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Complex PTSD

Finding a Sense of Wholeness

Complex PTSD, self-compassion, and self-marveling.

Key points

  • Grieving for what's been lost is a necessary part of healing from Complex PTSD.
  • Yet, as self-compassion grows in the grief process, other possibilities emerge for a sense of wholeness.
  • Self-marveling is a way of finding a more complete perspective of ourselves and the gifts we can reclaim now.

On the recovery road of healing from Complex PTSD (CPTSD), there is much grieving for what we’ve lost. What we’ve lost in time, our own potential, opportunities, relationships, or even a simple peace within ourselves free of shame and anger. It’s necessary and central to healing to remember, and to feel our way through, deep sadness. Naming this kind of grieving “self-sorrowing,” Pete Walker writes it’s “…one of the most beautiful and restorative of emotional experiences. There is nothing in the world more centering than a good unabashed cry about one's troubles. Nothing dissolves the awful abandonment pain of the inner child like a good cry for the self." Grieving for what was lost, what was unnecessarily endured, what had to be forfeited or never-realized in our own potential is all a critical part of healing.

At the same time…

Healing is not only a slog through solitary, unremitting sadness. As a counterpoint to necessary self-sorrowing, there are moments of what one of my clients calls, “self-marveling.” “Self-marveling” becomes possible as self-compassion grows, most particularly compassion for the wounded parts of ourselves revealed through our self-sorrowing. I’ve witnessed these moments in the progress of a client’s healing when there’s a sort of “consolidation” of experience; it’s a reunion of various parts of ourselves and experiences that have come before, allowing a sense of wholeness. These are moments where self-compassion has begun to find some measure of footing in an arid landscape previously littered with self-loathing, and devoid of human kindness. These moments are guideposts along the healing route signaling some hopeful progress.

They are not singularly brilliant or joyous moments. They are more like moments where one rises to the emotional equivalent of a 20,000-foot bird's eye view and sees the whole of what life has been – challenging, painful, a series of psychic tsunamis or repeated descents into, and ascents from, depths of struggle. In those moments there can be an acute and painful awareness of what the younger parts of ourselves had to navigate in our family, community, and culture.

Luiz Clas/Pexels
Luiz Clas/Pexels

There can also be an acute awareness of the brilliance of the young parts of us who survived in spite of it all; the toddler, school age or teenage parts of us who survived creatively, perseveringly, and by finding nourishing resources wherever they could… through imagination, books, art, music, teachers, work, school, sports, or friends. In this space of self-marveling, we can connect with the exiled young parts of us who had gifts like humor, originality, tenacity and playfulness. In connecting with these younger aspects of ourselves there’s also the possibility of reclaiming those early gifts for ourselves in the present.

To know more about this process, you may wish to explore the work of Pete Walker or Richard Schwartz. You may also wish learn more about therapeutic work done through Internal Family Systems.

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