Though not yet an official diagnosis according to the American Psychiatric Association, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is being informally recognized as a more severe form of PTSD caused by prolonged trauma. Often, that trauma begins in childhood. Trauma that takes place during a person’s formative years is incredibly damaging. It establishes a sense of normalcy around abuse, creating a harmful pattern that can be extremely difficult to break from–or even recognize. The earlier the trauma begins, the more difficult it becomes for the victim to understand her experience as abnormal.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stigma is alive and well. If you have PTSD, you’ve probably heard someone tell you to “just get over” your trauma. Maybe it was a well-meaning friend or family member, like my father who was frightened by my suicidal ideations. Or maybe it was a less well-meaning stranger, like the rude New Yorker who recently commented on my blog telling me to “grow up and take responsibility for [my] life.” Whether the statement comes from a place of love or stigma, it doesn’t make sense in the context of PTSD. Here’s why.
How feeling helpless helps my trauma recovery? Yes–you read the title correctly. The subject of this article is helplessness as a form of healing. If that sounds completely counter-intuitive to you, you’re not alone. I’m sure that if I had come across an article making this same claim in the past, I would have labeled it as completely ludicrous. But hear me out. If you totally disagree, you can write out your counter-argument in the comments.
Also, as you read this, I need you to understand that I’m not arguing you should intentionally bring yourself to a place of helplessness, nor that dangerous helplessness (the kind that can cause posttraumatic stress disorder–PTSD–or re-traumatization) is somehow cathartic. Instead, I want to tell you about a situation in which I was clearly helpless, and how accepting that helped me feel a little bit safer in this chaotic world.