Why Does Feeling Better From PTSD Feel So Strange?
Recently I received an email saying, "Now that I'm feeling better from PTSD everything feels so strange. Feeling better feels surreal, and feeling good feels even more surreal. Is this natural in PTSD recovery?"
Yes, it's actually a very common feeling in PTSD recovery. There are some valid reasons why feeling better feels strange, and some easy ways to make feeling better from PTSD feel more normal.
PTSD is more than just a diagnosis or mental illness, it's a lifestyle. With posttraumatic stress you live every moment feeling, seeking and identifying the origin of danger, threat, and fear. That's your new normal.
Oppositely, in healing, you release all of those behaviors and begin to live life feeling safe, effective and confident. That's a big change! Especially if you have struggled with PTSD for any length of time, or if you ever despaired that you would never heal, it can seem very surreal to finally feel things changing for the better.
Grounding And Feeling Better from PTSD
To mitigate this surreal feeling so that it becomes more normalized, try this:
Go deeper into that surreal feeling and connect it to the present moment. For example, pause, take a deep breath in, notice the feeling and identify what about the present moment is making it appear and allowing you to feel it so acutely. Is this feeling coming from the people you're with, the place you're in, the thought you just had? Recognizing how your present experience relates to and even causes this feeling of wellbeing does some important things:
- Connects your good feeling to the present moment
- Highlights that your present feels safe
- Forms a new pathway in your mind for feeling good
- Teaches your mind and body that this feeling is real
The more you build on this experience the more you help your brain continue to make the changes that PTSD recovery requires. Research proves that it takes 10-20 seconds of a positive feeling for the brain to record it into a deeper neural structure.
In recovery, you want as many of those experiences as possible as you retrain and rewire the brain to release fear and hypervigilance and embrace safety, calm and control. To take yourself to the next level with this experience focus on that good, surreal feeling for 20, 30 or even 60 seconds to allow your brain to fully record it.
Combining a practice of mindfulness with those surreal good feelings can also be a great way to facilitate creating a grounded centeredness in the feeling itself. There are lots of great mindfulness material online and you may have already become very familiar with this process.
Healing forces you out of your comfort zone and into a place that requires you to feel the opposite of how you've learned to live. The brain will naturally find that unfamiliarity strange. Your job in recovery is to make that feeling familiar so that you develop a comfort level with it -- and keep moving into better and better territory.
Rosenthal, M. (2013, March 27). Why Does Feeling Better From PTSD Feel So Strange?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2013/03/why-does-feeling-better-from-ptsd-feel-so-strange
Author: Michele Rosenthal
My daughter suffers from PTSD she is 14. She has been battling it for about three months. In the pastmt t three weeks I have seen quite a bit of improvement t. But the past couple days she started feeling anxious and panicky is this normal in the recovery process?
Michelle, this is a great observation to share with your daughter's counselor. From my personal experience, recovery is an ongoing process (https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/06/ptsd-recovery-and-the-myth-of-a…). There are going to be days where feelings of anxiety and panic return. An important piece to recovery is knowing they can return and learning how to cope with them when they do. My best wishes for your daughter's continued recovery.
I read your article after Googling "PTSD am I feeling better?"
I was blown away that you captured what I had felt today.
But like many times before, I was actually caught off guard by it and sabotaged myself because I felt I was in the WRONG place in my head.
I am a PTSD sufferer from repeated attempts on my life from infancy by my mother, who also was a sufferer and drug addict, as well as a loving mother and narcissist.
I was raped by a neighbor as a child, and never received treatment. Occult abuse and torture.
Bad experience with religion all together.
Fell in love with the "idea" of God enough to go mental in my opinion.
I was the dutiful son who stayed close by since she was terminal with something my whole life with her.
She died at 51. could not cry. Best first day of the rst of my life I thought.
But nothing in life is forgiving. lol
It did bring things to the surface though.
My older sister had been through much more.
I woke up from nightmares of being held down and suffocated and not breathing, from childhood to about 30. (I am 43).
I was reliving being smothered by my mother while stoned and depressed. My sister stopped her when i was a year old.
My mind was reliving that most every night!
including the inability to move and slipping out of life but not completely.
After finding the link between the dreams and that first of many attempts on my life...I quit having the dreams.
But now I only have 60% lung capacity. But great oxygen absorption. LOL
I am now comfortably and unashamedly Humanist/Atheist.
Artistic, Musician, Never had a day without hypervigilance that I know of...
I have dissociated for so long, I have little to no idea what it must feel like to be as at ease as I see others being.
No point of reference for "when things were better" before...what? when I was conceived. LOL
My wife of 17 years (what a woman) has put up with me becoming nothing like the man she said she married. And still loves me.
I don't know who I was then either. I know a bit more now though.
Job and family do not allow me to get help. But I read a ton.
And your article with the comments struck me.
I give up on myself a lot still. But I focus on fixing what little I know I can with study, meditating (not spiritual) on change I feel is possible for me right now, and Bourbon.
I am having a good feeling day. And want to exploit it before it runs out. You know?
Stretch it out a bit more this time, and a little more next, until bad days are the least of my days.
I am on the winning side of suicidal downs these days.
Fighting to live.
Had to put up my 33 year obsession of guitar and music temporarily, till I can get a bigger place. family of 4 in a 2 bedroom is tight on space.
Your article gave me hope that someone out there gets it.
What books would you recommend for my particular broken parts?LOL
@Matthew, we all feel so isolated and alone but the truth is we're all very similar in PTSD symptoms and experience. To heal your broken parts check out both of my books for inspiration and how-process: http://changeyouchoose.com/book/
Books on C-PTSD and Developmental Trauma, heaps out there.
I am so happy to have found this article as it relates so much with what I am experiencing.
@John -- One of the cruelest aspects of PTSD is that we feel so alone, so isolated and so much like we're the only ones. I'm so glad you found us here! For more information about this and other elements of the PTSD and recovery experience, you might enjoy listening to the podcasts of my radio show where we talk about this and other related subjects: http://www.changeyouchoose.com/archives
Thanks so much Michele, for your blog. I have learned a lot; Could you recommend music cds' for relaxtion, or from anxiety? a natural occurance of PTSD. Thanks' so much. Rich
@Rich -- I'm so glad the blog resonates with you. :)
For music relaxation CDs if it's possible I would suggest heading to your local Barnes and Noble. In the music section the store should have a station where you can preview any album they're selling. There's a section for meditation and relaxation CDs; take a listen to the previews and see what hits the tone you're seeking.
Online my favorite source of relaxation and destress CDs is Belleruth Naparstek. She's really the guru in that area and her CDs include powerful guided imagery too. Scroll down to see all of the options that might appeal to you: http://www.healthjourneys.com/MainCategory.aspx?mcid=1
You can also listen to my interview with Belleruth to get a sense of who she is and why her CDs are so highly regarded in the trauma industry: http://yourlifeaftertrauma.com/belleruth-naparstek/
This was the subject of my last t session, as well as what it is like to remain as a changed person in an unchanged environment. My family has adjusted their patterns to my changes, but they haven't experienced change. In several places my husband and I are now in separate worlds. Since my trauma is childhood and I have coped through dissociation, I am a person neither of us have known until now.
Using your living with the positive feeling for 20 seconds, I have just enjoyed the facebook banter around watching peeps joust in the microwave with toothpicks! Letting the light and happy moments sink into the brain makes a ton of difference, moving them from the isolated flashes to the anticipated norm.
Each step of recovery is its own challenge.
@Susan -- I'm thrilled to hear that you're moving into a space of feeling so good! It would be natural for you and your husband to seem in separate worlds right now as you both learn and navigate the new changes. How can you introduce him to the new you? If you were just meeting for the first time how would you relate to each other? A new first date (where you both arrive separately at an agreed location) might be a fun way to recreate a fresh way of relating to each other.
My partner and I went through similar growing pains as I had to explain to him that now that I'm different he's got to relate to me differently. He's always been super supportive but as I grew my perspective on my life and what I wanted shifted and he has had to learn, adapt and grow with me. Happily, we've both made a successful effort at doing that together.
Here's to many more happy moments that sink down deep into your so-deserving soul!