I read this book many years ago. I really like the style of writing and I have also the book ‘The tao of fully feeling’, which was written before Complex PTSD, and the author acknowledges not fully understanding cPTSD when he wrote The tao of fully feeling, specifically the impact of emotional neglect. This is again one of these important books where the author explains his own and other people’s experiences with cPTSD and offers more understanding into the process. One of the things I appreciate a lot in his writing is the notion of ‘good enough’ parenting, indicating that we don’t need perfect parenting to thrive in life, but we do need parenting that is ‘good enough’. Walker also references the work of Alice Miller, who I believe has made very accurate observations on childhood trauma (see here), although she puts all the blame with the parents, and I believe the notion of ‘good enough’ helps balance this view in a healthy way. He talks about toxic shame, which is so important and I have not seen it mentioned this clearly in any of the other trauma books I’ve read. He explains people with cPTSD have experienced ‘arrests’ in their development, and these different possible types of arrests influence how cPTSD is presented in a specific person, as well as your 4F type (more about this later), your childhood abuse/neglect pattern, your innate nature, and any recovery work undertaken. These arrests influence the following key features of healthy human being:
- Self acceptance
- A clear sense of identity
- Self compassion
- Self protection
- Capacity to draw comfort from relationship
- Ability to relax
- Capacity for full self expression
- Willpower and motivation
- Peace of mind
- Self care
- Belief that life is a gift
- Self esteem
- Self confidence
Walker gives a very thorough overview of how we are affected by cPTSD and offers a lot of different paths to follow in order to recover, relating to self and others, relating to the body, anger, shame, flashbacks etc… and stresses that recovery can be a life long recovery.
Something that felt important to me to read is his personal story about the difference between physical and emotional abuse. I remember reading his story, about that getting hit as a child was not the most damaging experience, it was the emotional result of being criticised and put down that haunted him the most. In my experience, being hit usually meant that the ‘criticism session’ by my mother had come to an end, so it usually came with some relief rather than fear.
Walker explains that the minimisation of emotional neglect is at the core of cPTSD denial. There is the risk that people over-assign their suffering to any overt abuse, and never explore the wound caused by neglect. The work is in de-minimising and remembering the impact of emotional neglect and this can take a long time (this also comes back in the work of Alice Miller and Ingeborg Bosch).
It is Walker who popularised the model of the different trauma types (specifically the fawn type, which I did not know about before reading this book), which are specific trauma survival strategies to prevent, escape or ameliorate further traumatisation as a child. Fight types develop a narcissistic like defence, flight types develop an obsessive compulsive type defence, freeze types develop a dissociative type defence and fawn types develop a codependent like defence. People without cPTSD have a healthy and balanced access to these strategies in the face of danger, while people with cPTSD become overly reliant on one or two of the strategies. This results in a limitation of our ability to access the other strategies, but also in a limitation of our capacity to relax in an undefended state and strands us in a narrow and impoverished way of living our lives.
This book is very practical as well as educational, something that was really useful for me is the list of 13 steps that help you manage an emotional flashback. This list starts with actually realising you’re having a flashback and letting yourself know that, even though you feel scared/anxious/panic, you’re not actually in danger. Back when I was regularly in the grip of flashbacks, I created my own personal list based on this list, and combined with my knowledge on using the senses, specifically smell and taste with the herbs.
Walker makes an interesting distinction between feeling an emotion and ‘emoting’ it ‘out’, or expressing emotions, and says that once we are able to find a balance between the two, we can consider ourselves ‘in advanced recovery’. The book ends with a number of tools to help you further explore your own experience with cPTSD, which are very useful. Something that is present throughout the book is Walker’s tangible sense of compassion with anyone who suffers from cPTSD, which feels healing in itself. I feel that with the number of tools he shares, it’s really clear how much he cares.
I feel this book is the perfect companion to Gabor Maté’s When the body says no. Walker describes the emotional struggles of a person with cPTSD, Maté describes the physical consequences. Walker mentioned the effect of ‘feeling’ on digestive issues (it being very beneficial and ultimately healing for any type of cPTSD related digestive issues). I would have liked to hear his perspectives after being in touch with the material in Maté’s work. He does not mention Maté in his bibliography so maybe he did not know his work at the time of writing the book.