One of the hallmarks of complex PTSD is a perpetual feeling of being under threat, stemming from constantly feeling afraid and vulnerable during childhood. This is true even though the threatening circumstances of our childhood have long since passed and, as adults, we are, objectively speaking, under no significant threat. These feelings of being under threat frequently give rise to hypervigilance (i.e. constantly expecting, and being on the lookout for, signs of danger. For example, in social situations, we may find ourselves unable to relax and enjoy such encounters as we are preoccupied with minutely analysing the behaviour of others around us for signs of hostility. Furthermore, we may often believe that we perceive signs of hostility where they do not, in realistic terms, exist due to a cognitive bias compelling us to view others in an unreasonably negative light.
Hypervigilance, a fight/flight response)s makes us feel tense and agitated leading to various unpleasant physical sensations such as hyperventilation, sweating, elevated heart rate etc. However, in this article, I want to focus on a symptom that Pete Walker, author of Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving, referred to as MUSCLE ARMOURING.
Body Armouring essentially refers to body hypervigilance. Because our brain is functioning as if we are in constant danger, it sends signals to the body that it needs to be in a state of preparedness to defend itself or, in other words, to be braced for action.
As a result of this, we are likely to find that we suffer from chronically tensed muscles. Over time, this overstimulation of the muscles can give rise to considerable physical pain as well as conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
Because of such physical/bodily effects of complex PTSD, one of the world’s leading experts on the condition, Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, emphasizes the need for those suffering from it to undergo bottom-up therapies as well as top-down therapies, such as somatic experiencing therapy
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).