People with Complex Trauma isolate as a way to protect themselves because of the suspicious, paranoid, or “unsafe” thoughts that constantly assail them. This is how I explained these feelings to a friend who does not have CPTSD.
You are in the water, trying to keep afloat. Wave after wave tries to push you under, but you paddle and fight to stay alive. It’s exhausting and there is never a moment’s reprieve. You often consider just giving up and letting the water pull you under and win. Oh, how good it would feel to quit fighting against the waves and to just surrender to the quiet calm of the bottom of the ocean. In the midst of all of this, you hear a motor. A boat? A rescue? You might even recognize the driver as a loved one—someone who in fact REALLY WOULD be coming to rescue you. But depending on ‘how far’ you have been drawn into the trauma response part of the brain (the amygdala, the emotional/illogical part of the brain. See Amygdala Hijack), even this boat coming toward you would be perceived as a threat and potential trauma.
So, your prefrontal cortex brain (the logical processing part of the brain) might register; boat, loved one driving. However, your amygdala (the trauma and stress response part of the brain) has hijacked your prefrontal cortex and taken it off-line, so you only see a boat coming toward you. Because you are in the fear center of your brain, all you “see” is a boat racing toward you that won’t see you in the water, will run you over, with the blades of the motor slicing you to pieces as it ends your life-the life you have spent months, years, forever fighting to barely keep above the waves with your constant battle, energy, and paddling.
This is why we isolate. No one feels safe to us. The brain operates in the triggered amygdala round the clock. When the amygdala turns off the processing and logical part of the brain, people with PTSD say illogical things and do not make sense even when they do try to engage with someone they feel ‘safe enough’ with. This usually registers on the other person’s face as confusion, which we interpret as confirmation that we ARE in fact crazy, broken, insane, and further confirms our resolution to isolate and not interact with anyone in the future.
[Article originally published November 22, 2019]