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What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? – CPTSD

Today, I will be talking What Complex PTSD is.

Most of us of heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where someone experiences certain symptoms after going through trauma such as being attacked, having a car accident or experiencing natural disaster.

The person would respond naturally to this incident with fear and sadness by trying to avoid situations that remind them of the trauma. It is likely also they would be experiencing some other symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, playing the incident over and over in their minds etc.

There is however, another type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, CPTSD which is more serious that PTSD. Here you as the child or adult would have been exposed to long-term physical and emotional trauma rather than a single incident like it can be with PTSD.

CPTSD happens where there is a relationship where there is that potential imbalance where one person naturally or has forced their way to have more power and control over the other. This could be when people are imprisoned and tortured, or they could have been in a domestic abusive relationship etc. When it comes to children that power unbalance could come from inadequate parenting. If a child lives in a children’s home , the support from their carers being inadequate could cause this. It happens especially when children go through emotional, physical, spiritual and sexual abuse.

What’s so different about Complex Post traumatic stress disorder, you may have some of the following difficulties:

  • Managing emotions: i.e. constant sadness, suicidal ideation, explosive anger, or suppressing anger.
  • They could also have lapses in memory over what happened, constantly 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.
  • It could affect how, and this is a main one as well, you perceive yourself. Toxic shame – there is healthy shame and toxic shame. Some shame is ok but it becomes toxic where it affects how you see yourself. When it distorts how you feel about yourself, you would lack self-esteem, self-worth, feeling helpless, feel different from other people.
  • How you perceive the perpetrator. Giving total power to the perpetrator, becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, or preoccupied with revenge.
  • Relations with Others. Examples include isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer.
  • One’s System of Meanings. May include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

This is just a natural response to their what has happened to you.

You as a child could have gone through trauma such as witnessing domestic violence and non-violent abuse, emotional neglect where their parents did not or could not provide any nurturing or emotional support, physical abuse such as beatings with instruments, punching and excessive slapping, explosive anger. It could happen when one or both of the parents have had prolong periods of substance misuse. Even if it was just one parent that was misusing substance, the other parent could be co-dependent where they are totally taken up with the problems with their substance misusing partner, that they neglect their children.

There are so many types of abuse.

Most of this isn’t wilful as most parents do their best. It’s not about blaming your parents, it’s about understanding and bringing clarity to what could have caused problems to you as a child and as an adult you are still experiencing problems from it and you don’t realise or you may realise but not sure that you can do something about it.

It is clear to most of us what sexual and physical abuse is and how that could affect a child and an adult as well but a lot of forms abuse are subtle. Because when it comes down to it as parents, you can’t give what you haven’t got. Especially if you as the parent has gone through trauma as well. You try your hardest but somehow you pass your trauma down to your children and history repeats itself.  It’s not about blaming but understanding so that you could break the cycle of abuse in your family and not pass this type of destruction onto the next generation.

As a result of the trauma you as a child goes through, which unlike PTSD where it could be a one off incident, here the trauma is ongoing to the extent the child doesn’t believe there is a way out for them. You may have taken on behavioural changes, beliefs and values to protect yourself, to cope with what you were going through. This helped you to survive what you were experiencing.  However, unless you have gone through a healthy relationship, positive emotional support or therapy, these behaviours, values and beliefs that you took on to survive, you may find it hard to change and move away from. This could block you from being truly happy and from achieving your full potential.

For example, some people. I know I personally did this a lot. I was an avid people pleaser where I would really try so hard to placate people and to not let situations get out of hand. As a child you might have frantically tried to please your parents. To tread on eggshells not to upset them. If you grow up doing that as adult, you would be feeling exhausted and completely by now, trying to make everyone happy. That’s an impossible job.

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