Complex PTSD

Old 07-22-2018, 10:29 AM
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Complex PTSD

"Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma disorder) is a psychological disorder that occurs as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving sustained abuse or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic."


To delineate some these hallmark challenges - as outlined in the proposed Complex PTSD criteria - we'll begin with the one that shows up most frequently in day-to-day life: emotion regulation. Survivors with Complex PTSD have a very difficult time with emotions -- experiencing them, controlling them, and for many, just being able to comprehend or label them accurately. Many have unmanaged or persistent sadness, either explosive or inaccessible anger, and/or suicidal thoughts. They may be chronically numb, lack the appropriate affect in certain situations, be unable to triage sudden changes in emotional content, or struggle to level out after a great high/low. It's also very common for these survivors to re-experience emotions from trauma intrusively - particularly when triggered. These feelings are often disproportionate to the present situation, but are equal to the intensity of what was required of them at the time of a trauma -- also known as an emotional flashback.

Difficulty with self-perception is another fundamental struggle for complex trauma survivors -- particularly because their identity development was either fiercely interrupted or manipulated by someone with ulterior motives. In its simplest form, how they see themselves versus how the rest of the world does can be brutally different. Some may feel they carry or actually embody nothing but shame and shameful acts - that they are "bad". Others believe themselves to be fundamentally helpless; they were let down by so many who could've stopped their abuse but didn't, so it "must just be them". Many see themselves as responsible for what happened to them and thus unworthy of kindness or love because "they did this to themselves". And, countless others may feel defined by stigma, believe they are nothing more than their trauma, worry they're always in the way or a burden, or they may sense they're just completely and utterly different from anyone or anything around them - they are alien. Startling as it is, all of these feelings and more can live inside someone whom, to you, seems like the most brilliant, competent, strong, and compassionate human being you know.

Interruptions in consciousness are also a prevalent - and at times very scary - reality in Complex PTSD. Some may forget traumatic events (even if they knew of them once before), relive them intrusively, recall traumatic material in a different chronological order, or other distressing experiences of what is called dissociation. Dissociation is a symptom that exists on a spectrum, ranging anywhere from harmless daydreaming or temporarily "spacing out"; to more disruptive episodes of feeling disconnected from one's body or mental processes, not feeling real, or losing time; all the way to the most severe, which includes switching between self-states (or alters), as is seen in Dissociative Identity Disorder. Episodes of missing time can range anywhere from a few minutes, a couple days, or even large chunks of one's childhood. The larger gaps in time are typically only seen in DID, but those with C-PTSD alone can still endure 'interruptions in consciousness' that result in memory gaps, poor recall, traumatic material that is completely inaccessible, or, conversely, re-experiencing trauma against their will (e.g. flashbacks, intrusive images, body memories, etc.)
Not everyone has the same experiences with C-PTSD. There is much more info online that goes far beyond this. The above is a part of my core experiences of C-PTSD and what I'm recovering from. So many facets of it, I find it helpful to grab a smaller piece at a time to sit with the awareness of it.

Healing is possible. Awareness. Acceptance. Action.

- Mango

often you find yourself reading “the road to recovery”… but what road? A road makes it sound so simple, like a straight horizontal path. What’s the problem? Why haven’t you finished the road already? I would like to suggest the road is more akin to a mountain climb, on undulating and rocky terrain with a hard slog of an angle to walk up.

First of all, learning you’re on a mountain is a good place to start. This prevents disorientation, not understanding why the path is so hard and why you keep tripping over rocks. When I got my diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), I felt much more able to orientate myself and understand my symptoms and the reasons for them.

“Noticing and identifying these C-PTSD phenomena is more progressive than just being blindly lost in them.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

I’m lucky enough to live just outside of the Lake District, England, which despite its name, has 214 peaks, called fells, of varying sizes. Hiking is one of my favorite past times and often helps me reflect on my recovery. With different sizes in mind, when we are at the ground level looking up, the mountain of recovery can seem overwhelming, like it’s too big to climb, a challenging journey ahead. Sometimes there can even be cloud cover where we can’t even see the top or the way ahead, we can’t see the trauma for what it is or the size of the trauma.

“De-minimization is a crucial aspect of confronting denial. It is the process by which a person deconstructs the defense of ‘making light’ of his childhood trauma.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

The trauma you and I went through was not small and neither is the mountain.

The right walking attire is required for walking up mountains, sturdy shoes especially and a compass to make sure you’re on the right path. Different people like different clothing. You might have therapy trousers, an EMDR belt, a mindfulness jacket and medication woolly hat. With this in mind, it is also important to set the right pace up the mountain. Not too fast, choosing the best route which is seldom the most direct. Sometimes there are times for walking and other times will be for resting and taking stock. This is called the “equilibrium between doing and being.”


What is PTSD?ResourcesPeace of mind

Not going to lie, I’ve personally had the experience where I have considered jumping off the mountain side. The going can get pretty tough, not only that the weather on the mountain can be changeable and relentless; from rain to sleet to snow, from a breeze to a gale and a range of temperatures and humidity, but cloud cover can surround at any given second.

“Recovery involves learning to handle unpredictable shifts in our inner emotional weather.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

Doesn’t sound so fun so far. But then, after all this effort, you can stop and look at the route you’ve covered. Wow. What stunning views. Glorious. Look what you have achieved.

“Survivors in the early stages of recovery often fail to notice or validate their own actual progress. If we do not notice the degrees of our own improvement in our recovery work, we are in great danger of giving up on recovering.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

When you’re climbing that mountain and feel disheartened, stop and look at the where you’ve been. Sometimes we take longer routes, but we are always making progress and the view from wherever we are is an encouragement.

I suppose when talking about a road to recovery it’s less clear where that roads leads to, whereas on a mountain there is a clear aim. What if I were to say climbing the mountain isn’t about getting to the top? Are you disappointed? Annoyed? Want to give up? Hear me out.

“It is exceedingly difficult to accept the proposition – the fact – that recovery is never complete. And although we can expect our flashbacks to markedly decrease over time, it is tremendously difficult and sometimes impossible, to let go of the salvation fantasy that we will one day be forever free of them.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

The higher you get on a mountain, the better the views, and the more encouraged you become, but recovery is not about getting to the top. It’s about sitting down and looking at the vast view and enjoying a decrease in symptoms, a better knowing of yourself and practiced strategies.

“Deep-level recovery is also evidenced by you becoming more relaxed in safe enough company. This is turn leads to an increased capacity to be more authentic and vulnerable in trustworthy relationships.” — Walker, P. (2013). “COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.”

I wish you all the best with your mountain climb.

Trevor Smith
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Old 07-22-2018, 12:33 PM
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Thanks Mango. I have this too. It has become worse over the past few months instead of better. I start with a new therapist on Wed., this will be one of the main focuses. I will be kind to myself while working on it, but work on it I will, I don't want it controlling my life. Good info you posted!
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