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Why do I smile when people are mean or hurtful?

Another guest blog post by Tobi, our former intern. Thank you Tobi for sharing with us ~ Laura

This is a question that so many people ponder while reflecting upon situations that were troublesome or hurtful. So, why do we smile or even apologize when people don’t treat us well? Smiling can have many purposes, such as being used as an external façade serving as a protective mechanism.

You may have heard of other protective mechanisms or trauma responses, such as fight, flight, or freeze. Think about it… if someone yells, "Look out! "what do you do? You might move out of the way quickly or freeze so they can maneuver around you. Makes sense. You are keeping yourself safe.

However, if you have experienced something called complex trauma or complex PTSD (C-PTSD for short), you may also have a fourth trauma response called fawning, which could explain why you smile when it may not feel like an appropriate response to a threat. Let me explain.

Complex PTSD is caused by negative experiences creating a prolonged sense of threat that occur over time, often when we are young, but not always. Perpetrators can be people close to us, such as family or friends. The events or experiences are repetitive, and escaping from the situation is impossible or dangerous.

Chronic trauma includes long-term child physical or sexual abuse, long-term domestic violence or other violent acts. It can also include parents or caregivers who are not tending to your feelings, such as continually threatening for you to “stop crying, or I will give you something to cry about,” or who may be physically abusive. Basically, if you feel or felt scared or threatened often, you may be experiencing symptoms of C-PTSD.

Over time, your trauma can manifest in stress-related responses that may include anxiety, flashbacks that are emotional or memories, hypervigilance (always on guard), frequent negative thoughts and emotions like persistent feelings of shame, guilt, failure and worthlessness, and difficulty in forming and maintaining meaningful relationships. You may also have trouble with self-regulation and/or issues with identity and self-worth.

You are probably still wondering… why do I smile during threatening situations? Or, why do we continually say YES, when we really want to say NO. When we are young and continually afraid, we learn that we might not be hurt if we are perfect or behave perfectly. So, we FAWN, which means: to act servily; cringe and flatter.

It is important to note that C-PTSD is a relatively new disorder still being researched and scrutinized. However, experts estimate it may affect 1% to 8% of the world population. You are not alone. The good news is that C-PTSD can be successfully treated by psychotherapy (talk therapy). Your therapist may work with you to help you understand why you respond with a smile or a YES instead of anger or NO. They can also help you manage emotional flashbacks, learn about boundaries, learn how your body responds to trauma and stress, and identify and reframe problematic thinking patterns that arise from feeling that you need to be perfect to decrease feelings of being threatened. Another type of supportive trauma-focused therapy is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). During this treatment, you focus on specific sounds or movements your therapist introduces while you think about the traumatic event(s) that will decrease reactions and negative thoughts and/or emotions over time.

Reach out to us if you would like to see a therapist who can help you to learn more about C-PTSD

~ Tobi,

Call (506) 651-1239 or BOOK ONLINE

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