trauma, people, book, feel, gaslighting, therapist, complex trauma, narcissistic abuse, read, experience, relational, childhood trauma, talk, written, story, nervous system, grew, body, moment, clinical psychologist
Megan Gipson, Ingrid
Megan Gipson 00:03
Hi, Ingrid, thank you so much for joining me on the family brain today. Thank you for having me. So I want to tell you, I almost told you before we started recording, but I loved your book. It was so well, you're just a very gifted writer. So your book is believing me healing from narcissistic abuse and complex trauma. And it's just super powerful, but just really well written.
Thank you. I appreciate that thing.
Megan Gipson 00:30
I gobbled it up. Sometimes I buy books, because I'm like, Oh, I kind of want the information. But this was just really well written also. So
I appreciate that. Yeah, thank you.
Megan Gipson 00:42
So I recommend I kind of I, there's a part of me, this is your book. So we can talk about it as much as you want. But what I'm interested in is one getting people to read the book, because it's fun to read. And it's a good read and well written, but mostly talking about the concepts that you bring up about, like complex post traumatic stress, because I think a lot of people, and I think in your writing you describe this is what it could look like. Yeah. And I'm just wondering, what are the what are the things I guess, that you really hope people take from from the book about complex? PTSD?
Well, yeah, so the book is a memoir. So even though I'm a clinical psychologist, I did sort of feel called to shop share my story. And in the writing process, you know, and even talking to various agents, or whatever it was, like, Are you writing a self help book? Are you writing a not as a memoir, and I kept going, No, I want it to be memoir, I want it to be memoir. And I think in part because
there are people just like me, who have been walking around for the majority of their lives, not understanding that much of what they're wrestling with is a result of trauma. And even though I'm a clinical psychologist who eventually specialized in trauma, I could not see myself in the clinical language or lens. And I think that that is common for a lot of reasons. One is that complex trauma is basically relational trauma.
So complex trauma means multiple experiences over time of traumatic events, often in childhood, but not always in childhood. For me, they were largely in childhood. And so a few things happened to me, which I'm understanding are very relatable, unfortunately. One is that when you experience trauma in childhood, and that can look like a lot of different things. Um, for me, it was active addiction, with both my parents and their spouses after they divorced and remarried. There my stepfather watt has narcissistic personality disorder, I didn't know that then I know it now. So there was a lot of emotional abuse going on in the home. He was grooming me to be his girlfriend. So I talk about all of these experiences in the book. But what often happens with childhood trauma is we are wired for relationship. Infants, as we know cannot survive without caregivers when they are born. So everything about how we are wired for survival is through relationship. So a child on every level, even though they it's not verbal, they know that they need a caregiver to survive. So when a child experiences trauma, they will make themselves the problem they will make themselves bad rather than see this person that they literally need to survive as the problem because if the caregiver is the problem, then we're really screwed, right? So there's this automatic self blaming instinct when it comes to childhood trauma. Then you put that next to emotional trauma, which is often what we call, you know, this hidden abuse, emotional abuse is this we don't have the bruises, you don't have these distinct markers that often social workers are looking for. And a piece of that for me was gaslighting. So gaslighting is designed to make you not only question what happened, but question your reality all together, right? So there's this innate experience of minimization or self blame. And then that's coupled with the adults in the system saying yes, it's you. You're the problem. And even decades later with all this education, like I said in this training and trauma all All of that took root in me, took root in my nervous system, the way I saw myself in the world the way I related to people. So I was like, Yeah, you know, I've experienced trauma in this like colloquial, no big deal kind of a sense, but it wasn't real trauma. And if I couldn't see it as real trauma, I couldn't get real help. I continued to sort of spin my wheels because I was calling my symptoms by another name and addressing them and 8 million other ways, and maybe I'd get some relief and some compassion and some information. But fundamentally, I still felt so broken. So I share my story as a way to give people it's just my version of these experiences. But I think what people are really resonating with are the feelings and the way that I coped, right. So the specifics of our story don't have to be the same. But what those did to me internally at the time, and how I carried these trauma responses for decades, is very relatable to people that have had this this experience of complex trauma. So I said a whole lot in answer to one simple question, but I don't know if I even answered your question.
Megan Gipson 06:18
No, you answered. Yes. Well, and I think you talking about it is better than me asking question by question, because I think you can take such a picture of what your intention was. And that's what you do in the book is that you give people your very specific experience, but that is so relatable because of the feelings it brings up. And I think that it made me think when you were talking I had a guest on the show, Dr. Jenn Gowdy Jani who works with people with recovering from eating disorders, and she wrote a book called sick enough that like people with eating disorders never feel like they're sick enough. And, like, am I sick enough to get the help? And it kind of reminds me of the same thing, like, Is this enough? Is this bad enough? You know, and, and especially when you don't have language for it? And I feel like that's what we're sort of doing. I don't know if you feel this too, like, it seems like right now. There's a lot more talk about narcissistic abuse gas, again, wasn't gaslighting the term of the year or something.
Word of Webster Merriam Webster's word of the year for 2022 gaslighting. Yes,
Megan Gipson 07:23
interesting. So we're kind of in a moment right now to where I think people's blinders are coming off and like, Oh,
that's right. That's what it is. That's right. And even with complex trauma, so, you know, the other, in addition to my personal experiences of gaslighting, and, you know, being a child who experienced trauma and not being able to sort of hold the gravity of that, it was also only very recently that the World Health Organization added Complex PTSD, as a diagnosis in the states are sort of Bible of diagnoses called the DSM still does not contain a duck. So it's sort of like we've talked maybe about also developmental trauma, which is synonymous with complex trauma, or relational trauma. But I think even in the mental health field, people have not really understood what that even looked like, right? Or, you know, and I was, I've recently started a YouTube channel to start to kind of talk about these things more in length than I can do on Instagram, where I have more of a history of of talking about some of the stuff but I was sharing on there, which I also shared in the book that my family was reported to social services, let's see 80s, mid 80s. And the social worker sought me out and we sat down, and this was not, you know, my parents weren't aware of this meeting, it was sort of a secret meeting at my friend's home. And she asked me all these questions that were very related to physical abuse. Do you have any bruises? Are you witnessing physical violence in the home, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick? And I kept going, well, there's sort of this thing, and I kind of witnessed that thing. And this is happening. There was a lot of Yeah, but you know, and what she flat out said to me was, emotional abuse is not something we can intervene on. And it was the first time I even heard the term emotional abuse at like, 1112 years old and half of us going, well, that feels significant. You're even using the term abuse. It's like, oh, okay, that's something I can hold on to, but it was coupled with, but it's not that bad. But it's not that bad. Yeah. And I think what a lot of us, you know, particularly I'm mid 40s, and a lot of people my age, maybe a little older, little younger, are coming to terms with this. reckoning with what we grew up with and how it literally He transformed our relationship to our self, our relationship to the world, we didn't know that what we were doing was re enacting childhood trauma. And and I think the piece about trauma that feels so important and ultimately so hopeful is that I went, and I tried. I've been a secret my whole life, right? I have, I ended up being a clinical psychologist I've been I'm sober for many decades, I've done all the programs, the workshops, the retreats, I have wanted to figure me out and the system that I grew up in, out, and I have earnestly done that, and it didn't solve the problem, in part, because trauma lives in the body. It is not this conscious, like, well, of course, I want to have healthy self esteem and choose healthy relationships. I mean, of course I did. And of course, I read all the books. And I was like, Yes, that sounds smart. And of course, I want to do that. And then I failed. And I failed, and I failed. And then the gap between those two things, what I wanted and was earnestly seeking what I was actually doing as it grew over time, the pain and the shame of that was so unbearable. So when I finally really understood how relational trauma growing up in this dysfunctional toxic narcissistic family system, I learned to survive in survival mode in this constant trauma response. And the main trauma responses are fight flight, freeze, and fawn. And that then became the blueprint for many decades later. And what often happens is we're living in a trauma response, which the body will always orient, to safety. And I found a way to feel safe enough, in my upbringing, and then that became my coping. And so anything outside of that didn't feel safe, ultimately. So I was stuck in these trauma responses that I thought were my personality, I thought were my deep flaws. I thought, you know, if I can't fix them with my intellect, in what we call a top down approach, there must be something wrong with me. But when I recognize it, and could own it as trauma, I could look at what this subconscious my body and my nervous system was doing and why it was doing it. And I made sense to myself. And the shame then can start to dissolve, because I'm not just broken. In fact, my body was doing exactly what it was designed to do, to keep me safe. And it's what it learned, like, how could I not have gone through what I went through and carried what I carried, in other words, and yet, we don't have to live in those chronic states of overactive trauma response, we can find more flexibility. And so I'm thrilled that the conversation around that is deepening and growing, and that we're having a moment both related to to narcissism, which was also very important for me to name because it gave all of this other language like I didn't know it was gaslighting. But the original title for my book for years was maybe it wasn't that bad. Oh, because I lived in this gaslighting. I was like, Oh, it happened, but it wasn't that big of a deal. Well, I think those were his intentions, but were they really his intentions. It's this constant negating of actual lived experience. And other things like trauma, bonding and love bombing. And, you know, just all of a sudden it put all these experiences into context in a way that, again, allowed me to make sense to myself.
Megan Gipson 14:02
Was there a moment or was there a book you read? Or was it a more about you being receptive to accepting that as what happened? Like, do you know what I mean? Like, was it more developmental? Or was it there was just a moment that things shifted?
I mean, there were a few moments. The big original moment is that five years ago, my stepfather died. And I really think that in order for me to feel safe enough to access more of my truth, he had to pass away I felt so viscerally relieved, in his passing, that there was just no denying it. I literally felt safer in the world, even if he was 1000s of miles away. And I'm an adult woman with you know, I'm a grown woman, I'm going to have a son. I'm like living my life. But when he passed, I was like, Oh, I've never felt this safe in my life. Ready? Right. So I think that was a big piece of what unlocked what needed to emerge. And then it wasn't long after where this writing kind of came for me. Right? So I never sat down. I still, if I think about it, I know I wouldn't choose to do that. I never sat down and said, I think I'm gonna write a memoir on childhood trauma, right? Because that sounds like, yeah, right idea. You know, in fact, I've been trying to run from my history and not identify with it for so long that the idea of them allowing that to be my story, which would be sort of so repulsive to me. But the writing itself just literally started waking me up in the middle of the night, it had to be written. And I did not know what I was writing for many years. But it was the stories from childhood sort of dropping in these fully formed scenes. And then it was scenes from my adult life that I had no idea how these things connected up. But it was years later, that I could look down at my own writing, and finally see my story through a trauma therapists, lens. And it got me it, literally, I'm looking down at my own writing, and I'm going, Oh, these are the traumatic events. These are my trauma responses. It was like, I could see it in context. And I knew in that moment, it feels like a moment that I have complex PTSD, and that even all the couches I had sat on and all the work I had done that had never been named for me. And when I had that, oh, this is real trauma, so much so that I have complex PTSD, I could start looking at okay, so what is this thing with my stepdad. And in a way, I think it was only in being willing to talk about trauma on social media, that kind of opened me up even more to seeing this as narcissistic abuse. Right. And the pieces, it was like this puzzle of my life that were slowly kind of dropping in and coming together. And now that I see it, I mean, it's almost horrifying to me that I didn't have this lens and language for so long, because it's just almost so obvious. Now it's hard, it's really hard to believe that this is still even a new experience in my body of like, this is what this is. But once like
Megan Gipson 17:34
it's important that you're sharing it because you are educated. You write all the things. And I think that that is where a lot of shame comes up for people thinking, what am I what is wrong with me that I did not see this, or I did not know this? Yeah, but your brain and your body are protecting you. It's like you're not meant to know it until you're meant to know it. Maybe. That's
exactly right. It's on the body's timetable, not my conscious minds timetable. And so even though that felt so shameful, like, especially when I first started sharing it, I'm like, so I'm gonna go public and say that I'm a psychologist who had no, a trauma therapist, special specialization is matter of fact, who had no idea that she had Complex PTSD. It's like, the shame of that feels horrific. And yet, I also know that that is the thing that is giving other people permission to go, if she didn't know, if she was minimizing, if she if this is what gaslighting did to her. Maybe that's okay, that it did it to me. And that just makes me go fine. You know, I'm going to air out all the secrets in the skeletons. Because doing so for me personally, has given me more healing and freedom. It's it's everything I've been seeking my entire life. I feel like I have finally been able to access some of these things. And now I just, I want everyone to have it. You know, I just and there's no shame in that. I'm like, Yeah, I'll be the first one to raise my hand. Yeah. And here's how I still, you know, struggle as a matter of fact, because trauma healing isn't linear. We don't go. Thank goodness. I've done that work. You know.
Megan Gipson 19:18
I will add, this is a good time to add your Instagrams are hilarious. I mean, he's funny, because I think people you know, trauma serious, right, Larry, you do a good job of kind of providing some information and a little funny way. I try to laugh. Yeah, yeah. Sorry. Go ahead.
Oh, it's just it is so serious that you sometimes you have to bring the levity to access it at all,
Megan Gipson 19:42
for sure. Yeah. Well, there's a line towards the end of your book that says maybe I had to become my own therapist, and that is both magical and heartbreaking just like everything else. And as a therapist myself, that gave me a lot of grace for myself, because I think as therapists as helping professionals, you want to like, I'm going to read the book and I'm going to get in there. And we're going to do this thing. You know, anything sometimes, like you said, the body, the mind is on its own timetable sometimes. Yes? And what do you suggest that is the best way to show up as a helping person just to be there as it unfolds? Or what do you suggest to therapists or helping professionals now that you have this sort of like internal knowledge, like what would have helped you? Maybe not speed it up? But like, what would have felt right as you were unraveling it for yourself?
That's such a great question. What so two things come to mind? One is I want every therapist to go become trauma informed? Because I don't think that we are, I think as a general population of people in the mental health space and coaches and everything, I think we are not trauma informed and not relational trauma in particular. And so I think, in that earnestness, and in the I want to do a good job, and I want to have the answers, and so someone brings in what we call a problem, quote, unquote, that, Oh, you're having relational difficulties, I'm gonna help you knit that back together. I'm gonna give you right. So I think there's this bias towards repair and sort of holding the family system in this like various steams sort of like, hold on to it's your family Blood is thicker than water, like kind of a notion. And I think sometimes we're really doing a disservice to folks who are actually in very, very toxic family systems, and broken relationships. And what they really need is like to figure out how to set healthy boundaries and love themselves, even though they've never experienced actual love from another person in their lives like, and I think this understanding of trauma and how it manifests and how we reenact it. Just that information for mental health professionals alone, I think is important. And if you're interested in doing actual trauma work, so being trauma informed to me means I know if this is someone I can help or if I need to refer to a trauma therapist. So at the very bare minimum, I want people to be trauma informed, then either go and take some trauma trainings and get that skill set. And then depending on that model, that's going to give you the tools right to go, Okay, how do I actually work with this person? But a lot of it is about curiosity, the language for me of trauma therapy, in almost all of the different modalities that I've been exposed to is about asking and being genuinely curious, not having the answer, not going. I know where we need to go. I'm the therapist, I'm in the driver's seat here. It's in the not knowing, and being genuinely curious, what are you experiencing now. And it could be a body sensation. It could be a movement, you notice that you're tapping your finger? Oh, that's interesting. It could be a feeling it could be an image, a memory of thought, being curious about what you notice, and what you experience and giving someone their own curiosity about that, to kind of drop into these other ways of seeing and relating to ourselves, I think is just a good fundamental practice. Yeah. What?
Megan Gipson 23:43
Are there any trauma training programs that you recommend or suggest?
Yes, and I will say there are so many, and every nervous system is a different nervous system. And so a lot of I think trauma work is a bit of trial and error. And going, I'm going to try this thing, because it's accessible and this person's in my network or, you know, whatever the case may be, and then really seeing am I experiencing change? And if you're not bring that back to the therapist, right? So trauma work, I think even more than any other but I tend to be a relational therapist, no matter is about the relationship. So you get to say, This doesn't feel right to me, or Oh, no, I can't go there. Or it's about the relationship that's happening in the room. So if it doesn't feel like it's working, you're allowed to say that, like, hey, what am I supposed to be feeling at this point? And if you get to the point where you go, Oh, I should be maybe experiencing something else that I'm not, it might just not be the right modality for you. And that's okay. It doesn't mean that something else isn't going to work. So I say be open, see what you're drawn to. Oh, that sounds interesting. Oh, that sounds weird. I don't want to do that. But I have been trained in somatic experiencing, which is Peter Levine's model and an EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It's a mouthful. I'm both well respected. modalities for trauma, as a client personally now, my therapist is an ifs person, which is internal family systems, that's totally blowing my mind. I'm loving that as a client. And I'm hearing a lot of people say, for complex trauma that they're loving that. But there's also CBT models, there's psychodrama. So it's, there's more of a group setting, there's, there's more body workers than necessarily psychotherapy. So, there's a there's a whole smorgasbord out there. But I say be open and be curious. And, and, and, again, what's accessible? Right? There.
Megan Gipson 26:00
Right? Yeah. When you were saying, when you when you're like, I'm therapists just come on in. I got this. It's funny, because it's laughable. And I think there's a little piece of me that wants to feel that I want to feel like, you know, right. And it's sort of helpful to have the reminder, that that's not what this is. That's not even what the what anybody needs. But I think there can be a sort of the human, you're drawn to a little bit more like, Okay, this is the way we do it, you know? Yeah. So linear.
It's not so linear. And I will say that, I also think, and I touched on this in the book that for me, personally, I'm, you know, even doing my silly Instagram of like, I'm doing jazz hands, right, like, whatever it is, I'm going, Oh, my gosh, this is absurd. But you know, it's more absurd than that. And it almost like makes me cry when I think about it, are the people that present themselves as experts, and not as a whole human being? Because you know, what they say to me, in my traumatized nervous system, I'm never going to have it all together. Like you have it all together, they set an unrealistic standard, because it's a fantastic marketing tool, I have the answers. Pay for my program, right? It's like, Okay, listen, everyone's entitled to make a living you, do you and I'm sure you're bringing great stuff to the table. But if we don't do it, in my opinion, with a bit more of just this human element that like, Yes, I have lots of tools and information I do. And I don't have all the answers. Please don't put me up on a pedestal. This is collaborative work. And I also think that that gives the people that we work with even a little more agency to step into some of their own power, the wisdom of their own body that I will, I can see someone for 50 minutes a week, I'm never going to be the expert on their life. And so yes, we come by very honestly, I want to do a good job and be a good therapist and have all the answers. And I'm just a human first. And I wish that there was more of that in our field.
Megan Gipson 28:21
Yeah, no, I think that's very well put very well partisan, even when you talk about being a parent now and showing up here's my nervous system showing up with this other person. And it's I mean, it's, it's a lot right to be to let me get my nervous system. And it. I'm sure it happens better some days than others, right? Because we are humans. And yes, but I think sometimes it's those very honest moments of we're all just showing up doing what we know best on the day we know it.
Yes, it gives so much permission, I think, you know, to me, and to people that I work with and yeah, I want that. It's I can take a deep breath even hearing you say it, I go, Yeah, because we're doing the best and some days are better than others and all of that. It's like, yeah, I can take it. I can exhale on that.
Megan Gipson 29:12
Well, good. Yeah. Well, I felt that from from you, also. And I think that's the gift of exactly what you're saying of being authentic. And like, this is what I know. It gives other people the gift to do that as well, which is a big deal. Yeah, yeah. So I'm wondering, is there anything that you were hoping to share that I haven't asked you about or any other things you wanted to talk about?
I don't know that I had a particular agenda in mind. I was just looking forward to the conversation and seeing where we're at when it doesn't feel like we've touched on anything where I'm going, ooh, but I didn't say that thing.
Megan Gipson 29:51
Well, I mean, what you talk about in your book covers some really what I like too is at the back, you have a glossary of terms, which gives some really nice psych Education like, here are some terms that you might not know, which I think is really helpful. And I just think what you've done is very accessible to people. It's a, it's a easy to read, like I said, it's very well written. And I think it gives people access to the information that I mean, I like reading books about things. But sometimes if it's like, here's a book on complex PTSD, it feels like it might sit on the shelf for a while.
I can't read those books a lot of the times, I love Bessel Vander Kolk, the Body Keeps the Score. Have I read it cover to cover? No, no, I haven't. I'll pick it up. And I'll get pieces. But that that kind of content when it's that heavy, can feel too triggering for me, too. And so, yeah, I shared my story. But then there was the therapist and me who was like, but I need to have some kind of, I didn't want to like put it in between the writing because I think it could create that experience where you kind of like I'm checked out now get back to the story. But for the people that wanted it, I said, okay, the clinician in me needs to have a 20 page glossary at the end where I go, this is what trauma bonding is. And I've given some examples in my story. And you know, here's a quick definition. And also, it can be sort of a springboard to more information if people want it because they have the language, you know. And for the people that don't want to read the glossary, they never have to open that page, they just get to have the story kind of wash over their nervous system, and they take what they take from it. And and yeah, yeah, I'm grateful that people are reading it that they're identifying, you know, it is not only did I not set out to write this book, I, I always sort of imagined that my story was kind of a unique one. And I'm finding that it's not, which is giving me this amazing sense of community. And it just is breaking my heart at the same time. Yeah. Because I think if you look at sort of where we started with, like, well, what is this complex trauma thing, and emotional abuse has hidden abuse and the ways that we were sort of impacted? There are the obvious traumas that everyone can go well, yeah, that was traumatic, right. And then there's this whole subset of experience, maybe just right beneath that, that I think it includes a lot of folks that have been missed, right. And I'm so grateful for this shift in our awareness and language and being able to talk about some of these things, and how it's happening on social media, which also blows my mind before I wrote this book. I, I've always been on social media, but it's been very personal private accounts, seeing my friends, kids, right? So then go on Instagram, in particular, and do like hashtag complex trauma or narcissistic abuse. And then suddenly, my feed is just meme after meme of these short, easy to digest, things that I could read that were reflecting my experience in such a powerful way. I mean, man, there's a lot that can be said about social media. That's not great. But this for me is such a positive aspect of it. I wish I had this when I was growing up.
Megan Gipson 33:24
Yeah, to understand. Yeah, I agree. And I think it's just helping give people language. And just even that sense, like you said, of community, even if it's not somebody, you know, right there with you. It's that sense that you're not alone.
That's right. That's right. Yeah. Well, I
Megan Gipson 33:42
highly recommend your book. And I'm wondering if you can share where else people can find information about you if they want to learn more about you and your book and your funny Instagram.
Yeah, my Instagram is at Ingrid Clayton, PhD. That's the name of my YouTube channel as well. And my website is also my name, Ingrid clayton.com. I have a newsletter sign up there. If you want to be in the loop on workshops and things I might be doing in the new year. I'm not taking on any more individual clients. I know a lot of people are curious about that. But if you want to work with me in the larger group sense, definitely sign up on the mailing list on my website. And the book is available on Amazon. So right now the print paperback and e book are available and an audio books probably coming out in the early New Year. I've recorded it and it's being edited it there's more hoops there to jump through than I ever realized. But it's in process and probably available in the early New Year. So you can check on Audible than
Megan Gipson 34:44
it was did you read it yourself?
I narrated it Yes.
Megan Gipson 34:48
Narrated. That's the word.
Yeah. Yes. Same, same. Same difference, but yeah, yeah, I couldn't imagine anyone else doing it and yeah, so. So I did.
Megan Gipson 35:00
Yeah, it's I'm sure it's been a ride for you the whole I mean, this is a big. Yeah. But it's exciting. And I think I love what you say about just, if it's helping people, it's like your gift to other people to and you just never know the ripple effects. I'm sure you are already feeling me.
I mean, to be honest, that's almost like my new compass now is like, Does this feel like it's furthering my own relationship to self and my own healing, and has the byproduct of helping others? It's like, if it does that I'm gonna lean in. And if it doesn't, it's sorry. It's not for me.
Megan Gipson 35:35
Perfect. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for talking to me today. I love talking to you and I will make sure to post a link for your book so other people know how to find it.
Thank you for reading it and for such a lovely conversation. I'm glad to be here. Thank you