A picture of the author in Yosemite National Park
Me in Yosemite

My Struggle with Complex PTSD

Duncan Riach

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Since returning from a psilocybin-assisted retreat in Jamaica, many aspects of my life have begun to shift. Not only has there been massive changes in my family, with issues going back thirty years moving towards resolution, but I’ve been reevaluating the 27-year relationship with my employer.

When I recently returned to work after a vacation with my son, I noticed that I was feeling a lot of fear and self-doubt that seemed to be associated with work. I have previously chalked these feelings up to “impostor syndrome” since they are characterized by an obsessive focus on all the ways I might not be measuring up. I was not appreciating my strengths, not having compassion for myself as a human wrestling with serious issues.

In a supportive conversation with one of my brothers, he recommended that I read Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (link at the end of this article), a book that, ironically, my current wife had previously recommended to him. As I started reading it, I realized that I have been suffering from Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), from being the victim of chronic neglect and narcissistic abuse in my childhood. That abuse continued for decades into my adult life.

The emotional flashback is a core concept of C-PTSD and is explained early in the book. For me an emotional flashback is a return to the felt-sense of being a child chronically trapped in a situation with no hope of escape, no validation or mirroring, no physical or psychological safety, and no ability to trust my own perceptions, thoughts, or feelings. This was the experience that was amplified so strongly in the psychedelic state in Jamaica and that was appearing, albeit with less intensity, on my return to work.

Simply understanding what was happening from this perspective—an emotional flashback to the most horrific periods in my childhood—has provided me with a profoundly supportive resource. Part of me is now able to step out of the flashback and to comfort and advocate for that little boy. I have started taking his suffering even more seriously. I have scheduled and attended many additional therapy sessions, based on various modalities (Jungian analysis, transformational NLP, and Internal Family Systems [IFS]) and I have started building even more compassion for him, sitting with him in his isolation and suffering, the depths…

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Duncan Riach

Top Writer. Self-Revealing. Mental Health. Success. Fulfillment. Flow. MS Engineering/Technology. PhD Psychology. duncanriach.com