Hypervigilance is a tendency to constantly scan your environment for threats. You’re hyper aware of your surroundings in a way that makes you feel tense, anxious, and constantly on guard.
For sufferers of CPTSD, hypervigilance often means being hyper-aware of things connected with their traumatic experiences.
If you were traumatized by people who could be nice one day and highly abusive the next, you might be wary of nice people, always searching for signs that they’ll turn on you.
If you’ve been emotionally neglected, you’ll search for signs that you’re boring someone and that they’re itching to get away from you.
If you were abused and punished for the smallest mistake, you’ll search your own behaviour and actions for signs that you’re less than perfect.
Seen this way, hypervigilance is a normal reaction to an abnormal (and highly traumatic) situation. It lets us notice possible threats at once. Back then, in the situation that caused our CPTSD, this was a vital survival skill.
The problem with hypervigilance is that it doesn’t go away on its own. Even when we’re safe, we’re still looking at the world around us as if we’re under threat. This level of awareness is exhausting and stressful. Many of us aren’t even conscious of our own hypervigilance. We developed it as children, and it’s become our normal level of awareness. We’ll get through our day at work or through a party without any problems – only to collapse once we’re at home and by ourselves, so utterly drained that all we can do is veg out on the sofa and watch TV.
People who live with CPTSD survivors often feel that they must walk on eggshells, since the slightest less-than-absolutely-affectionate facial expression can cause massive anxiety. (Out of the Storm)