What Makes Cptsd So Hard To Recognize
Because it happens in the formative years, complex trauma impacts your ability to understand and maintain emotional stability. You may struggle to find a sense of safety and trust throughout your life, and therefore, it is difficult to regulate emotions in relationships.
Complex trauma may lead to a disorganized attachment style, where you struggle to know whether what you think and feel is right or wrong. Standing up for yourself and setting boundaries may feel completely unfamiliar.
Its often hard to figure out who to trust if anyone, especially in relationships. In the struggle to make sense of why life feels so bad, those with CPTSD often fault themselves. Many feel intense shame and self-hatred, because they cant seem to manage emotions like everybody else. Its hard to untangle ones trauma from ones identity. Thats the complex piece.
How Is Complex Ptsd Diagnosed
Complex PTSD is diagnosed by a mental health professional who will assess any symptoms you may have. Its also crucial for the doctor or therapist to understand your symptoms in detail.
Your treatment plan will depend on several factors, not just the diagnostic criteria.
Reflecting on the Diagnosis: You may be diagnosed with Complex PTSD if your doctor or therapist notes the following:
Healing From Complex Ptsdinternational Complex Trauma Association
I hear you, I see you, I care about you and you matter. Too much time has passed since youve felt like someone actually listened to what is disrupting your life. Its been too long living life outwardly like everything is okay, just to make others happy. I know how alone youve felt on this journey to find REAL answers and REAL solutions to what is happening internally for you.
I understand because I too searched for REAL answers for many, many years. Only to have specialists tell me youre doing better than my other clients, so youll be okay. When Complex Ptsd impacts our ability to have healthy relationships, our ability to be the parent we want to be, and to have the career we would love, then we have to find answers the medical professional isnt even trained in as yet.
Welcome to Certified Trauma Recovery Coaching & Certifications, where we can assist you to become equipped for the life you envision and to have a proactive recovery from the variety of impacts Complex Ptsd is currently having in your daily life as you go about transforming your story into your superpower.
We are ALL needed here, at this time, to begin to be the change the generations need. Its time to Break the Silence in our familys, our communitys, in our Mental Health arena, so we can have effective recovery from Complex Trauma.
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Additional Personal Strengths That Aid In Rising Above Abuse
Now lets take a look at strengths you might not even realize apply to discovering your breakthroughs on your healing journey. Can you draw, color, sing, write? Do you enjoy crafts ?
Im gonna go out on a limb and guess that you never realized that these represent personal strengths. All of these can be utilized to enhance your calm and anxiety rather than popping a pill or reaching for a drink or dissociating.
Recovering From Complex Ptsd With Reconnection And Integration
With reconnection and integration, you can establish safety and stabilization as well as practice remembrance and mourning. Essentially, its time to look ahead as you consider who you are without the cloud of trauma hanging overhead. In a way, this process is all about redefining and rediscovering who you are.
Instead of feeling powerless and perpetually victimized, you can find a new voice. Oftentimes C-PTSD gives rise to a sense of purpose through service to others. Giving back helps any kind of recovery work. In the end, this step is all about forward-thinking, not dwelling on the past any longer.
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How Common Is It
The research on CPTSD is still new, but a 2019 study has shown that the prevalence rates for CPTSD and PTSD together are 7.2%.8 While the research is still new, the trend seems to show that it is childhood interpersonal trauma that is highly associated with Complex PTSD:8
- The prevalence rate for CPTSD is 3.8% and for PTSD is 3.4%
- Women display symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD at twice the rate of men
- Childhood sexual abuse and childhood physical abuse perpetrated by a caregiver were highly correlated with CPTSD, while childhood sexual assault perpetrated by someone who was not a caregiver or guardian was associated with PTSD
- In substantiated child abuse cases, 78% of children were victimized by a parent9
Emotional Healing From Complex Ptsd
Complex PTSD shows up vividly in our emotional lives. Healing from complex PTSD needs quite some unlearning and relearning about emotions, including:
- how to recognise the wide range and intensities of emotions in ourselves and others,
- how to recognise, handle and lessen the effects of emotional flashbacks,
- how to release old emotions from where they got stuck so they no longer interrupt our normal adult lives.
How we go about this depends on our individual circumstances, experiences, and habits of how weve handled emotions up to now.
While we can learn and benefit a lot from reading, watching videos, and soaking up micro-wisdoms from Instagram therapists, working one-to-one with a skilled professional or a few different professionals at different stages of the journey helps enormously.
Complex PTSD is like having a holey jumper. While we can certainly do a good patch job by ourselves and not forgetting that weve kept ourselves going for years already a skilled knitter or crocheter can help make repairs. In time, working with skilled professionals helps us build our individual toolkits for self-care too, so were less likely to fall into the traps complex PTSD sets us up for.
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How Does Complex Trauma Develop
When you experience a traumatic event, it activates the limbic system in the brain. This fire alarm shuts down all nonessential systems and floods your body with stress hormones, like cortisol, so you can prepare for fight, flight, or freeze.
Once the danger passes, your parasympathetic nervous system provides inner calm, otherwise known as your rest and digest mode.
At this point, normal cognitive function returns, and you can go back to your day with relatively few side effects, perhaps only feeling a little jittery for a while, or a bit on edge.
But for people who live with complex trauma, this balance doesnt quite return all the way.
The limbic system stays engaged most of the time. Its a coping mechanism to try and stay safe in the face of ongoing adversity. Its an experience of constantly being in survival mode, or on edge.
Over time, it becomes a new normal for the brain and body.
In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, MD, describes how trauma literally becomes trapped in the body and the brain rewires itself. These lasting effects create symptoms of complex trauma.
This bodily state of your nervous system being on high alert can affect your thoughts, actions, and relationships.
Some symptoms of complex trauma include:
- low self-esteem or negative self-perception
- avoiding people, places, or scenarios that upset you
A Day With: Complex Ptsd
My life is woven together by threads of trauma. None are explosive enough to solely cause post-traumatic stress disorder . But it’s the impact of dozens of smaller traumas combined that landed me in a psychologist’s office with a complex PTSD diagnosis.
That was five years ago. Back when the stress of a turbulent divorce and serious health problems left me incapable of using my normal coping skills. I couldn’t work harder or achieve more to prove my worth because I was too sick to work at all. I went to therapy to “fix” my problems and get over childhood pain, but instead, it unleashed a monster that swallowed me whole. For six months, CPTSD left me curled up on the bathroom floor, shaking and sobbing, reliving my past traumas. There was no past or present, just the cold hard bathroom tile, feeling incapable of stopping the tsunami of memories and sensations.
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Saving The Best For Last
Faith! Faith, in particular having a relationship with God most definitely qualifies as a HUGE personal strength! And if this seems foreign to you, thats ok because having the desire to build a relationship with God and especially with Jesus who can totally relate to abuse and trauma counts as a strength.
How Do Those With Cptsd Begin To Heal
Complex trauma survivors can begin to heal by starting to notice what the impact of the trauma is on the self.
It is important to notice that the trauma-related parts of self need nurturing from the self-caring part that seeks wholeness and health. In other words, healing starts by looking at whats old and whats current. Can you nurture the protective parts of self that developed long ago? You can help them understand they are no longer living in trauma that today they are safe with the wise adult providing good self-care.
Trauma-informed therapy can be an important first step. Therapy is an emotionally corrective relationship which sets the foundation for safety and trust that you will learn to take elsewhere, into other relationships in your life.
Trauma-informed care is not about what is wrong or bad about you, its about what happened to you and how you survived!
Complex trauma survivor: I see you. We specialize in helping survivors like you.
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How Is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosed
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder exists as a formal diagnosis recognized by the World Health Organization in their International Classification of Diseases, 11th edition . In the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , published by the American Psychiatric Association and used widely in the US, there is no official CPTSD diagnosis. Instead, the symptoms of CPTSD fall within the official PTSD diagnostic criteria.4
While this information is only really necessary to those diagnosing, it is important to know that there is debate amongst professionals about whether CPTSD is a part of PTSDs broad continuum or if it should be a separate diagnosis. Whether its an official diagnosis or not, the language of CPTSD gives a more clear understanding of how a persons behavior reflects their experience.
Triggers Of Complex Ptsd
People who have PTSD or complex PTSD can react to different life situations as if they are reliving their trauma.
The particular situation that triggers a person can be random and varies depending on their specific trauma history. A person can be triggered by situations, images, smells, conversations with others, and more.
This triggering can manifest as a fight-or-flight response triggered by the amygdala, responsible for processing emotions in the brain.
When this happens, a persons brain can perceive that they are in danger, even if they are not. This is known as an amygdala hijack and can also result in things like flashbacks, nightmares, or being easily startled.
People with PTSD or complex PTSD may exhibit certain behaviors in an attempt to manage their symptoms.
Examples of such behaviors include:
- misusing alcohol or drugs
- avoiding unpleasant situations by becoming people-pleasers
- lashing out at minor criticisms
These behaviors can develop as a way to deal with or try to forget about the original trauma and the resulting symptoms in the present.
Friends and family of people with complex PTSD should be aware that these behaviors may represent coping mechanisms and attempts to gain control over emotions.
To recover from PTSD or complex PTSD, a person can seek treatment and learn to replace these behaviors with ones focused on healing and self-care.
Often, people with complex PTSD have experienced prolonged trauma such as ongoing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
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What Is Complex Ptsd
Most traumatic events are on-off or time-limited, such as a car accident, rape, or natural disasters.
According to The National Center for PTSD, people with Complex PTSD experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time. The types of trauma that are associated with Complex PTSD include long-term domestic abuse, long-term child physical and sexual abuse, prostitution brothels, prisoner of war camps, and concentration camps.
Even though 92 percent of those with Complex PTSD meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, they do exhibit additional symptoms which affect their self-concept and how they deal with stressful events.
Classic symptoms of those with the disorder include difficulties with emotional regulation, consciousness, self-perception, distorted perceptions of the perpetrator, relations with others, and a sense of meaning in life.
What Is Complex Trauma Or Cptsd
Complex PTSD or complex trauma is trauma that starts or happens in childhood. Its relational and developmental .
Complex trauma is usually recurring and is inflicted by a caregiver, parent, guardian, or person who has close, repeated contact like a clergy person, neighbor, or family member. Complex trauma can consist of emotional, physical and/or sexual violence.
Every time I use the term trauma survivor, I use it to encompass all types of trauma: complex trauma, single-incident trauma, the list goes on. But in reality, most of my clients are complex trauma survivors those with CPTSD and are the people Im most often talking to and about.
Its so important to take the mystery out of this disorder and make it concrete by talking more openly about CPTSD. Well look at what CPTSD is, what causes it, what it looks like in adulthood, and how we can understand it better and talk about it.
Strength Based Approach To Healing
Growing up with a history of childhood trauma can lead you to have a negativity bias. This can cause you to focus on your pain and problems while simultaneously ignoring the ways that you are strong and resilient. A strength based approach to healing involves focusing on your positive qualities. This will help to counterbalance difficult feelings of hopelessness or despair when they arise. Take some time to write your answers to the following questions in a journal. Notice how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically after focusing on your strengths.
- What positive qualities best describe you? For example, you might explore how you are caring, a good friend to others, have a good sense of humor, behave fairly, or enjoy spending time learning new things.
- Take a moment to reflect upon your growth. What are the positive changes that you have created in your life as a result of your commitment to healing? Maybe, you have realized your capacity to be brave, determined, or mentally tough.
- What hopes or visions do you have for your future? What new qualities would you like to expand and grow? What goals would you like to set for yourself? What do you need to support you to be successful?
- What actions can you take to make a difference in the outcome of your life now? What helps you to feel empowered to shape your future in a positive direction?
About Dr Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing , somatic psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like , and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.
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Caution Do Not Start Digging Until You Know What Is Buried Out There Avoid Black Holes
The first reaction of someone trying to recover from complex trauma and the approach of many counselors is to go searching for the buried details. People ask Why cant I remember things? Counselors are tempted to try to recover those lost memories. This can result in more trauma and pain and runs the risk of digging up stuff that wasnt really buried in your yard but the yards of neighbors or even fictional characters.
Some serious damage has been done by forcing people to remember things way before they were ready and by hunting for things that you are not sure happened. Ask a kid often enough about sexual abuse and they will begin to remember things that may have happened or they think happened. These contaminated memories have resulted in a lot of extra pain.
There are a number of other steps that need to be completed before you go digging into the past for answers. The brain tries to protect us by hiding details from us that might keep us from functioning well enough to survive. Trust the process.
Relatings Role In The Brain And Healing Complex Ptsd
When I changed my perspective from seeing myself as a crazy loser to a highly wounded child of God who actually had strengths I had used, I could much more easily look at myself and offer myself compassion, empathy and love.
Relating to myself with compassion, empathy and love changed my brain patterns and calmed the part of my brain that made me feel frightened, frozen or made me want to flee. These brain changes made space for new possibilities for freedom, hope and joy to move in.
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