What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

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earthhorse
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What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by earthhorse » Sat Apr 27, 2019 10:44 pm

I have felt very seen by Pete Walkers insights on his website. Finally I am now reading his book from cover to cover. And I want to share some criticisms.

I put my post as a mild trigger warning. As what I might say could be triggering for some who are searching for validation for their cPTSD but have not experienced (severe) sexual, ritual or physical abuse and overt forms of domestic violence. I want to start with the disclaimer. That I wholly agree with Pete Walkers observation that the core of all abuse is emotional abuse and abandonment. I also see how this is a core element in whether or not one will develop cPTSD.

So what I really like about the book is the central theme of Abandonment Depression. I love the mindfulness techniques he discusses to address this, and the loving attitude to productivity. Here's his description of abandonment depression:
The etiology of a self-abandoning response to depression. Chronic emotional abandonment is one of the worst things that can happen to a child. It naturally makes her feel and appear deadened and depressed. Functional parents respond to a child's depression with concern and comfort; abandoning parents respond to it with anger, disgust and further abandonment, which in turn create the fear, shame and despair that become characteristic of the abandonment depression. A child who is never comforted when she is depressed has no model for developing a self-comforting response to her own depression. Without a nurturing connection with a caretaker, she may flounder for long periods of time in a depression that can devolve into The Failure to Thrive Syndrome. In my experience failure to thrive is not an all-or-none phenomenon, but rather a continuum that begins with excessive depression and ends in the most severe cases with death. Many PTSD survivors "thrived" very poorly, and perhaps at times lingered near the end of the continuum where they were close to death, if not physically, then psychologically. When a child is consistently abandoned, her developing superego eventually assumes totalitarian control of her psyche and carcinogenically morphs into a toxic Inner Critic. She is then driven to desperately seek connection and acceptance through the numerous processes of perfectionism and endangerment described in my article "Shrinking The Inner Critic in Complex PTSD" (see link for this article: Shrinking the Inner Critic). Her inner critic also typically becomes emotional perfectionistic, as it imitates her parent's contempt of her emotional pain about abandonment. The child learns to judge her dysphoric feelings as the cause of her abandonment. Over time her affects are repressed, but not without contaminating her thinking processes. Unfelt fear, shame and depression are transmuted into thoughts and images so frightening, humiliating and despairing that they instantly trigger escapist 4F acting out. Eventually even the mildest hint of fear or depression, no matter how functional or appropriate, is automatically deemed as danger-ridden and overwhelming as the original abandonment. The capacity to self-nurturingly weather any experience of depression, no matter how mild, remains unrealized. The original experience of parental abandonment devolves into self-abandonment. The ability to stay supportively present to all of one's own inner experience gradually disappears.
Everything he has to say about the importance of grieving, dealing with the inner and outer critc and centering emotional healing makes tons of sense to me. His advice also on different forms of therapy for cPTSD is gold. And i love his mindfulness techniques.

However, I noticed some important gaps in what he presents and it bothers me. For instance, that he paints a very incomplete picture for people who suffer from addictions, people who develop complex dissociative coping strategies and also very wrongly, and i would say damagingly, mis-characterizes borderline personality disorder as incurably narcissistic. All of these things are associated with more severe and compounded trauma. that cPTSD is 'specifically' meant to address.

Also the part on trauma 'types' chapter six seems to undo all the other careful work to undo shame and promote self compassion. I just found myself trying to work out which 'type' I was, identifying with many of the negative characteristics in all the types. And well I would take that part with a pinch of salt or feel free to completely ignore it. It is ridden with negative value judgements and dismissive statements and I would say occasionally misinformation.

And while I'm at it, he says that the therapeutic relationship usually ends when someone has developed a 'real' relationship with at least one other person... Huh? This makes zero sense to me. I have needed therapy to work through trauma, that no relationship can handle on its own. Even though I have been in an extremely loving, open and supportive relationship for 15 years! The success of my relationships is that I have learned that what i experienced traumatizes others, and that I need to be careful with sharing and how I tell, and hide my more severe flashbacks because they freak people out, only my partner is witness to the worst not my therapist. Still needing therapy to resolve trauma doesn't mean I do not have loving connected, honest and real relationships... or that because I do I don't need therapy...

In my opinion there are two essential problems;

1.He centers his own experiences. And while these are important, valuable and also very painful experiences, and it feels much better to hear it form another survivor. They are the experiences of a very privileged white man, so it does mean his personal experience of trauma, and compounded trauma, is limited.

Though he gives lip service to the notion of how damaging sexual abuse can be or extreme forms of physical/domestic violence, he does not describe how in detail. As these are outside of his experience, even though he occasionally mentions case histories the emotional and relational impact is his theme, nothing specific.

He does not pay much heed to the compounding of the trauma, that occurs from not having the same opportunities and degree of safety he enjoyed, which cPTSD dx was initially all about.


2.In an effort to universalize his own experience and make cPTSD universally applicable, he also forgets the essentially political nature of the term and who it is for, and what it intended to center.

Judith Herman coined the term cPTSD for a number of reasons:

a. To make VISIBLE the epidemic of sexual abuse and incest against children and to stop the negative pathologization of survivors in medicine, specifically addressing the problems and stigmas with the Borderline Diagnosis.

b.To put domestic violence up there with the impacts of war. To BREAK THE SILENCE about domestic violence and sexual violence. And give survivors a voice and dignity in the public sphere.

c. And to discuss the impact of long term traumatization and compounding of trauma, which often occurs when people are being oppressed. In other words pointing out that the problem is systemic, not personal.

It might feel radical to say that emotional abandonment is the essence of what cPTSD is about. And in many ways that is true, ( thank you Alice Miller). But what is false is to imagine that the extremity of the impact of sexual/domestic violence is discussed and understood at large in our society, and that all it is a side issue that complicates the syndrome of cPTSD a bit. And this is one size fits all.

I don't feel seen a lot. What I experienced, child trafficking, incest and severe misogyny/sexism, is NEVER discussed except with ignorance and sensationalism or with negative stereotypes. Judith Hermans description of cPTSD and the context she framed it in was one of the few times in my life that I felt completely seen and understood - not just as someone who suffers, but someone who is in a world like ours and in terms of my identity. There is still a real problem with finding therapists who can deal with what I lived through. It's a systemic problem, people just don't want to hear or know, and don't know and haven't heard... the cPTSD diagnosis was not just intended as a personal label to understand ourselves more generously but a tool for social change. To reform psychotherapy and psychiatry.

To me, the work by Pete Walker, has wonderful insights. Obviously the author has done a lot of great healing work for himself and others, he has helped me so much too. Vitally, he has broken some important silences about emotional healing, especially for men. However, his personal 'traumatic' experiences are not unspeakable, they wouldn't shut up everyone in the room, or make your, until then, best friend never speak to you again because they have no idea how to relate to you - because you are invisible when you become a victim of "those types" of abuse, worse some people immediately see you as incompetent or inferior because you are a survivor of any form of sexual assault or severe domestic violence as an adult or a child. It just does my head in that someone writes about a label and owns it so deeply but sort of side steps why it exists and who for. And gets a lot wrong about people who have been more severely impacted or less privileged than he in the process.

Angry feeling here.. Spectrum my big toe... this diagnosis was not meant to be for him, or people like him, it was to represent the voiceless and the invisible. The unspeakable in our society. It was not only about our relational attachment to our parents, it was how the severe violence in the domestic sphere needs to be seen heard and understood in terms of it's impact on individuals AND our communities. It was about making 'private'/ swept under the carpet/ denied 'everyday' violence like incest and severe child abuse visible, and the victim blaming in psychiatry and psychotherapy, a public and social issue. If he doesn't center this and explore it, then I feel he has just appropriated the label and watered it down to 'self help'.
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Kenazandisaz
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by Kenazandisaz » Sun Apr 28, 2019 12:28 am

That's a detailed, thoughtful and balanced review. Nicely done.

It's been a while since I read the book but I remember being unimpressed and feeling like it didn't speak to me or reflect my experiences. I didn't like how much of it was narrative driven rather than evidence based, particularly the trauma 'types'. That really got on my nerves.

I think the lack of awareness of privilege and of wider systemic issues is a problem through much of the therapeutic and self help fields and I'm glad to see you calling that out. Erasure of those most severely impacted by trauma is not good enough, and I agree that it reads as appropriative.

Also nice to see you acknowledge the things you found good and helpful.

Thank you.
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Xanthia
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by Xanthia » Sun Apr 28, 2019 2:30 am

Thanks Earthhhorse. You finally put sense into my feelings when people who were not seriously abused say something along the lines of " that happened decades ago; surely they can let it go...." This to victims saying about nightly terror or some other debilitating symptoms.

In my case, Dad abusing Mum when both in 20s is very different brain impact for parents compared to my being preschool age.

Perhaps another aspect is gender? Or what else might be going on? I'm thinking if Pete Walker had significant adults offering sufficient positive input, that might alter perspective?

There are many wonderful comments, thoughtful approaches in his work. However, for some survivors, such as myself, yet another reason for feeling failure in other ways.

A therapeutic relationship for me is very different from a friendship or romantic partner - there have been times I needed to focus with a T, yet ignore those aspects in order to enjoy being social.

Very much appreciate your balanced post. Thank you.
Xanthia

earthhorse
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by earthhorse » Sun Apr 28, 2019 2:00 pm

Hi Kenazandisaz,

Thank you so much for your feedback and validation! Outside of speaking to the kind of depression I experience, I too did not feel seen or understood either, though I have had the cPTSD dx for over 15 years!

I was a little worried I would offend people as it appears this book is a bit of a darling to some which is why I decided to read it.

I think what people forget is that psychotherapy/psychiatry has not historically been a friendly science but one that has been weaponized against people who do not fall in line with powers interests or social norms. Instead of protecting vulnerable people’s interests, it has done the opposite. It is not necessarily benevolent. And has only become more so due to struggles by people like Judith Herman or others like Franz Fanon.

I have felt keenly aware, that I needed to work with people/therapists who knew this and tried to address and overcome mistakes int he past and use psychotherapy as a tool for liberation and empowerment. Who would understand that my distress was environmental not a personal flaw, and the social pressure to keep me silent and my experiences invisible was holding me down.

In the past, still to this day in some places, and in very recent history in others. Psychiatry was a way to imprison people without trial and a space where there was unchecked human experiments, torture, horrendous neglect and systemic dehumanization. Along with rampant physical and sexual abuse of inmates in asylums. My aunt J. was killed by an (accidental(?)) overdose of psychotropic drugs administered to her by a nurse, at 18 years old in 1968. I just found out that this was a very common occurrence at the time, costing many lives. Why? Because they would keep patients drugged all day as a matter of course - it was the prevailing 'theory' at the time.

Today I think the erasure of certain kinds of abuse stories is alarming, I have noticed the same trend in Peter Levine’s work on PTSD. I think people like Pete Walker are actually being quite harmful by ignoring our realities, and misrepresenting our distress and symptoms or not mentioning them at all. They want their own distress to be seen and feel to do so, means de-centering other forms of abuse that the diagnosis was attempting to address and center.

I live in a place where 100.000 Jewish people were sent to their deaths from my city alone during WW2. 10 % of the population at the time. When the few, but still thousands of survivors returned with severe trauma of the death camps, there was nowhere for them to receive treatment and they were treated resentfully for having 'special ' needs - no one wanted to hear their stories, because many of the people living int he city had either actively collaborated in sending them and their families to their deaths, stolen their property or stood by and watched it happen without doing anything to help - with the refrain well everyone has had a hard time in this war - you are no different. The few remaining people in the Jewish community were treated abominably and had to struggle for well over a decade for any kind of recognition of the impact on their lives and their needs. Costing many more survivors lives in the process, and exposing them to still more untold cruelties.

Judith Herman, writing at the time of the false memory syndrome back lash in the 90s. begins her treatise in Trauma and Recovery - where she coins the term cPTSD, with an overview of historical amnesia of the link between acute distress in adults as a result of child sexual abuse and incest and domestic violence. And outlines that something so prevalent and of this proportion can no longer be ignored and that ignoring it means a lot of people are not receiving the right treatment, or are doomed to a life of unnecessary suffering - many, like famously Sylvia Plaith and Virginia Wolff lose their lives as a result. She identifies this kind of abuse as atrocity.
Atrocities are actions so horrifying they go beyond words. For people who witness or experience atrocities, there is a kind of silencing that comes from not knowing how to put these experiences into words. At the same time, atrocities are the crimes perpetrators most want to hide. This creates a powerful convergence of interest: No one wants to speak about them. No one wants to remember them. Everyone wants to pretend they didn’t happen[..]

In order to escape accountability, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure no one listens.”
- Judith Herman

Misrepresenting, underrepresenting or silencing the reality of these kinds of 'unspeakable' abuse is not a neutral position.


Also, Herman makes distinctions... much abuse can be recovered from, however.
...not all traumas are equal. Diana and I took a look at the factors that seemed to lead to long-lasting impact, and they were the kinds of things you would expect. Women who reported prolonged, repeated abuse by someone close–father, stepfather, or another member of the immediate family–abuse that was very violent, that involved a lot of bodily invasion, or that involved elements of betrayal were the ones who had the most difficulty recovering.
CPTSD was about those of us who have the most difficulty recovering... it was a way to make rape culture and domestic violence visible, and align it with other socially recognized forms of atrocity and violence and address it in order to help end the violence and allow survivors to heal, because in order to do so...
The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience. Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity.
"
And it certainly was about power and the political dimensions of suppressing history.

Another book I found very useful on the way silence is manufactured was "The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory" by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

I think any liberation struggle begins to fail when it does not center, or duly recognize the impact, on the most vulnerable.

Oh, apologies for this diatribe. Looks like this hit on a huge sore spot for me (many actually).

Thanks again for engaging!

Love,
EH
"One kind word can warm three winter months"

earthhorse
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by earthhorse » Sun Apr 28, 2019 4:05 pm

Hi Xanthia,

Yes I totally hear you. cPTSD is now, its not about the past it's here and now.

I mean I really get into Pete Walkers discussion on how to handle self hate and depressive feelings, inner child work and even social anxiety. Even so though, though this also felt a bit off as so much of that work, has to do with dissociation - and nothing in the book adequately describes this, and even gets it very wrong as his description of the 'freeze type' indicates. I was just waiting for him to speak to the kind of flashbacks I experience. Or not to be so judgemental of people who are obviously more deeply impacted than he. But this did not happen.

I hope I am not being over sensitive, or too dismissive, but I am so tired of the erasure and de-legitimization of my experiences. I feel a bit defensive of this dx. it is intended to underline the severity of what happened. Not flatten all experiences to the same level. And hold those of us in contempt with deeper levels of struggle and fewer opportunities for 'not getting it', because it doesn't fit us - it was meant to be for 'us', but now it isn't, so again we are made to feel like the faulty ones. There seems to be this two edged sword of either people stigmatizing mental distress/ mental health issues as a result of compounded trauma, or trivializing them.

Thanks also for your kind and validating reply.

Love,
EH
"One kind word can warm three winter months"

Jitterbug
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by Jitterbug » Mon Apr 29, 2019 4:11 pm

Dear EH,

Thank you for your thoughtful and welcome reflections regarding the works of both Peters (Walker & Levine). I share many of your observations and to have that voiced by you has been empowering for me. I felt deeply unheard and unseen and also something of a failure after reading their works - while I also, like you, felt that there was so much that was positive, insightful and helpful in their works, it has been hard to internalise those insights amidst such conflicting other thoughts and feelings I had as I read.

I am aware that I have lumped them (the Peters) together, and I apologise for that as they are 2 distinct authors with differing books and it is a while since I read them both, so I guess I'm being a bit intellectually lazy in not differentiating. My head is bit too foggy at the moment would perhaps be a more kind interpretation. Hmm...

Anyhow, I find that I keep going back to Bessel Van der Kolk's "The Body Keeps The Score" - really feeling seen and heard there and gently accepted. The "barrister" (a previously powerful and not always very helpful part of me) appreciates the accessible detailing of the neurological science and evidence based research too!

Just seen I need to run my son to a class.

Guess I want to end with another thank you - for challenging the silencing and to let you know that I do see and hear you. Profoundly. You are pretty remarkable.

With much warmth,

Jitterbug

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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by Kenazandisaz » Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:31 am

Please don’t apologise. That was glorious. You express the issues so beautifully. I agree with you very strongly, about everything.

If I start ranting about Freud I might never stop. The thing that enrages me the most is that he not only set back understanding of survivors at the time but stalled research and therapeutic advances for decades. Fifty years and more. The field is still recovering and struggling to shake off the damage he did. He caused untold numbers of survivors to be retraumatised and gaslit by the very people who were supposed to be helping them. It’s unforgivable.

I think Walker is reinforcing the perfect victim myth. It’s ok to be a survivor if you are meek, plucky, relatable, uncomplicated, and inspiring. Not so much if your distress is too great, or you aren’t seen as innocent enough, or you are complicated, or your experiences are so awful that people can’t bear to hear about them, or if they are so awful you can’t articulate them, or if you are inconvenient and messy and you don’t perform your distress in the ways that are acceptable.

I agree that he is culpable in not using his position of relative privilege to advocate for and centre the experiences and voices of those who are more severely traumatised than himself. In advocating for ‘good’ survivors at the expense of ‘problematic’ ones, which is how I see his bashing of borderline and narcissistic survivors and his erasure of dissociative survivors, he is making himself part of the problem.

Reminds me of the punching down I see in other communities that fight oppression. Throwing the people next to you under the bus. I know transphobia hurts more when it happens in LGBT spaces. It hurts more to be rejected, attacked, misunderstood and erased in the spaces that are supposed to be safe. This feels very like that. If progress is zero-sum, it isn’t progress.

There is an issue here as well of control of survivor narratives. There should be nothing about us without us. There are too many people in the field (not Walker specifically, but I don’t think he’s doing enough to combat the issue) who are making their careers off of speaking over us, and they seem to want a medal for it. To me, it looks like dissecting us and defining the narratives that are used to understand and respond to survivors, often without reference to our understanding of ourselves. It looks objectifying, controlling and exploitative and I’m not here for it.

It seems like a lot of the current leaders in the field want to learn from the most severely traumatised, the survivors who have lived at the sharpest end of the wedge, and use that to help people who are not us. To heal simpler traumas and to better understand the processes of the worried well. It looks like using and discarding us. Scrutinising us to see what they can learn about processes that are writ large in us, and then paying us back by writing off the most wounded and consistently failing the most in need of help.

I get cranky about this stuff too.

Edited to change a poor word choice.
Last edited by Kenazandisaz on Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by Kenazandisaz » Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:41 am

It's nice to see big underlying political and systemic issues being talked about. I should say, also, that I don't think Walker's book is without merit. Clearly, he does speak to a lot of people's experiences and his writing has helped a great many people. I would never judge anyone who is struggling for finding help, understanding and solidarity anywhere they can. Things don't have to be perfect or for everyone to be helpful and it's ok to like the book, to have found it helpful and to continue to treasure and enjoy it.
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by EasyStreet » Tue Apr 30, 2019 1:34 am

Kenazandisaz wrote:
Tue Apr 30, 2019 12:31 am

It’s ok to be a survivor if you are meek, plucky, relatable, uncomplicated, and inspiring. Not so much if your distress is too great, or you aren’t seen as innocent enough, or you are complicated, or your experiences are so awful that people can’t bear to hear about them, or if they are so awful you can’t articulate them, or if you are inconvenient and messy and you don’t perform your distress in the ways that are acceptable.

Yes, I agree

(edited for clarity and to change mt to nt)
EasyStreet
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Re: What I love and don't quite trust about Pete Walkers book COMPLEX PTSD from surviving to thriving

Post by coconuts » Tue Apr 30, 2019 2:19 am

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through this. I haven't read through too many books. I have read " The Body Keeps the score". Which I found very enlightening because if it's scientific backing and a part of me that is super nerdy I guess. I have only barely started reading Pete Walkers book. From what I have read I have felt this confusion. I have appreciated some of what he has said and been a bit outside of the theory too. As if I don't quite fit in anywhere. It highlights a bit how abnormal I am and feel for the trauma I have endured. And it oversimplifies my experiences. Assuming that I am easily fixed if I just recognize these principles and well what is wrong if I am not easily fixed? Is my trauma too great? I already know people don't like to know about it. That people don't like to admit to the idea that a human being could be that cruel to another let alone a child. It's like they look upon me with some sort of pity and disgust for the things I have experienced.
And I have not read a lot of information about dissociation.

That is why I value this forum so much. To feel so connected and almost normal for what I've been through and the result.. to recognize similarities in stories. To share my horrors with people who don't doubt its truth because it's too out there. And to recognize the horrors others have experienced and all the ugliness that comes with it, without shrinking away in disgust.

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