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When a Trauma History Feels Like Unlimited Limitations

trauma history feels like unlimited limitationsSometimes I try to do things that regular people do, people who don’t have a trauma history, and my PTSD steps in and says, “No, no, sweetheart. I don’t think so.”

I listened to a podcast recently where a handful of people kept dream recordings for a few months and then the most intelligible ones were made into an episode. It required participants to record themselves talking about their dreams with as much detail as possible as soon as they awoke, which could mean in the morning or in the middle of the night.

It was fascinating. Lots of dreams about bosses. Obviously there’s something there, something to be examined. I wanted to try it. I went to bed on a normal, comfortable Sunday and kept dreaming of being raped.

I got up in the morning feeling nauseous and defective. I stared into the darkness of my bedroom feeling my stomach roll over, trying to decide if I was actually going to get sick. I felt like a used tissue, the same way I felt when I started trauma therapy and began to talk about the sexual abuse I suffered during childhood.

I often think, “I’m in my 30s now. When is it going to stop?”

I keep journals, like so many therapists suggested. Although I know that journaling has helped me and I will continue to do it until my hands can no longer write, my journals are ugly. They are hideous places full of memories and people I don’t want to spend time with. I’m not going to reread them, and I certainly don’t think they should ever be read by anyone else.

I’m thankful for every one that I’ve filled, but they aren’t like my great-grandfather’s journals. I inherited them after he passed away. His writing is matter-of-fact: “I went to Arnaud’s for dinner” or “Saw the parade on Canal” or “Took the boat out this afternoon.” Sounds like a good life. Reads like a journal with no darkness radiating from its spine.

Sometimes it seems like my limitations are endless. I’m overstimulated around a lot of people, a lot of noise. I’m triggered by sexual violence or child abuse in movies — even a movie that I’ve seen before and was previously fine watching. I shut down and withdraw when people disrespect my boundaries, like my neighbor asking me to accept packages for her only after she’s gone out of town, like my husband’s family constantly asking me to clear my work schedule so they can visit. I suppose they’re not asking, they’re telling. And my knee-jerk reaction is to just cut them off completely. I have no patience for selfishness and no desire to hash it out. I just want it to get away from me.

Usually when my husband touches me affectionately, my immediate response is, “What? Get off me.” He could touch my hand, my arm, my face, my hair — it doesn’t matter. My heart jumps, and I recoil. I have to really think about who is touching me. I have to think very hard about what is happening and focus on it. Only then can I think, “Oh, that’s nice.” The more that’s happening around me — people talking, the television on, receiving text messages — the more I have to remind myself that I’m not under attack.

Accepting the fact that the abuse happened is much easier than accepting the fact that it has changed me.

But I am proud. I am proud of being a survivor. I am proud of the fact that sharing my story has helped others. And I’m proud that I — like many trauma survivors — am great during a crisis. It’s pretty hard to shock us because we know all too well that something can easily go from fine and normal to absolutely wrong and traumatic at a moment’s notice.

Maybe I’m not limited after all. Perhaps I just have some soft spots I have to tend to. While other parts of me are calloused, resilient, and supportive.

Woman in bedroom photo available from Shutterstock

When a Trauma History Feels Like Unlimited Limitations

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). When a Trauma History Feels Like Unlimited Limitations. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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