A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned they had C-PTSD. I’d never heard of this before (PTSD, yes. But C-PTSD? Nope.)
I looked it up, and when I saw the definition and symptoms, I immediately realized, “Oh FFS — that’s me. I have this.”
C-PTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and although it shares similar characteristics with PTSD, there are some marked differences. While PTSD happens as a result of a one-time or shorter duration traumatic event, like serving on active duty in a war zone or surviving a physical attack, C-PTSD occurs when people experience trauma from on-going experiences such as childhood neglect or abuse, domestic abuse, human trafficking, or living in a war-torn or extremely impoverished region for more than a year.
Some of the symptoms experienced by people with C-PTSD include:
Avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma
Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma
A negative self-view: Complex PTSD can cause a person to view themselves negatively and feel helpless, guilty, or ashamed. They often consider themselves to be different from other people and don’t know where they fit in.
Changes in beliefs and worldview: People with C-PTSD may hold a negative view of the world and the people in it, feel a loss of trust in themselves or others, or feel that the world is a dangerous place.
Emotional regulation difficulties: These conditions can cause people to have extreme emotional reactions to some situations. They may experience intense anger, fear or sadness that seems highly disproportionate for the given situation.
Hyperarousal or hypervigilance: they are in a continuous state of high alert or feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop” much of the time.
Relationship issues. Relationships may suffer due to difficulties with trusting and interacting, and because of a negative self-view. A person may develop unhealthy relationships because they don’t know or never had models for a healthy relationship.
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or being able to nap. Difficulty concentrating or increased procrastination. In some cases, ADHD can in fact be caused by C-PTSD.
Detachment from the trauma: A person may dissociate, which means feeling detached from emotions or physical sensations. Some people completely forget the trauma.
Preoccupation with an abuser: It is not uncommon to fixate on the abuser, the relationship with the abuser, or getting revenge for the abuse.
Reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.
As I looked over this list of symptoms, I realized that I have (or had) all of these. I grew up in a home with some pretty gnarly emotional, medical, and physical abuse– and it had left its mark.
When we spend a long time in traumatic situations, especially as we’re growing and developing, our very smart body-minds adapt for survival. Entire systems change and adapt in order to be able to survive and keep us safe: our nervous system, vagal system, immune system, digestive system and the microbiome, emotional regulation and response, cognitive processing–as well as all of our energetic systems like meridians, the heart torus field, chakras and more–shift and adapt to what “normal” is in this traumatic world. When we are finally free of the traumatic situation, we now have a whole body-mind that needs to be retuned to be able to thrive in a non-traumatic world.
So, how do we heal this?
While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” fix for embodied trauma and C-PTSD, I can tell you what’s worked best for me.
Therapy. Find yourself a good trauma-informed therapist and talk this shit out. I’ve been in therapy off and on for most of my adult life because the sneaky nature of trauma is that it can rear its ugly head in new situations all the time.
Meditation. I first learned to meditate through a study at UCSF on “Cultivating Emotional Balance.” It took YEARS AND YEARS of practice before mediation became something that was easy for me but, damn, it was worth it. I can switch my mood from anxious to joyous in 20 minutes and can stay present and grounded in even the most triggering of situations now. One of the benefits that isn’t talked about enough is the changes that happen when we’re *not* meditating. Somehow that daily practice of 20 minutes of meditation has ripple effects outside of that time, too. I can now get into that meditative headspace immediately at almost any time of the day and feel the same effects of calm, peaceful joy that come from being in the present moment (aka mindfulness.)
Books. I read self-help books all the time. I’ve found that there are two types that help me the most. There are books that give advice and teach you tools for a certain issue, like hypervigilance or perfectionism. These are helpful for when my symptoms arise and I need a tool or strategy to deal with them in the moment. And then there are autobiographical books that are written by people who went through something similar to me. These are sooooo validating and helpful and make me realize that what I went through was wrong and horrible (I tend to normalize things and underreact to trauma). They remind me that I am not as much of a freak or weirdo as I may imagine, and that other people have gone through the same thing and have had similar feelings and responses. (I mean, I am a freak and a weirdo, but in a totally awesome way, not in a social pariah kind of way.)
Energy healing. Oh boy. This was so profound for me that I totally switched my life path and career so I could dive head first into learning all about this. Energy healing is so magical because unlike therapy or medication, it helps the body heal on the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual levels all at once and in parallel. I originally started going to an energy healer to mitigate and heal side effects from chemo. One day about 3 months in, my practitioner said “Oh, you’re ready to transcend anxiety.” I looked at her and laughed right in her face. I’d been anxious since I was 3-years-old, and that’s probably just because I couldn’t remember back any earlier than that. But she did her thing and you know what? I left that office PROFOUNDLY less anxious. It felt like I’d had a 50-ton boulder lifted off me. My hypervigilance decreased markedly, my mood was more joyous and I had far fewer anxious, looping thoughts on a day-to-day basis. It was like 10 years of therapy in 3 months. So, I decided to figure out how that all worked. I’ve have spent the last 15 years studying different modalities and learning all that I can about the beautiful intersection of body, mind and spirit so that I can help others with their healing process, as well.
If you see some of yourself in what I wrote here, please know that you are not alone, that there are people and groups and tools to help you heal. And please know that I see you, I know it’s been so hard, and I think you are an amazing triumph of nature to have survived and thrived the way you have. It’s no small feat, my friend, and I am so very unabashedly proud of you, wherever you are in your healing process.
When I was 32 years old, I found out about ACE at one of my lowest moments.
I had been referred to the social worker at the UCSF Cancer Center to help me find charity options to help pay for my cancer treatment. We talked a bit about my current work and financial situations, as well as my health and family history.
After I gave her the lowdown she stopped, put down her pen, pursed her lips and asked, “Have you heard of the ACE study?” I nodded my head no. “ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences. They’ve found that people who score a 4 or above on the test are at an increased risk for cancer and other diseases. Let’s see how you score.”
I’m a 4 on the ACE scale. Not the worst score possible, but enough to statistically put me between 400 and 1200% higher risk for things like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, smoking, broken bones, depression, and COPD than people with ACE scores in the lower range.
So what’s the connection? From what the scientists have found, there are several different causes.
Early childhood trauma or neglect causes the brain to become wired differently and the “fight or flight” mechanism is left permanently in the “on” position. This causes the body to be constantly flooded with cortisol, and too much cortisol is no bueno for the body. It causes an inflammation response which is the underlying cause for everything from weight gain to fibromyalgia to cancer.
Another connection is epigenetics. We all know about DNA, but our DNA isn’t necessarily always “turned on” or translated into proteins.
Let’s look at an example from evolution. Since we all evolved from the same cells, you have genes in your DNA for all the body parts and functions of every species we’ve evolved from. For example, all land creatures evolved from fish. You have a fishy great great great great great great….great great grandpa somewhere in your evolutionary history. Fishy grandpa had DNA that coded for gills, which allowed him to breathe underwater. Since you’re not a fish, you don’t need gills, but you still have the gene for gills in your DNA. (In fact, at one point in your embryonic development, you had gills. But just for a hot minute.) Now that you’ve evolved into a land mammal, you don’t need gills. So, that DNA isn’t turned on in humans.
This is epigenetics – the ability to turn on or off certain strands of DNA. In people with high ACEs, certain genes that allow for certain diseases may be turned on as result of the adverse childhood experiences. Or certain ones that protect from diseases may be turned off. This is especially true if your mom or dad had substance addiction issues or were going through trauma when you were conceived and in utero.
Believe it or not, our genes can be affected even if mom or dad had trauma way before we were even conceived. More recent studies show epigenetic information is passed down just like genetic (DNA) information. Epigenetic information can encode not only for physical changes, but also for psychological characteristics like hopes and fears.
The last connection, and the one I’m most interested in, is belief systems. Belief systems can be passed down culturally, epigenetically, or in the case of many ACE households, by having a parent repeatedly and consistently tell you that you are not good enough, worthless, unloved, or unwanted. No matter how resilient you are, if you are 5 years old and are told you are not good enough or unlovable by the head honcho in your life, it ends up worming its way into your subconscious.
So, how does a belief system end up giving you cancer? There are two mechanisms by which this works.
The first is that our bodies are inextricably intertwined with our emotions and our belief systems. Emotions, belief systems, and self-concepts are not merely patterns of neurons firing (although that’s part of it) but they are also housed in our organs, connective tissue, and even our bones. If you have a belief system that you are weak and worthless, this can easily play out in your immune system and you can be one of those people who are constantly sick and unable to fight off even the smallest virus, which can lead to chronic infections with things like Epstein Barr, the main cause of fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalopathy (a.k.a. chronic fatigue).
If you believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with you and you are unlovable, your body may not attack the routine cancer cells that crop up daily in your system. Or it may fundamentally integrate that voice of your mother or father telling you that you’re not good enough, and your immune system may start attacking your own perfectly good body parts, causing an autoimmune disease, just to prove mom or dad was right.
The other mechanism is sort of like the evil twin version of “The Secret”. Many physicists now agree that consciousness and observation have a huge role in creating our reality. We can use this to create and manifest all sorts of crazy and amazing things, but the reverse is also true. We can also create disease and terrible circumstances. If it’s true that you can manifest abundance and joy in your life, you can also manifest lack, unhappiness, and disease. Manifestation isn’t just something that happens in the outside world, it’s and inside job, too. You can manifest a disease just like you can manifest getting fired.
For example, people who have had a spouse die have a 66% greater chance of dying within the first three months after their spouse’s death. Grief, loss, and the fear of being alone manifest incurable disease in their bodies.
Conversely, in a study of people who have gone into spontaneous remission from late stage cancer, the one factor that all the subjects had in common was a realization that they were connected to a larger consciousness. They had a realization that they were connected spiritually to everyone and everything and they had all the resources from that vast and all knowing consciousness to fight their disease. At some point soon after that, their cancer disappeared. The change in their consciousness manifested spontaneous healing.
In my work I’ve found that a two-pronged approach to belief systems has helped to heal many of my clients. First, I get to the root of the belief system. I find out family history and what type of adverse events they experienced and then I “tune in” and find the exact phrase or set of beliefs that their body has decided to act out through their illness or disease. Most of the time, we all want to just feel listened to, validated, and loved. Once we do that on a cellular level, the body feels like it can release the old belief system or programming. At that point we can replace it with another belief system that is better for the client’s health and highest good.
The second way is to reconnect or remind the client’s body of its spiritual nature and connection with the Source. We are all spiritual beings having a human experience. But despite our physical appearance, we’re all still connected to Source Energy (or God, or Universal Consciousness, or the Big Wow) and the deeper that connection, the less chance that these human fears and beliefs can resonate and set up shop in our physical bodies, causing imbalance or disease. Once I reconnect the direct line to Source, clients start to feel calmer, symptoms start to resolve and general well-being improves. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
If you’re interested in finding your ACE score, here’s a link to the test:
We’re all aware of our physical bodies and can name the various body systems: cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, etc. But you have a whole other set of body systems that affect your health just as much, your energetic body.
Your energetic body consists of systems that have energetic components but don’t have a physical form, such as your chakras, meridians, Wei Qi, and the layers of your aura. These systems work in tandem with your physical body to help regulate everything from hormones to your immune system to blood flow.
How can a body system be invisible and still affect your health? To understand this, you need a little bit of quantum physics (Just a little bit! I promise it will be painless.) What we think of as physical matter is just very small, sub-microscopic particles vibrating at certain frequencies that we perceive as a solid, physical matter. However, there is another type of energy, vibrating at a different frequency, which does not appear to us as physical matter. These make up your energetic body systems. They are made up of the same sub atomic “stuff” as your physical body, just vibrating at a different frequency.
Think of it this way, we can only see light that is emitted at certain frequencies, known as the “visible spectrum,” but there are many frequencies of light that humans can’t see. However, other creatures can. Did you know bees can see light in the UV spectrum (which we can’t) and are able see patterns on flowers that human eyes can’t see? In the same way, the energies of these physical body parts are vibrating at a frequency that most people can’t see or perceive. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, and they have been measured and validated, and can and do affect our physical bodies and overall health.
Since the basis for both the physical and energetic body systems is vibrating energy, they interact at a subatomic level as one holistic system. That’s how energy medicine works – if you change the energy of a system, you change the physical aspects as well. If you work with the energetic systems to get them back in balance, they interact with the physical systems and bring them into balance as well.
Traditional western medicine has yet to acknowledge these energetic body systems and only looks at the physical systems as the cause of disease. In doing so, they are missing half the picture, if not more. This is why traditional medical treatments only work for some people and some illnesses. Imagine if doctors only looked at patients from the waist up. They’d be able to treat many illnesses, but if you had a problem with your bladder or colon, they’d miss it entirely. That’s what happens when a traditional doctor tries to cure an illness that’s based in one of the body’s energy systems, they only look at the physical systems and miss the energetic aspects entirely.
As a medical intuitive with background in both western medical science and energy healing, I work with both physical and energetic systems to see what is causing a client’s disease or imbalance. Like most Americans going into medicine, I first trained in the traditional western modality: Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, neurology, etc. However, once I found out about energy systems like chakras, meridians and body psychology, the “mystery diseases” I saw in my patients were no longer such a mystery. In looking at both the physical and energetic systems, many of my patients who were unable to get a consistent diagnosis or treatment from traditional medicine are now able to understand their disease and find reliable treatment that integrates both their physical and energetic body systems.
If you’re struggling to find the cause of your disease and you’ve been unable to get a consistent diagnosis from your doctor, it may be time to consult someone familiar with ALL of your body systems. Traditional western doctors mean well, but they’re often missing crucial elements that can cause disease. Your energetic body may be the key to finding your health again.