Apr 22, 2024

Mastering Emotional Regulation: CPTSD & Fear of Negative Emotion

by Lisa A. Romano

#codependency codependencyawareness codependencyresources learning how to set boundaries selflovecoaching

Complex PTSD... what is it? And why do children who come from childhood traumatic backgrounds have a difficult time trusting their emotions as adults?

One of the common complaints that I have as a life coach when coaching people who have complex PTSD (those of us who are struggling with codependency, or who are raised by alcoholic or narcissistic parents), is that we struggle to accept negative emotions. When we have a negative or strong emotion, we often don't know what to do with it. We feel terrified that we have a negative emotion. So let's say mom calls all of a sudden but you and your mom are estranged. She says, “Hey, Mary, what's up?” And you don't want to talk to mom. Now you have a strong negative emotion towards mom and you set a boundary. You say, no, I'm not up to talking today. I'm sorry. I need a little bit of time.

Very often what will happen is that Mary will feel guilty about setting that boundary with Mom. Children of trauma struggle and guess at what normal is. We don't know what is normal, what is valid, what is appropriate when we have a negative emotion. Are we wrong when we have a negative emotion? Are we bad because we have a negative emotion? And so it all comes down to feeling like we can't trust our inner reality, that we have no confidence in our thought process or in our emotions. It can create so much cognitive dissonance and it can create a feeling of sadness and depression for those of us who are struggling with CPTSD. And I think many people are struggling with CPTSD. They just don't know it.

When we think about negative emotions, we want to realize that we were taught how to deal with negative emotions in childhood. As a child, if you had a negative emotion, what happened in your experience? If you're like a lot of children who have grown up with alcoholic or narcissistic or abusive or neglectful parents, you were conditioned to think that your negative emotions were a threat to your survival, that you were in the best case and the best situation if you were able to stuff your emotions and acted like you were okay. You were taught to distrust your negative emotions. You were taught that negative emotion is bad. When you feel and have been conditioned to feel like negative emotions are bad, as a child, you think that you're bad. You can't separate the two. Children aren't narcissistic, but they're naturally egocentric. So if something's happening outside of them, they can't separate it. They think it's happening because they made it happen. So if mommy's in a bad mood, it's their fault. If mommy's in a good mood, they were able to control that. They made mommy happy. 

So it's really important that we understand this idea of childhood programming, that every child is programmed through repetition, observation, and consistency to have certain associations to negative emotions. We all do. So when we think about it, we're talking about this idea. I like to think about this idea as having two pathways. When it came to negative emotion, the first pathway in my brain is that you're wrong. You should never have negative emotions. Whatever you think and whatever you feel is wrong, mommy said so, daddy said so. All the time, what I would hear is if you want to be angry, if you want to cry, come over here, I'll give you something to cry about. And so I wasn't allowed to have negative emotions.

Or if I seemed angry, I was shamed. What do you have to be mad about? Look how you live. You should be so grateful. You have food on the table. What do you have to be angry about? So I had the one pathway, my negative emotions are just wrong. 

The second pathway a lot of us experience with CPTSD and end up with codependency as a result of it, codependency is the manifestation, the people-pleasing end of it. So there's this continuum that happens in our lives. The second pathway tells us that we're still wrong. Why? Because we're void of validation. So on one side of the equation, we're being told overtly that we're wrong. And on the other side, we're never being validated.

And so our emotions, we don't know how to emotionally regulate because we are being invalidated. And then we are being told that what we feel and what we think is in our mind is correct. Now, just think about these two pathways that happen in a child's brain that eventually become subconscious faulty childhood programming, which is what I try to teach people how to overcome in my coaching programs. And so just think about it. It's not my fault if I, as an adult, when I have strong emotion or strong negative emotion, don't trust how I feel.

My superego comes along as a filter and tells me, you should not feel what you feel. Why? Because my superego learned as a child that when I had strong negative emotions, there was a very strong negative outcome. My superego is just trying to keep me safe. It is just trying to get me to do what my family of origin has taught me to do. It doesn't mean that the information and the data that my superego is offering me is correct or healthy. On the road to recovery we need a third pathway. The third pathway is all about what we needed as children which is learning to validate any emotion as valid. Now we're not saying that emotions are factual we're just saying that emotions are energy in motion and they just are.

In healthy homes evolved parents do not take their children's emotions personally but unfortunately many of the innocent children of the world are raised by traumatized and unhealed parents. So when a six-year-old child says, “I hate you Mommy”, Mommy is triggered because mommy thinks she's doing everything that she possibly can for this little boy and mommy is now triggered and tries to control what this child feels and will pull the trigger. So when a six-year-old child says, “I hate you Mommy” and Mommy is triggered by traumatized and unhealed parents, she may resort to guilting the child, shaming the child and making the child feel wrong for their feelings.

I'm not saying that we want little six-year-olds to go around and be disrespectful, what I'm trying to help everybody understand is that children should be allowed to understand and experience their emotions without being shamed. And if it's done in the right way by a parent and with a parent that is emotionally regulated then this is the best outcome for the child because then the emotionally regulated parent can help regulate the emotions of the child.

I really hope that offering you this third pathway allows you to understand that if you're struggling with strong emotion or strong negative emotion, dear one, it isn't your fault. All adult children from dysfunctional, alcoholic, narcissistic, and abusive homes struggle with strong emotions. So give yourself permission to have this third pathway that allows you to accept whatever you feel without judgment. And I promise you, it does take practice. But if you practice this, you will have a lot less resistance in your body and you will find alignment with how you want to feel quicker than you ever imagined. And if you're ready to take your inner child's healing journey to the next level, check out my 21-day coaching program. This is a 21-day journaling program available for immediate download that we're offering for a temporary price of $27. You can find the link here: https://www.lisaaromano.com/journaling-adventure if you'd like to start that today.