What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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I will be explaining what is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including how it differs from the well-known Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


A bit about Trauma?

Trauma can affect us all regardless of gender, culture, race, or financial background. All of us have experienced some sort of difficulty in our lives at some point.

But the question here is what makes someone almost seem like they come through their issues unscathed where others do not. The answer lies in the fact that trauma could be a lot more complex in one person than the other.

Understanding what Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is, will help you to understand how your trauma would have affected you

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post Traumatic Stress disorder is a mental health condition that is the result of a traumatic or terrifying experience. This could be after actually experiencing it yourself or seeing it happen by witnessing it. Trauma could happen, for example being attacked, being involved in a car accident, or even watching a loved one die could bring about PTSD symptoms.

The Symptoms could include re-experiencing your experiences with flashbacks, severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts which are uncontrollable, nightmares, and avoidance of certain situations. For some their alcohol or drug intake increases significantly.

People with PTSD tend to relive their trauma either through nightmares, intrusive thoughts or flashbacks. The flashbacks could be visual where you actually see in your mind what happened or auditory where you could hear but not see things.

Avoidance symptoms are where individuals try to push away or prevent reminders of the trauma. They could attempt to avoid certain situations, people, or places associated with the event. Others also try to suppress what you call, internal reminders of what happened. By internal emotions, memories, or physical sensations.

This is where some tend to use drugs and alcohol as a way of avoidance of those reminders.

Most people who experience trauma will have a period of time after where they find things difficult and find it hard to cope, but over time and by taking care of yourself, you will get better. For others, if your symptoms get worse over time and start to interfere with your day-to-day life, you may have PTSD.

The final set of symptoms refers to finding yourself extra sensitive to your environment where you are almost constantly on guard. This is called hypervigilance and here you may also be very sensitive to people’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Explanation Using fictional characters

The best way to explain Complex PTSD is to provide an example of how it happened to two “fictional” individuals.

You have two characters Susan and Sharon aged 18 best friends, just starting the same university.

Susan before she went to university, was gifted driving lessons and a small second-hand car by her parents. Susan and Sharon decided to take the car for a test run and ended up on a busy A Road.

Unfortunately, a driver pulled out in front of them and a head-on collision ensued. They both were rushed to the hospital for, not life-threatening but just for treatment. Both girls left after around seven days. Susan suffered more serious injuries than Sharon and Sharon recovered from her physical injuries quicker.

Both girls also had PTSD symptoms after the accident where they had nightmares and felt anxiety.

The difference between the two is that Susan has a loving family that provided all the emotional and physical care that she needed. They took her home where she rested for two months then returned to university shortly after.

Sharon, unfortunately, comes from a dysfunctional family. Her mum consumes around two bottles of wine a day and has done for a number of years. She has drunk for so long that she no longer has hangovers. She has two older siblings where one is in prison and the other is chronic mental health issues. Her father is nowhere to be seen and hasn’t been since she was eight years old. When he was around, he was violent to her mother and her older brother. She witnessed this as well.

After the accident, Sharron really struggled. Prior to the accident, he had quite serious anxiety issues and struggled with friendships and relationships. In fact, Susan was the only friend she really had.

The accident really affected her mental health which unfortunately declined further. Her mum provided very little emotional support. She was in fact very cold towards her and was verbally abusive.

What you could see between the two girls is the same accident, they were in the same car but had complexly different outcomes.

The complexity of Sharon’s life, i.e. trauma in the past from witnessing violence between her parents, her father’s abandonment plus her mother’s drinking and behavior, made the same situation harder to cope with for her.

There are so many layers to her trauma and how she experiences life itself which made the accident too much to cope with. Whilst Susan, who had the love and support from her stable family, recovered from her emotional and physical injuries almost at the same time.

Definitions of  Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In contrast to single-incident PTSD, C-PTSD occurs as a result of repeated or chronic exposure to extremely threatening events from which escape is impossible. C-PTSD is associated with a longer duration and greater intensity of traumatic stress.

(C-PTSD), which occurs as a result of long-term exposure to traumatic stress, rather than in response to a single incident. C-PTSD typically arises as a result of ongoing stress or repeated traumatic events that occur during childhood and is sometimes referred to as developmental trauma disorder (DTD).

Schwartz, Arielle. The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. Althea Press. Kindle Edition.

C-PTSD is a more severe form of Post-traumatic stress disorder. It is delineated from this better-known trauma syndrome by five of its most common and troublesome features: emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic, and social anxiety. Emotional flashbacks are perhaps the

Walker, Pete. Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A GUIDE AND MAP FOR RECOVERING FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (p. 3). Azure Coyote Publishing. Kindle Edition.

How Complex PTSD differs from PTSD

With PTSD, Susan had some mild symptoms. There was one clear event that terrified Susan, which resulted in some visual flashbacks, nightmares and worries, and concerns about driving again.

Sharon’s trauma is more complex than how her life as a whole is, making her experience the trauma with a lot more difficulty. The main thing about this is the previous trauma but many of those traumatic experiences Sharon doesn’t remember them all.

Sharon’s childhood was like a snowball effect where since early childhood, she went from one trauma to another where nothing was ever solved for her. She never had a supportive loving family to help her heal anything.

What are the Symptoms of Complex PTSD

Because trauma is the result of repeated trauma, often before, as a child you are able to talk about it and explain what is happening to someone else. You have flashbacks but many of the flashbacks are not visual, they are emotional. By emotional you are flashing back to the feelings you felt when you were traumatised.

These emotional flashbacks also trigger the Fight, Flight, or Freeze instinct, often at inappropriate times. Read more about it here.

Some of the other symptoms could include having a poor negative view of yourself and or other people, difficulties in managing your emotions, very low self-esteem, you could also have lapses in memory over what happened, or constant reliving traumatic events. Having episodes where you feel detached from yourself emotionally – you don’t laugh too much, you don’t cry, you just don’t feel much at all. You may also have relationship difficulties, constant feelings of loneliness even when you are surrounded by people, etc.

The main difference between PTSD and complex PTSD is that your identity and self-worth are often crushed with Complex PTSD as you spend a lot of your time and energy trying to cope with what you are going through.

Physical symptoms of Complex PTSD

It is also important to consider the physical health problems someone with CPTSD could have that are often associated with long-term chronic stress. For example stomach issues, frequent headaches on the milder side up to being at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, and strokes when the symptoms are more acute.

What help is available for someone with CPTSD

The help given depends on how severe the symptoms are as with most things the symptoms can range from mild to debilitating.

Treatment options can include Therapy, Emdr Somatic, Emotional Freedom Techniques, HAVE LINKS TO OTHER YOUTUBE VIDEOS EXPLAINING WHAT THESE ARE Psychoeducation i.e. reading books on the subject. It is found that a Holistic approach is the most helpful as trauma is found in the body as well as your mind. Also as Complex PTSD will affect almost every aspect of your life, support to help rebuild your life will be the most effective and sustainable.

What to do next

What do you think about the contents of this article. Feel free to contact me to let me know and also let me know of other articles you would like to see on this website.

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