CPTSD survivors can be as strong as laminated unbreakable glass, as fragile as coffee carafe, or as dangerous as a broken beer bottle. This can be extremely confusing to friends and family, not to mention colleagues, who prefer some kind of consistent response, not understanding that we are consistently responding to everything — depending on whether or not there were triggers.
So laminated unbreakable glass isn’t really unbreakable. It just has a protective layer that makes it seem strong; the glass part is still breakable and still will need fixing, but it appears harder to break it and you don’t have to worry about all the shards flying all over the place. When you suffer from CPTSD, you put on all sorts of laminate to protect yourself from being broken again. Sometimes you put it on over the glass that actually is broken. Just to function.
After our sixth Bodum got broken, I exasperatedly gave in to the idea that maybe we ought to buy a coffee maker. After all, the carafe for a coffee maker couldn’t possibly be as fragile as a Bodum, right? Right?! RIGHT?! Well, now that we are about to order our third, I’m realizing that a thin glass thing is just not a safe thing to have around a house with growing boys and clumsy parents. Like coffee carafes, CPTSD sufferers can easily breakdown without much notice and it may seems like you have to put on kid gloves. Everything can seem fine, and then suddenly, it’s like a wand was waved over their face, and they immediately start raging. The trigger might seem totally benign, but a light tap can totally break the glass.
The broken beer bottle is the scary thing. A beer bottle filled with chilled beer is great to have around at a party. You drink your beer and you have a good time with your friends. But if the beer bottle gets grabbed by the neck and smashed against something hard, it becomes a dangerous weapon. When a CPTSD episode starts up and the person is in fight mode, they can be extremely vengeful and do or say out-of-character things. They can be extremely hurtful. They are sharp and dangerous in that state. It is like the venom just comes out without control.
All to say, it can be very confusing to be around someone who is struggling with CPTSD, especially if they don’t know it. This fragility confusion can be difficult to navigate for a partner or child. The person may not realize there is a problem, because their coping mechanisms have gotten through many challenges. But coping mechanisms are not sustainable.
If you think someone has CPTSD, help them get help. Doing the Work can make life less overwhelming and more enjoyable.
I’m a Complex Trauma Recovery and Parenting Coach. I can help.