Heal the Emotional Pain Connected to Complex PTSD

August 3, 2019 Traci Powell

It takes time, but you can heal the emotional pain of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Living with PTSD brings intense emotional pain. Complex PTSD comes from many incidences of interpersonal trauma. This results in often unbearable hurt as you consider all of the people in your life who have let you down or abused you. Sometimes, it can feel as if it's a gaping wound in your soul that will never heal. 

Even after a lot of emotional healing, I still have that ache that clenches my chest every now and then. Just when I start to believe I've released all of the hurt, a sight, smell, sound or look in someone's eye brings it back. While I manage my reaction to those triggers much better than I used to, they still bring pain with them, if even just for a minute. 

Triggering, Not Healing the Emotional Pain of PTSD

My abuse often came after my abusers tricked me with nice words or fake acts of kindness. Today, those things trigger my fear brain. While I know logically that nice words and acts of kindness today are not ill-intended like they were in my childhood, my brain is having trouble catching up to the message that it's safe to trust no harm will follow them. 

Good equals bad in my brain. So, in my life today, happiness itself is a trigger, and I've recently come to realize my worst depressive episodes happen when things are going great in my life. My subconscious mind is trying to protect me because it believes bad things will follow.

When I'm triggered that subconscious moment always comes that says "Horrible things happened to you. How could you think it's alright to be happy and not be in extreme pain?"

So, I find myself shutting down the good that is coming in and getting pulled to the dark side. That is the opposite of healing emotional pain.

The Difficulty of Healing from Emotional Pain with PTSD

Emotional pain can actually be worse than physical pain because people often judge those who live with devastating emotional pain, suggesting if the person would just "look on the bright side" or "stop dwelling on it," they could easily bounce back and all would be right with the world. 

Even after some serious work to repair the wound and heal the pain, unlike most physical injuries, emotional wounds may be ripped wide open again and again. Deep hurts from childhood are especially vulnerable to tearing open, which is why during my happiest of times, the pain I feel can be the most unbearable.

No one would tell someone with a broken leg, "Hey, you don't need help. Just look on the bright side -- you have another leg!" They wouldn't say, "You just need to take your mind off of the fact that you can no longer walk."

Instead, the person with the broken leg would be taken for help. Their pain would be managed and their injury mended. When you live with intense emotional pain, you have just as much right to healing as someone with a physical problem.

How to Heal the Emotional Pain of PTSD

Heal the Emotional Pain of PTSD by First Learning to Lessen It

As a survivor of childhood abuse, you can get stuck in black-and-white thinking and believe that unless your pain is completely gone, you will never be healed. Maybe though, it's not about the pain being completely gone. You have a right to hurt over the bad things that were done to you. Maybe it's more about finding a way to lessen the intensity of the pain so it doesn't completely overwhelm you. 

It's important to find a space in the middle of black and white where life isn't extremely happy or extremely sad. When I stop judging myself and the pain I experience but instead listen to my gut that says I'm allowed to feel bad about what happened to me, my heavy load feels a little lighter. When I embrace the little girl in me the holds all of the pain in my chest, I lift her spirits. She and I have a good cry together, pick up the pieces and go on until it's time to do it again. 

As humans, we have a natural drive to run from pain but that doesn't heal emotional pain. The problem is when good things of today trigger that pain, your natural drive can also become running from positive experiences because you don't want to feel the pain that you know will follow. This keeps you from having access to good feelings, though, which are the antidotes to your pain. Sometimes, you can get so stuck on the hamster wheel of running from the pain that you may never let in joy or even a smile.

Heal the Emotional Pain of PTSD 20 Seconds at a Time

When you allow yourself to feel the bad stuff, you take away its power. You learn it will not break you. Allowing yourself to take in the good stuff fills up the spaces that right now may only hold fear, shame, and pain. 

If you can allow yourself just 15 to 20 seconds of taking in good things, like compliments and positive experiences, your brain literally begins to rewire itself. It begins to see things in a new light and learns that it doesn't immediately have to prepare to fight to save you from the bad it believes will follow. 

Even if you can't believe the good is real in that one moment, over time, the 15 to 20 second moments add up. Your brain will begin to change and the message that you are safe and can be happy will eventually set in. Eventually, the good will outweigh the pain, so when the hurt you feel starts to sneak in, having access to the pile of the good of today helps keep the pain from yesterday from hurting quite so much. 

So, this is my challenge to myself. I am choosing to not immediately run away from compliments or good experiences in my life. It's been challenging. My instinctual drive to run for my life still kicks in. I'm learning though, that I don't need to give in to that urge. My world doesn't collapse just because I took 20 seconds to be in the moment. Even more, I'm learning that even though the pain may always be nearby, I have the capacity to acknowledge it, sooth it and then move on until the next time. In this way, I'm slowly healing my emotional pain.

Try to apply this challenge to your life. When someone says something nice to you or a good thing happens, give yourself just 20 seconds to be in the moment. You don't have to be filled with warm fuzzies. Just don't allow yourself to run away. Only for 20 seconds. Over time, as you keep allowing in the good of today, when the pain of yesterday starts to creep in, you will know that you can handle it. In time, you can heal the emotional pain of PTSD.

APA Reference
Powell, T. (2019, August 3). Heal the Emotional Pain Connected to Complex PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from

Author: Traci Powell

Find Traci on TwitterFacebook and on her blog.

Michelle ollerenshaw
August, 3 2019 at 3:58 pm
Very helpful post it's so true with complex PTSD to blame yourself for all the abuse you endured you feel guilt because you not functioning properly affects the people closest to you and you feel shame because you feel like you allowed this to happen and wasn't strong enough to stop the abuse I live in hope that one day this will get better x

Leave a reply