have been living with it for a while and it has been wreaking havoc on your physical body during that time.  Unbridled anxiety/stress/fear pumps enormous amounts of adrenaline and cortisol into your body.  This over stimulates your body and mind and causes insomnia,paranoia, hyperactivity, a racing mind/intrusive thoughts and the inability to ‘let down’ and ‘rest’.

A body that has been living on adrenaline needs the adrenal glands to ‘chill!’  People often complain of chronic insomnia, which also leads to depressionDepression can lead to lethargy, overeating, weight gain and hopelessness.  It is possible to have both anxiety and depression occurring at the same time.  Unmanaged stress, anxiety, and adrenaline can lead to long-term medical problems often associated with stress—lower GI problems, migraines, teeth grinding, aggravated periods, chest pain, panic attacks, and most auto-immune disorders like fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis and MS.

So, CLEARLY, PTSD is something that SHOULD be treated.  Physically that means going to someone who can diagnose you—a therapist or psychiatrist.  In the early parts of treatment, it is normal to take anti-anxiety medication, anti-depressants or sleep aides in order to rectify your depleted brain chemistry and to allow the adrenal glands to ‘rest’ and stop pumping out adrenaline.  Your doctor is in the best position to tell you what will help to relieve your physical symptoms.  Some use alternative medicine to deal with those symptoms. What is effective for each person varies.

Additionally, you need to help your body and brain produce the ‘good stuff’ in your brain chemistry.  This means exercising, eating well, and learning relaxation techniques.  Too much adrenaline has been pumping through your body with no way to get utilized.  Excessive adrenaline makes you feel jumpy and restless.  Exercise (even moderate walking) helps to produce endorphins in your brain, which produce those feelings of ‘well-being’ and helps to burn off the adrenaline and any extra weight you might have gathered.

Although during depression you often don’t FEEL like exercising, you will always feel bad if you don’t get your body moving.  Stress is even stored at the cellular level of our bodies.  You must, must, must, get moving in order to feel better.

Eating well means not trying to medicate your depression and low energy with carbs.  When you are depressed your body craves carbs as a source of quick energy, but the spikes in blood sugar add to the sense of mood highs and lows.  You’ve already had enough ‘junk’ in the relationship—think of it as nurturing your body with good food to replace all the ‘junk’ that it has been through.  You can greatly help mood swings by eating well.

It’s also necessary to deal with the negative habits you have acquired as ‘coping mechanisms.’ Many people with PTSD try to medicate their anxiety and depression.  This could be through smoking, relationship hopping, sex, eating/binging/purging, drugs (legal and illegal), and the increased use of alcohol.  In fact, one of the devastating side effects of PTSD is how many people develop alcoholism as a result. Any habits you are prone to right now tend to increase when you have PTSD, because the particular habit becomes more and more a way to manage your PTSD symptoms.  Finding positive coping skills instead of negative habits is a great step in your recovery.

Physical recovery also means paying attention to not reactivating your symptoms. Your physical environment in which you live, play and work must be conducive to low stimulation.  That means low light, low noise, and low aggravation.  Sometimes that means making big changes in the PEOPLE you hang out with—getting rid of the loud, noisy, overactive, aggressive and pathological.  And sometimes it means making big changes in a job where the environment does nothing but trigger you.

Lastly, learning relaxation techniques is not ‘optional’ for people with PTSD.  PTSD is a chronic state of hyper-vigilance, agitation, and restlessness.  Your body has been over-ridden with adrenaline for a long time and has ‘forgotten’ its equilibrium in relaxation.  It must be re-taught.  Re-teaching means doing it daily.  Taking 5 –10 minutes a day to use a relaxation breathing technique and allowing your mind to unwind.  Giving positive messages to your body to relax will help you tap into this natural relaxation, even during times you are not actively trying to relax.  The more you use this technique, the quicker your body can relax—even at work or when you are doing something else because it has ‘remembered’ how to.

There are a lot of tapes, CDs and videos you can buy on relaxation that walk you thru the process of relaxation (we also have one created for PTSD on the magazine site.)

Taking yoga will also teach you how to use correct breathing techniques that help correct the ‘shallow/panting’ breathing that is associated with PTSD and anxiety.  Shallow breathing or panting can actually trigger panic attacks.  Learning to breathe well again is a metaphor for ‘exhaling’ all the junk you’ve been thru and releasing it.  If you don’t have a relaxation tape, you are welcome to get our mp3 audio on relaxation techniques on our website.  Most importantly is to just become acutely aware that PTSD is physical (and often medical) as it is emotional.

By Sandra L. Brown, M.A., CEO of The Institute for Relational Harm Reduction & Public Pathology Education is a psychopathologist, program development specialist, lecturer, and an award-winning author. Her books include Counseling Victims of Violence: A Handbook for Helping Professionals (1991, 2006), How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved Book and Workbook(2005) and Women Who Love Psychopaths (2008).

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information).

11 thoughts on “PTSD and Living the Gentle Life

  1. I think I must do that teeth grinding and not realize I am doing it. When I have to interact with my narcissistic ex in laws…( for my kids )…I end up with pain at the end of the day in my jaw.
    Today I had to do my daughter’s birthday dinner with them. My jaw is throbbing in pain right now. It is in the joint at the back, where the top and bottom teeth meet …Does that make sense?

    Now it is aching from there and radiating into my head and down into my neck and shoulders.

    I only get this aching jaw when I have to endure something very stressful. I had it once when I took the National Teachers Exam. I must have been grinding my teeth throughout the whole 4 hour exam.

    I did not realize I was doing that but when I came out I tried to eat a potato chip and it hurt to bite it.

    I guess the jaw grinding around narcissists is like a way of biting my tongue not to say what comes to my mind.

    • Funny that .. I have ground down my canine teeth over the years and I bite my nails… somebody told me I have torn away my animal defence/ protection mechanisms – sharp canine teeth and nails to claw/ scratch with!!
      I also noticed I suffered from flare ups in inflammation problems when dealing with my family or ex.partner osteo -arthritis and other inflammatory issues started (stuff that!) – the metaphysical reason for inflammation is feeling red hot anger that you are not allowed or can’t express… so I do completely understand.
      Ultimately I believe you have remove all toxic people that make you unwell. That’s your body’s way of telling you they’re poison. My kids visit my parents and family but I never will again. They organise it. I did use to feel obliged, so I understand.
      Funny when you completely remove yourself from these people, the cloud lifts.. and now I can’t believe I put up with so much emotional cruelty for so long – never want them in my life again (horrid cold people!!). It was me that loved them not the other way around..

      • I have developed severe arthritis and it got much worse after I moved in here.

        They undermined me in order to make me move back here. It is a long story if I start from when they threw us out before…that was the begining of the problem….

        But they talked my ex into moving back in with them. He gave me no notice and I was then short his part of the rent. .
        I had been barely making the rent as it was.

        They knew that I was dependent on his half of the rent when tbey talked him into moving back.

        Then the attic conveniently became available. They even lied about the rent they wanted and upped it after I had given my landlord notice.

        They do not need the money. They intentionally made the rent the full amount of my child support….coincidence? I think not.

        They have done tbese tricks for years to keep me financially screwed.

      • Thank you for taking all that time to talk with me. Yes I would love if we lived closer too.

        I have no friends here because the in laws make it nearly impossible to have friends. They have isolated me from my family in Maryland.

        Any time I ever had anyone here they grab them and insist that it is their guest to entertain and spend time with. If I even get them past the first floor and up here, they will call up the stairs for them.

        They also make them work. My father always ended up fixing their computers and a male friend I brought here was called downstairs and told he had to go help move stuff in a truck.

        When my girlfriend from baltimore used to come, my mother in law would guilt her into doing something. So no one wants to come and I am embarrassed to have anyone come.

        Thank you again. Your words were helpful. I do realize that I cannot let the 18 year old drown my by making me do so many favors for her thst I have no way to make my own money.

        There are 5 other adult drivers in this house besides me. But they do not want to help.

        Talk to you soon.

      • Yeh.. kind people can get treated like doormats, and even when you stand up for yourself they reject you.. really they are bullies.
        I’m taking some space alone to regain my strength. I have things I want to do and unless I take the reigns in my own life they will continue to disrespect me.
        They’re losers because they’re bullies and I’m a loser because I’m too kind and put up with it for too long..
        I know I have more courage in my little finger than all of them .. so it’s time to show it.
        Honey, you will find a way to take your life back from these bullies also, sometimes it takes time to clear away the clouds and find the right strategy and sometimes you have to be a little ruthless and a little selfish.
        My daughter was like that.. she treated me like sh*t when I set boundaries with her – she was as stubborn as a mule and a bully like her father.
        Your daughter may hate you before she learns to respect you so don’t back down especially if she’s always got her own way.. it’s like dealing with a toddler throwing a tantrum.. don’t take their anger attacks personally.. because really she loves you.

      • Yes you are right about setting boundaries and making people deal with them.
        You had every right to go no contact with people that were abusing you. These kinds of people do not respect us or see us as real people, especially when we comply with them.
        Talk to you soon,

  2. Hmm… they’re financially controlling you. Is it you they want or control of the children?
    I guess you have to ask yourself some questions..

    Is this a battle you’re going to win or are you slowly getting into a more difficult situation health and finance wise? Sometimes you have to let go of the physical battle against these types of people because they have the upper hand but you will win the psychological battle because you’re so much stronger.

    You deserve personal happiness, to live freely and to have a blast. You do not deserve to be exhausted, stressed all the time and ill.

    Often radical acceptance is needed that things have to change for your own survival, staying stuck or waiting on someone/ something to save us is not the healthy option. Often we are pushed to change because we’ve reached crisis point (and sometimes that’s a good thing).

    Maybe start with a simple strategy, then some baby steps.

    I know it sucks maybe you feel you’re in the same position again and it’s not fair, but you’ve proven you’re a survivor and you can do it again. You can break free.

    Once we ‘let go’ of trying to hold everything together it’s amazing how we are supported <3

    So the questions.. what are your options? How can you safely and completely remove yourself from these people? How can you take care of yourself? How can you survive this?

    • It is the children that they want to own. My mother in law says things to them that make me appear to be an unfit person. She has very covert manipulatiin tactics.

      My older daughter has bought into a lot of it and it has caused damage to our relationship, which is sad. They have tried with my 12 year old but she has come to see their tactics.

      I don’t think they will be able to succeed in turning her against me. They even use the older one as a proxy to pass along misinformation or reframed information about me.

      Thank you for listening. To me the worst thing the narcissists have done is to use my children in their sick games.

      My 18 year old sees me as “the difficult one” because I do not comply with everything the grandparents want. She does not understand that I have the right to make my own decisions and rights as a mother to make decisions about my children.

      They have brainwashed her into thinking that I should let them make all the decisions about my kids like what school they attend, what they do with their time, what classes they take and don’t take…
      But when that daughter needs a ride or a favor she expects me to jump to do it.

      I do many things for her and she does not seem to realize that I choose to do those things for her….or that the grandmothe4 does not take turns picking her up from work, taking her to bible study, etc.

      I am afraid to lose her…but in a way I feel I have already lost her in many ways. She looks down on me and seems to have contempt for me that was taught to her by the grandmother. She also seems to be developing that “entitlement” to my doing her favors….just like they treat me as if they are entitled to my doing what they want…the way they want it.

      It is all about complying with “the family” almost like a mafia family that you do not cross….or there are threats and cruel consequences. They have nasty punishments for non compliance so I pretend to comply most of the time.

      They would take my car, take away my ability to make money, throw me out of the house, threaten my 12 year old when I am not home, threaten to take my bunny….the list goes on…

      I am working on the life coaching business to generate a way to survive without them. Right now I have a babysitting job part time and work on the business. I have a couple guitar students.

      • I so wish you lived here. We’re in the same boat and could build each other up.
        Same thing happened to my children, it’s utterly heartbreaking. Lost the two older ones to his manipulations, they turned against me and now he has the two younger ones… they are a bit wiser..
        I’ve decided the best thing for my kids is to see me get out. I may not be able to save them but I can save myself. Fighting narcs is next to impossible (they have to win).. but you can destroy them by truly finding happiness for yourself first. My children don’t want to see me controlled, they want to see me happy and strong. I’m their rock and role model as a strong woman whether with or without them.. After 8 years fighting for my children .. it all backfired on me – some of them turned against me.. My children are now living with them because the emotional, financial stress was killing me. I gave everything 100% but nothing worked out. So now I am selling my business (it never fulfilled me), selling my house and travelling where I’m pulled.. one of those places is France. I have considered this option for a few years but felt that I was abandoning my children and it was an escape but really there are no choices now and I am exhausted by the battle. This choice feels like life to me, all others a death sentence.. I want the children to see me looking after myself instead of suffering. And I feel the future will all work out in the end, I can see me very happy and successful and reconnecting with my kids later in life. They’re smart and they’ll be okay. I have to admit it’s taken me many years to come to this radical acceptance of my situation and not something any mother does easily. You have to be in pure survival mode, by the time I did this I was at crisis point financially the bank was nearly taking my house, exhausted and ill from stress, minimal food, selling furniture to live, unable to work, and not able to be the mother I wanted to be anyway because of high stress level.. and judged by the narcs as the unfit mother ..

        This is the game they play so fuck em. I spoke to a woman yesterday who was in my boat, she ended up in a mental hospital and they gave her electro-shock treatment for the depression she suffered. In the end she left her children with him to raise them through the teenage years. She left him with the slammed doors and swearing, the mood swings etc… she said to me ‘do you really need that as well now’ and I really don’t.. What I do need is to follow my instincts and start my work. I know I will find a great guy in time and my ex. and family will never hurt me again. She took care of herself. She’s 60 now and her children are part of her life and she is happy and well.

        Sadly this is not an unusual in narcissistic families – you are breaking the mold.. you are the strong one, it’s hard enough to get yourself out alive and mentally stable but often impossible to get the kids as well. In the end as the kids become independent, they shun the narcs and come back to you .. I’ve spoken to many who have had to do this to survive. It was a life or death situation. This system sets up emotionally dependent children.. we cannot change that. But we can only change ourselves and be examples of strong women and survivors and we can educate and help heal others..

        My therapist use to say it’s impossible to escape the system while you’re still in the system.
        I know you don’t want to hear this but can you get yourself out and work towards your own healing and independence. I know it may feel very wrong and something you don’t want to consider but this is not a normal situation. This is not a normal family. No mother wants to leave their children.. but all children need to see their Mother happy and an example of walking away from abuse. The last time I left I took my son who lived with me for two years because he didn’t want to live with his Dad but really we just lived in poverty and struggled and in the end he had to go back .. I could barely survive with just me to feed.
        Now I’m exhausted, stressed, getting old and missing out on purpose, joy and living.. my kids are young (13 and 18) and I know they fully understand that I’ve been through hell and back and need independence and recovery. They know I gave 100% to have them with me just like I gave 100% to my marriage and that I love them with all my heart. They know I’m the good guy and they will respect me for finding happiness and showing them the path to happiness.

        It’s either I die living or live dying..

    • I do not let them know how much money I am making . When my business begins to pick up I will tell no one in the house.
      They would raise my rent just to keep me from saving money to leave.

      Whenever I get any mail that looks like it might be a check…and sometimes bank statements, the mail is “accidentally” opened. Then there is a note with my father in law’s handwriting “opened in error” on the envelope. Funny that it is only things that look like money that are ever “opened in error”

      My sister in law got mail that was a check. My father in law opened it and then suddenly decided that she owed him that amount of money for some thing he made up.

      She is treated the same way I am. We were just tools to make grandchildren for them. Any attempts at independence are squashed or undermined somehow. They want us to live here as long as they say so….but they randomly throw us out every few years….wait till we get on our feet….do something to screw up our situation….hoover us back in…..

      The sons ( my ex and Wendy’s husband..seem to believe the parents are right that Wendy and I need to be here….because we need help and guidance about our parenting….since we are inadequate…..

  3. Honey, you do not deserve to live like this.. the games they play are sickening… literally sickening. I want you to save yourself. I’m hoping the business works out for you, but don’t forget there are always options, hard options but sometimes we are in life or death situations and have to put our oxygen masks on first. You are important, you matter and you are needed xx

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