ComCon/Complex PTSD


I’ve been pondering for a while the crossovers between Rory Miller’s Conflict Communication and Peter Walker’s Complex PTSD. Both are books I heartily recommend to anyone who is a human planning to interact with other humans in pretty much any setting. I can’t begin to hope to summarise two books in one  blog, but ConCom looks at how a lot of social interactions rely on scripts – “predictable patters of interaction”. Complex PTSD looks at the long-term effects of childhood trauma, including non-physical abuse. Both aim at helping people screw up less often. I found them both immensely beneficial, though hard work.

The two issues intersect in interesting ways. Part of the fallout of growing up in an abusive or simply uncaring environment is that we can fail to learn to navigate common scripts, or to use scripts in general. In order to integrate ConCom into their lives, people with Complex PTSD may need to work out their personal disconnects.

This is a list of the intersections between cPTSD and ConCom I’ve spotted up to now. There are almost certainly more. The initial quotes are from ConCom lectures as well as the book. I’m not sure how much sense this will make to anyone else, particularly if you’ve not read either of the books.

  • “Scripts are reliable and fast and low-input. People use them as time- and friction-savers.” People with cPTSD may be uncomfortable with scripts. They may not have been taught normal scripts. They may have been taught toxic/dangerous versions of normal scripts. They may have been taught that scripts are not reliable, because abusers did whatever they wanted anyway.
  • “Scripts are for the good of the group.” People who grew in abusive or disfunctional environments know that the good of the group may not be good for them. They may not necessarily embrace it as a primary goal, and may object to it instinctively even when the good of the group and of its members are aligned.
  • Normal people do not willingly engage in recurring arguments. When a recurring argument takes place, that shows that the scripts are driving the people, and getting off the script gets you off the argument. In abusive households, arguments are not only normalised, but actually sought after. Emotional disregulation of those around them can be both a tool to achieve a goal, or the actual goal. In order to achieve that emotional disregulation, abusers deliberately drive certain scripts, and their overall goal isn’t peaceful or mutually beneficial. If you give them the opportunity to not have one argument, they’ll go looking for another one.
  • “In order to work out if a tactic is working, you need to check for effect. If the effect isn’t the desired one, you can change tactic.” This assumes a degree of fairness or at least consistency on the part of all involved. It also assumes that the other party are not gunning for a particular result regardless, and able and willing to push their way there. It also assumes that the first party can tell what a good effect looks like. This becomes a serious problem because the familiar can be comfortable, even when it’s deeply dysfunctional.
  • “Wins can increase status.” In abusive households, the abusers control your status. Abusers don’t want their targets to grow and develop. A technical “win” could result in punishment. A crab mentality may  also be displayed by other family members: if  anyone does better, that threatens the dynamic of the whole family.
  • “A human alpha is someone who shows up with more resources to help others solve problems.” People with cPTSD may be deeply uncomfortable engaging in both sides of that dynamic. Demonstrating alpha leanings in an abusive or disfunctional environment may result in punishment, or in an additional, unrealistic demands (e.g. children required to support their parents). Accepting help from others may be risky if they are loan sharking.
  • Inconsistent reward feedback. In abusive environments, performance and responses can be completely disconnected. Everything happens at the whim at the abuser. You could do everything right and still suffer. Alternatively, performance and responses may be tightly connected, but the standards set for performance may be completely unrealistic (can’t do right), or just sheer unreasonable (can do right, but at a terrible personal cost).
  • “If you lie to yourself, everything you do successfully you are doing by accident.” If the entire family dynamic is based on a combo of lies and denial (“I am hurting you because I love you”, “you’re making me do this”, “you’re seeing things”, etc.), it can make “reality” very unpredictable.
  • For “normal” people, survival fear puts the lizard brain in charge and social issues put the monkey brain in charge. This may not work for people growing up with asocial-masked-as-social, or where social problems turned into survival situations. And the lizard brain isn’t terribly good at dealing with social issues.
  • The monkey brain fears change. People with cPTSD may fear it hugely up to a point, but when pushed beyond a certain point may embrace it with suicidal abandon. If it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t, you may at least go big.
  • “Emotions are contagious.” People with cPTSD may react to them in abnormal fashions, e.g. assume responsibility for other people’s emotional state, over-react, awfulise, engage in knee-jerk problem-solving, retreat into lizard brain.
  • “Not being othered is a skill.” Abusive or disfunctional parents may not teach that skill because it’s completely unfamiliar to them, or by choice.
  • “Expectations: roles are explicit (father/mother), duties are implicit (e.g. going out to work and earning vs. staying at home with kids).” People who grew up in abusive environments may have serious mismatches at the duty level for most familial roles. (True story: when I first heard of “Grandmother Zen” I assumed it was a particularly vicious form of Zen combining maximum discomfort with no chance of success, because that’s what “grandmother” means to me.) Combine duty mismatches and poor knowledge of scripts, and social mishaps don’t seem out of the question.
  • Teenage separation is based on the kids finding differences between themselves and the parents. If unmanaged (as it normally is) it can consist of the kids finding ways in which the parents suck and they are so much better, and feeling good about them. People with cPTSD  are often brought up as different from their parents (though not necessarily separate) but convinced that any difference is a sign of inferiority. This could have far-reaching implications in people accepting themselves.
  • There’s no such thing as small talk. All forms of communication are stressful because of the potential fallout. Small talk becomes an exercise in finding the right answer without valid markers or a route there, rather than a good-faith attempt at connection or just something to do to pass the time. And finding the right answer is crucial. And what the right answer is may change without notice.

I have no idea if this makes any sense to anyone else. If something is completely unclear but sounds interesting to you, please holler and I’ll try and expand on it.


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