Complex PTSD and Hypervigilance

By Michele Nieves | Narcissist Traits

Jul 31

Is your brain stuck and over reactive?

One of the side effects of Cptsd is hypervigilance.
By definition hypervigilance is the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat.

Someone suffering with this may have sleep disturbance, irritability, hypervigelence, be easily startled and battling ptsd flashbacks or Cptsd emotional flashbacks.
This happens because the alarm system in your brain is malfunctioning due to trauma.

When trauma gets lodged into our brain – and we haven’t been able to integrate and process it – it can so strongly effect the limbic network to the point that our built-in security system becomes overloaded and over reactive.

This is understandable if the Cptsd you are experiencing is due to prolonged, chronic emotional manipulatin and or abuse. Living with toxic individuals whose whole goal in life is to provoke and extract a negative emotional response from you – forces you to feel as though every day you are walking through an emotional mine field – literally anything and everything can cause an explosion with no warning whatsoever.

Living like that for a pro-longed period of time causes your alarm system to seriously malfunction. In fact, you no longer were living your life…. No – you began to simply avoid danger. Every day started and ended with the same ruminating thoughts – what’s his/her mood? What do I have to do to make sure he/she doesn’t explode? If I do this, s/he will get mad. If I talk with this close friend or family member, s/he will scream and explode. If I’m happy s/he will get angry and insulting. Every minute of life became a strategic attempt to avoid anger, the silent treatment, insults, or worse. The alarm system in your brain became turned on 24/7 days a week – flooding your body with stress hormones like cortisol.

Imagine how disruptive your life would be if you had a faulty alarm system on your home that was constantly blaring 24/7 – you wouldn’t be able to concentrate or feel at peace inside, you would get no sleep, it would be nearly impossible to enjoy the company of a dear friend or family member, you would be irritable and rather than enjoy life you would be tolerating it.
Something similar happens when the alarm in your limbic system is blaring 24/7 – and what makes the matter worse is that the initial trauma creates a biasing imprint in the limbic network and once that happens almost anything can then become categorized as a threat – so what happens is that our body and mind start manifesting more and more symptoms of stress.

To top it all off – even if you manage to break out of the toxic relationship, friendship or work relationship – the limbic network is not like a rubber band, it does not simply spring back to normal. Your brain will stay stuck in this heightened state of hypervigilance, fear and anxiety until you learn how to turn off the alarm.

If this resonates with you – there is hope!! I’m going to share with you 5 tips that helped me conquer hypervigelance:

1. BREATHING. Diaphragmatic breathing is the fastest way to calm your nervous system. But most people only begin to apply this at the moment the hypervigilance is at it’s highest point which is very difficult. The key to healing is to make diaphragmatic breathing an every day part of your life. As soon as you wake up, take 2-3 diaphragmatic breaths and allow yourself a moment to feel how relaxed it feels just after finishing. Before you eat – take 2 -3 diaphragmatic breaths, while driving to work, and definitely before bed. In order for you to re-train your nervous system you can’t do this exercise once a week or even once a day – engaging in diaphragmatic breathing several times through out the day, every day will re-train your nervous system.
2. THERE IS A DEEP NEED TO TURN YOUR IRRITATION AT YOURSELF INTO GENUINE SELF-COMPASSION. When we first experience hypervigilance and all the stress and anxiety that comes with it – it’s so easy to get angry at yourself, to get frustrated at the new challenges you are facing and how they are affecting your life, to feel afraid of what next your brain is going to get scared of. The problem is that irritation strengthens the broken limbic network. The more we repeat things like: I used to be so comfortable driving over bridges or being around people, and now I’m so scared. Or I hate that I can’t drive over bridges or be around people anymore – the more we repeat things that like we are accidentally strengthening the neurology that causes us to feel fear and anxiety. The more we stare at the damage that’s done due to this faulty network the more our brain takes notice of it and continues to replicate it.
3. Become a detective. Make a list of the triggers. Usually the first trigger sets off a chain reaction that feels impossible to break out of – this is called a limbic system trauma loop. For ex: You are going to a public situation and on the way they way there a thought enters your mind… what if I can’t talk normally, what if I have a panic attack? That one thought can be a trigger that sends you spiraling down – they’re going to think this or that of me. I used to be so calm , I used to be normal, I hate myself I can’t believe I’m like this, why did this have to happen to me and each thought creates more stress and anxiety and by the time you get to the social event your body is already prepared to become a self fulfilling prophecy. So then what’s the point of making a list of your triggers? Well, it’s important to STOP the loop from fulfilling its circuitry. Once you know all of your triggers ….. whenever one comes up you do something to break the loop.
Some people have a rubber band around their wrist and they flick it and repeat a statement like be gone thought. Others learn a statement like – stop stop stop my brain is stuck in a rut and it’s sending me false messages. Others use an NLP technique of changing modalities and hear a phrase in a silly voice: I love and accept myself no matter what. It doesn’t matter what or how you say it as long as you find something that works for you that enables you to break the loop. Then be prepared to do this every day as often as possible – the more times you can break the trauma loop from finishing it’s circle the quicker you can break out of limbic system loops.
4. Remind your body of what calm feels like. When we are stuck in hypervigilance our brain has memorized the chemicals needed to feel anxiety, fear, stress etc. Make a list of your favorite memories and then rehearse them in your mind in the first person – I am… I feel…. In other words see the memory as if it were happening now in the moment and then spend time bringing up the good emotions that that memory evokes. Feel peace run through your body, feel excitement feel happiness – remind your body how to get there by spending time remembering your positive memories.
5. Laugh. When I was stuck in hypervigilance I’m not sure how long passed with me not laughing – all I know is that I didn’t laugh, I was too stuck in hypervigilance to laugh. In order to heal – we can’t wait for the body to be ready to laugh again – that will never happen. We have to think greater than our feelings and find things to laugh about…. Even when the body prefers to stay anxious, fearful and/or angry. Laugh daily!!

It’s not easy to heal the brain after trauma – but it is possible – and life gets better and better!!!

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About the Author

Nobody understands what you're going through more than someone who has been there. I grew up with narcissistic family member and had intimate relationships with malignant narcissists. For the majority of my healing journey, I felt as if I was all alone. I now dedicate my life to being the person for others, that I needed on my own healing journey, so that YOU never feel alone.