I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed with ptsd that it kinda made sense to me. My house was kinda like a battlefield. But when I’d discovered cptsd it made complete sense. My house was completely like a POW camp.
I come across people all the time who have been diagnosed with cptsd but don’t associate any of their upbringing to any kind of prison or cult-like atmosphere. For me, cptsd was validation that it was all the things that happened to me that were causing all these symptoms. For these people, the diagnosis brought no comfort to them at all.
As I sat and thought about how some of these stories differed, it wasn’t that the abuse wasn’t as traumatizing as mine, even if there wasn’t physical violence involved. The difference was that somewhere within me I knew that what happened to me was total bs, whereas a lot of trauma survivors aren’t even aware of what’s been happening to them and there’s actually good reason for that.
All narcissistic abusers, and I use restraint when using terms like “all” or “none”, but in this case all narcissistic abusers use an emotional manipulation technique called “gaslighting” which makes it purposely difficult for the victim to see their reality for what it is. This makes it impossible to validate their experiences. Click this link for an article explaining the different ways narcissistic abusers gaslight their victims.
It was gaslighting that made them believe they were actually being disciplined when in fact this was just the pretense for emotional scapegoating. Dr. Pete Walker said it best in his first book the Tao of Fully Healing: Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame, where he says, “she was the typical dysfunctional parent who unconsciously creates double-bind situations to justify venting her rage at her children.” I got goosebumps the first time I read that sentence as I realized I could never properly and succinctly sum up what my mother had been doing to me so adeptly as he had just done (with mine came the added element of corporal punishment attached to the gaslighting).
This is what’s at the crux of cptsd. The emotional manipulation through gaslighting that tricks a child into believing they’re at fault for what’s happening. It gives the abuser complete access to a scapegoat at any time without the child even realizing what’s happening. Even if a child may not always be a physical hostage in that environment, they are absolutely an emotional hostage in that environment. When I was in the house, I was at the mercy of the moods of everyone with hierarchical power over me, which was everyone including a younger brother. This is the case for all cptsd survivors. We were at the mercy of the moods of those around us.
When I first used the term “emotional hostage” within our support group here it really resonated with some people. I think this is an important concept in learning to validate really extreme environments for what they were.