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Life Arts    H4'ed 11/4/17

You Are Suffering from Complex PTSD (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 4, 2017: Pete Walker's 370-page self-help book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (2013) is designed to be accessible in the tradition of Alice Miller's books and John Bradshaw's books on childhood traumatization. I found Pete Walker's 2013 book massively informative and admirably clear, and I suspect that many OEN readers would also find it informative. For example, I learned that I have complex PTSD (abbreviated here as Cptsd) as he delineates it, to a certain degree, and that I am a flight-fawn hybrid, as he delineates these terms -- which I will explain momentarily.

By definition, traumatization involves experiencing abandonment feelings. Abandonment feelings are the hallmark of traumatization.

Pete Walker says, "Trauma occurs when attack or abandonment triggers a fight/flight response so intensely that the person cannot turn it off once the threat is over. He [or she] becomes stuck in an adrenalized state. His sympathetic nervous system is locked 'on' and he [or she] cannot turn toggle into the relaxation function of the parasympathetic nervous system" (page 11). (Abandonment involves experiencing abandonment feelings, but attack also involves experiencing abandonment feelings.)

Now, in the self-help book The Journey from Abandonment to Healing (2000; 2nd ed., 2014), Susan Anderson details how the process of mourning, emphasizing feeling the feelings, must be thoroughly engaged in to heal abandonment feelings.

Pete Walker also details how the process of mourning, including crying and verbal ventilation, must be thoroughly engaged in coping with the various losses involved in complex PTSD, including arrested psychological and emotional development.

Now, Pete Walker attributes complex PTSD (Cptsd) to profound emotional abandonment in childhood, including not only physical abuse, but also verbal and emotional neglect. In his earlier book The Tao of Fully Feeling: Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame (1995; 2nd ed., 2015), he emphasizes his lengthy recovery from the physical abuse he experienced as a child growing up. But he now regrets that he did not also emphasize verbal and emotional neglect, as he now does in his 2013 self-help book on Complex PTSD. More recently, he has now published a 370-page memoir titled Homesteading in the Calm Eye of the Storm: A Therapist Navigates His Complex PTSD (2017), which he sees as a companion to his 2013 self-help book.

In his 2017 memoir, Pete Walker says that as a boy he grew up as a practicing Catholic. Disclosure: I also grew up as a practicing Catholic. As an adult, I was in the Jesuit order for a several years (1979-1987). The Jesuit order was founded by the mystic St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), who undoubtedly suffered from a certain degree of Cptsd, and all Jesuits, including all Jesuits in training, aspire to be mystics -- this is what Jesuit spirituality is designed to do. Now, for years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic. But I am a theistic humanist, as distinct from an atheistic humanist (also known as a secular humanist).

In his 2013 self-help book on Cptsd, Pete Walker discusses spiritual healing (pages 38-40). He even refers explicitly to possibly "soothing" (his word; page 38) abandonment losses via a higher sense of belonging. Because he discusses numerous other forms of soothing throughout his book, this form of spiritual soothing is important to note and consider.

In effect, Pete Walker describes the widely attested cross-cultural experience of nature mysticism as the "numinous experiences through the direct perception of nature's beauty" (page 39). He then generalizes in a way that includes a much broader range of personal interior experiences of the numinous: "A numinous experience is a powerful moving feeling of being accompanied by a sense that there is a positive, benign force behind the universe, as well as within yourself. This in turn sometimes brings enough grace with it that you have a profound feeling that you are essentially worthwhile, that you belong in this life, and that life is a gift" (page 39).

In the compilation of St. Ignatius Loyola's instructions for what I refer to as guided imagistic meditation known as the Spiritual Exercises (translated by George E. Ganss, S.J., 1992), the culminating spiritual exercise is the Contemplation to Attain Love.

It includes the prayer known as the Suscipe (the Latin word for "receive"). It goes back to Psalm 118. George Ganss translates the closing lines as "Give me love of yourself along with your grace, for that is enough for me" (page 95; standardized paragraph number 234). However, because Pete Walker is extremely fond of using the expression "good enough," he might prefer to translate the last words as "that is good enough for me."

So what's good enough for you to be satisfied, eh?

Because Pete Walker emphasizes crying as a positive development (pages 225-230), I should mention here that St. Ignatius Loyola had the gift of tears.

Because Pete Walker repeatedly mentions the practice of mindfulness (e.g., pages 28-29, 251-252), we should note here it involves a kind of non-imagistic meditation. But he does not even mention the kind of guided imagistic meditation called for by the instructions in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. No doubt imagistic meditation can connect us with the imagistic thinking of people in primary oral cultures, and in residual forms of primary oral cultures, that Eric A. Havelock describes in Preface to Plato (1963).

Now, in his 2013 self-help book on Cptsd, Pete Walker allows that there are different degrees of complex PTSD: "The continuum of Cptsd ranges from mild neurosis to psychosis, from highly functioning to non-functioning" (page 84).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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