I talk with survivors of complex trauma all day. While we all have a past, those of us with complex trauma have a haunting past. It is like living our worst day over and over again despite what is actually happening in the present moment. And that worst day is bad. We feel stuck in the past. We feel stuck in traumatic experiences. But even on the good days, there is a feeling of “stuck”. It is one of the most common feelings we have. It seems that life is not moving forward. It seems that we will never get where we are going. We don’t really even know where that is. But when we bring awareness to what is happening, we can begin to make movements forward. If you are a survivor of complex trauma, here are seven reasons you may feel stuck.
- Your emotions are flashbacks. Unless you are going through a traumatic event in your current life, your emotional state is likely a flashback. Traumatic emotions don’t need dramatic triggers to come to the surface. Often you don’t see the patterns and events that cause them to rise up. You can spend your days in an emotional state stemming from an unresolved past and you don’t realize it. This will cause you to repeat the patterns that started in childhood. And you can struggle to get out of the patterns because your emotional state manifests them.
- You unconsciously believe you need to repeat the past to resolve it. I am not suggesting you are walking through life with a conscious desire to repeat the past. Nobody wants that. But you likely have a very active unconscious world. It is often full of unwarranted self-blame. And you have at least one inner child who wants to figure out what they did wrong. So you will unconsciously choose situations that repeat the past in an attempt to figure out what went wrong. This never works because you didn’t do anything wrong. The abusers from your past were never going to give you what you needed. And the abusers in the current moment aren’t either.
- You think that numb is better than feeling. If you experienced trauma in childhood, the emotions would have overwhelmed you. As a young child, you could not have resolved that trauma and expressed those emotions as you needed. So you numbed out. Now you have defenses that tell you those emotions are dangerous. In reality, they are not. The defenses are much more dangerous to your quality of life. But that’s hard to believe at this point in your journey. Without expressing the emotions of the past, you cannot stop it from dictating the current moment. Those emotions might even be affecting how you feel physically which will definitely make you stuck.
- You are distracted by perfectionism and the need for approval. When your inner world is tumultuous, you may have moved your focus to the external world. You may believe you can resolve the pain of past losses by gaining approval from the outside world. You may build up a perfect mask with a perfect life, but it always feels like a fight. You are fighting against the inner turmoil from an unresolved past while trying to show the world that you are fine, maybe better than fine. But you exhaust yourself with external things instead of exploring and healing your inner world.
- You believe you are not worthy of more in life. A lack of worthiness is one of the most common blocks to a good and purposeful life. It is shrouded in futility and it tells you not to bother. If you don’t deserve it, there is no point in trying. You stop yourself before you even try. While you may power through this feeling with perfectionism, it is always there blocking those daring steps you know you want to take.
- You feel powerless. The futility of powerlessness is an incredibly common reaction to a childhood of trauma. And it is there for all of us to some degree. If you believe you don’t have the power to manifest what you want, you won’t start. But this powerlessness comes from childhood when you really didn’t have power. It is an emotional flashback that doesn’t apply to today. You will only become unstuck when you take time to question the powerless thoughts that come up when you try to take a powerful step.
- You don’t remember what happened to you. Trauma leads to dissociation. Dissociation is not only for those with severe trauma. Dissociation lives in all of us to some degree. It runs on a continuum. It can be as simple as leaving the keys in the fridge or distracting yourself with thoughts and lists all the way to work. But it is likely that something from childhood is not living in your conscious mind. It sits beneath the surface creating patterns. And when this happens, you are left scratching your head. “Why does this keep happening to me?”
One of the most powerful steps you can take in life is to pay attention. What is happening beneath the surface of your conscious mind? How are you distracting yourself with external things? How are you stopping yourself before you take that courageous step? If you slow down and take some time to get to know yourself on a deeper level, you can start unraveling what keeps you stuck and moving forward with the life you want.
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Thank you Elisabeth, that makes so much sense. It can be difficult to identify the reasons for being stuck.
I can relate to #5. In fact, I remember setting the intention that I was going to go snowboarding one day. I got up in the morning and it was beautiful ‘bluebird skies’, the best for snowboarding! However, I could sense resistance. Something was holding me back although there was no evident reason for it. There was no present reason why I could not go.
So I inquired…”What is stopping me from going snowboarding?” I heard a response, “It is pointless.” It is the first time I heard this voice. I attempted to inquire further. First, I thanked the part for sharing, then I asked, “Why is it pointless?” For a while I did not receive an answer. I could sense possibly she did not want to answer and then she said, “I can’t have fun. I am not allowed to have fun.”
I never did go that day which is kinda sad but I am grateful for the opening. For the conversation to start. Now I can speak to that part and we can work on recognizing the feelings from the past and allowing new feelings for the present/future.
Your light leads the way Elisabeth. Much gratitude 🙂
That is such an amazing connection Wendy! I am glad you found this part even though it came at the expense of your snowboard trip. Thank you so much for your comment. Your perspective is so helpful here.
As always your words resonate deeply. I’m tempted to skip this general comment until i have time to share my deepest thoughts. But just to show my gratitude i post now.
I honestly don’t know when I’ll be out of freeze and disassociation enough to drop the time excuse and write more.
Thank you for being a valuable support on my healing journey.
Thank you so much Pearl! Time is such a huge barrier for our healing after complex trauma.
What a beautiful analysis…..i can relate to this..i am emotionally stuck in my teenage…at my 15….till then i am suffer from non stability,mood swings..i become a appreciation seeker….i need appreciation from other’s.. can’t move forward, can’t trust myself, can’t start anything in my life… everything becomes like unfulfilled’
Nice post… really helpful for self searching…good job👍
I am so glad you liked it. I am sorry you have struggled with these responses to trauma.
Omg this is me exactly.
This particular entry is very powerful for me right now. I have lost yet another significant relationship (this time a 12 step sponsor) due to my seeming co-dependent tactics ie. manipulation, distancing, attention seeking (game playing) and inability to stay focused on ‘new’ behaviours.
I am heartbroken and I feel so broken, hopeless, and of course, not good enough. My protector is rising to the challenge in her usual manner of ‘take no prisoners’ and my young pre-teen who holds the shame is overwhelmed with where to put it all. Then comes ‘Facts’ who operates from zero emotions and only rational facts. As you can imagine, I am in a whirlwind at the moment.
Thank you for having written this Elisabeth, I am grateful for you.
I am so sorry this happened Trina! Relationships are so difficult after complex trauma. Our parts will use all sorts of tactics to get love and they aren’t usually the most grounded and healthy. And the after-effects of rejection can be so overwhelming to our system.
What you said in point #1 about patterns rings true. There just seems to be no sense that can be made of what goes on internally. Hopefully, becoming aware of and tracking patterns can help. The energy required is just so much, especially if the internal conflicts are constant. And if certain situations, like work environments, replicate the old situations enough, one can understandably feel their efforts are futile, figuratively throwing up one’s hands. And that’s a pattern that’s hard to escape unless one lands in a healthy environment (work, social, etc).
I am there as a person who has done SO much work on healing, only to get blindsided by those around me who refuse to see any need for change in themselves. Just getting another job doesn’t happen easily. Been there. Done that.
Years ago to have progressed in overcoming depression with cognitive behavioral techniques only to be “attacked by chronic migraine in large part from anxiety due to a hostile work environment was discouraging. It’s especially so when others seem to think they know what you’re going through because they get a migraine once a year, or sometimes feel down on what for them is a “bad day.”
This is venting, I guess. Thanks for listening.
I am so sorry Adele. These patterns can be incredibly futility-inducing. It is hard to believe it can be different when our environment tells the same story again and again. And migraines are one of the ways our defenses debilitate us and keep us from having hope. Sending my love to you.
I have a continuous movie going through me of from birth to the present trauma. I know I suppressed a lot of my childhood and new bits and pieces keep emerging. I have been through so much trauma, I think my emotional system is trying to shut down. COVID has been hard on me because of my breast cancer and all my husband and I have been and continue to go through. My daughter is a drug addict and alcoholic and my granddaughter is a meth-head. It’s difficult to go forward when the dust of the past keeps following me, kind of like Pigpen on Charlie Brown. I also know in life, there’s a reason for everything on your journey. Thank you for the great article. It makes so much sense to me and that I’m not alone.
I am so sorry you went through so much trauma. It does follow us around through our lives until we see it, understand it and process it. And that is so hard to do. Don’t give up. Keep going. You can make changes happen.
Yep, numbing out whenever an emotional reaction is called for : (
We all do this. 🙁
I am trying to get to know my inner parts. My therapist and I have made good progress, but we still have a way to go. My younger part is present more than I would like, especially when other see an adult body. My younger part love being taken care of by care giver or helpers on the outside. She feel loved and not being hurt on the outside. I don’t know if this makes any sense. Reading different articles and posts help me know I am not alone in this journey.
I understand Patricia. That’s the love seeker who is an inner child. She projects her need for love and approval to the outside world. The way to stop her search is to give her the love and approval yourself and help her feel her pain. It is possible to stop the pattern this way.
How can I give my younger part the love and approval by myself
It takes time to learn how to do this, but it starts with hearing out your inner parts. Let them express their emotion and the messages from those emotions. Over time, you will build a relationship with this part and find that compassion that lives within you.
Thanks, appreciate these insights. Have a history of major depression and as I age (I’m 76 and have fewer urgent daily distractions )- am dysthymic – emotional roller coaster – parts of most days and appreciate anything that helps it make sense.
I am glad I could help it make sense a bit.
Can’t tell you how many of these apply to me, definitely 3/4/5/6 — possibly all of them. Thank you for helping to open things up and clarify. I’ve been seeing a terrific therapist for over two years now. Perhaps my biggest shock, when recounting memories of my childhood — was to learn that my mothers behaviour was far from normal or acceptable.
You are not alone Peter. We can’t know behavior isn’t normal when it is all we know. I am glad you are on you healing journey.
I’m a former police officer. I’ve experienced trauma through that profession and that subsequently blew the door open on my trauma from childhood that I numbed and kept boxed up my entire life. I’m 41 now and I’m just starting to unravel that thread. I’ve been working in a different profession for the past 12 years, but all of my focus is still in the past like it was yesterday. I’m healthy, physically fit and live an active lifestyle but at times I can’t drag myself out of bed or to follow through with basic tasks. I’m a prisoner in my mind. Self sabotage is my default setting. Feeling inadequate, not good enough, and trying to fix the past by rehashing it over and over and over is my normal day to day. I’m so unaware of the passing of time around me. I can’t believe it’s December right now. I am merciless to myself in my mind. I live very isolated from others and don’t have a social group. I don’t fit in with most groups, i always feel fake and not authentic, so I stay close to me. I wonder what happened to me, the old me, where did he go? He’s scared. Hiding, behind the outward image I’ve created of a big rugged man so no one will test me. I’m a scared little boy. I’m afraid all the time. I’m even afraid of success because I’m suspicious of it. I’m obviously aware of all this, but how do I let go? My grip is tight. Thanks for this article. It helps to know I’m not an alien.
You are far from an alien. You are like so many of us as survivors. Your defenders are in charge and they are afraid to let go of the mask they have lived behind. Letting go requires connecting with these defenders and helping them heal from their traumatic experiences. It takes time, but it is possible.
Hi Tom, I actually cried when I read your post as it resonated with me so much. I hope your journey to find healing and peace is going well. You absolutely are not an alien or alone, I can guarantee you that.
Some thing happened with me in past .I just lost trust i have tried so many times to live with present but whenever i tried to start a new life those painful moments comes in front of me then i got frustrated got anger.I am very depressed with this
When we have bad experiences repeatedly in childhood, we do lose our trust. It is true. Grounding and writing from our depression can help release it, but it takes time. We have to find that part of us that knows we can trust and it will be okay. We all have that.
Perfectionism , I
procatination ,anxiety,OCD,Insecurities,fear, suppressed feelings,BPD,Depression and emotioal numbness
Dealing with such large issues in my life
Not able to see the beauty of nature while dealing with such large inner conflicts
Hope will be able to fight with all the odds of life and face a bright future ahead once again 😘❣️
You can do that Ankur. It happens bit by bit, but it can happen.
I have been feeling stuck in the past in my life. I feel like I just go through the motions daily. I am starting your video series and I claim Breakhrough!
I hope the videos help you find those parts of you that are stuck. We can break through the stuck.