What Causes Complex Ptsd
The types of traumatic events that can cause complex PTSD include:
- childhood abuse, neglect or abandonment
- ongoing domestic violence or abuse
- repeatedly witnessing violence or abuse
- being forced or manipulated into prostitution
- torture, kidnapping or slavery
- being a prisoner of war.
You are more likely to develop complex PTSD if:
- you experienced trauma at an early age
- the trauma lasted for a long time
- escape or rescue were unlikely or impossible
- you have experienced multiple traumas
- you were harmed by someone close to you.
Developing PTSD after experiencing domestic violence was not something I was prepared for. Physically I left my old home. Mentally I am still there. The prison is no longer that house it is my mind. My thoughts. My memories.
Misdiagnosis with BPD
Some of the symptoms of complex PTSD are very similar to those of borderline personality disorder , and not all professionals are aware of complex PTSD.
As a result, some people are given a diagnosis of BPD or another personality disorder when complex PTSD fits their experiences more closely. Professionals disagree about when it’s helpful to diagnose someone with a personality disorder or when another diagnosis or description is better. To find out more see our page on why personality disorders are controversial?
See our pages on borderline personality disorder and personality disorders for more information on these diagnoses.
Does Complex Ptsd Ever Go Away
Despite its inherent barriers to recovery, complex post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable. Someone can approach their all-too-familiar barriers and triggers and begin to reshape their experiences with the help of a knowledgeable and compassionate guide. Time, patience, trust, empowerment, and long-term support are crucial components in bridging the gap between traumatic stress and healing.
In the context of well-rounded support and guidance, someone can work to disempower the trauma that has wrecked them and practice positive coping skills. In a welcoming and secure environment, treatment centers for complex PTSD provide immersive opportunities for therapy and positive life skills.
According to a trusted source, nearly 7% of people in the United States will have traditional PTSD at some point in their lives. Changes in the brains emotional, memory, and reasoning areas could cause symptoms. The amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex are among the brain areas that may be affected.
C-PTSD is a severe mental health condition that takes time to heal and is a lifelong condition for many people. The combination of therapy and medication provided by our Boston psychiatrist team, on the other hand, can substantially improve your quality of life and help you manage your symptoms.
- May 7, 2022
A More Complex Look At Complex Ptsd
The traumatic stress field has adopted the term Complex Trauma to describe the experience of multiple and/or chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature and early-life onset. These exposures often occur within the childs caregiving system and include physical, emotional, and educational neglect and child maltreatment beginning in early childhood.
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What Has Helped You Manage Symptoms Of Ptsd Or Complex
Sophie: Just breathe. A major symptom for me living with PTSD has been panic attacks. The number one way to get through a panic attack is to regulate my breath. It seems simple, but it seemed so hard at first.
The first few times I had panic attacks, it was like a python was wrapping itself around my chest I thought I would never get a full breath of air again. With the help of my psychologist, I was able to regulate my breathing when having a panic attack. I now know a panic attack isnt the end. I can get through it, and I will be able to breathe again.
Jess: Honestly? Cutting my perpetrators out of my life. Ive done every therapy under the sun for complex PTSD and they have all helped me. But one therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, helped me the most by giving me the realisation and the tools to end my relationships with my family of origin.
With them no longer in my life I feel sense of control over my own recovery that I never had before. In the past, I would make all of this progress in therapy and then see my family It would be like an elastic band that just snapped me back into negative thought and behavioural patterns I didnt want to do anymore. And it would destabilise me for months afterwards.
I am not saying this was an easy decision or is the right decision for everyone. But I know that this decision saved my life.
Why Im Writing This
When I first escaped my 27-year long abusive marriage I found myself unexpectedly blindsided by the overwhelming symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD. I spent a lot of time searching for information, resources and hope online. I had no idea that I could end up with PTSD after being trapped in an abusive marriage. I was afraid that I was going crazy.
I am going to share some details of my struggle with PTSD/CPTSD, not so that you can compare your situation to mine ~ there will always be someone who has lived through more horrific trauma than me, and those who have lived through less extreme situations and everyones reaction is different. Please own your own story.
Imagine that you knew someone who had cancer you would be horrified if they told you, Yeah, Ive got cancer, but look at this person! Theyve got a different, scarier type of cancer. I dont know why Im struggling so much!No! Youd almost certainly remind them that cancer is awful. Period. It doesnt matter what type of cancer you have.
Its the same with the fallout from abuse. No matter what the details of your story are, if what Im writing resonates with you, then please offer yourself compassion, not comparison.
I am writing with transparency here to provide information and hope for others.
I am writing to let you know that you are not alone. or crazy.
I am writing to remind you that God can redeem even disastrous situations.
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Ptsd Complex Ptsd And Borderline Personality Disorder Whats The Difference
PTSD and C-PTSD are both caused by experiencing traumatic events. Post-traumatic stress disorder is the result of one traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a car accident, or a physical attack on a person. C-PTSD, on the other hand, occurs as a result of repeated exposure to acts of abuse or violence.
Complex PTSD is different from PTSD because it often occurs in people whove experienced extreme violence and stress over an extended period of time. Although PTSD can make a person feel insecure or hopeless, those feelings are typically less extreme than what those with C-PTSD experience. C-PTSD leaves individuals feeling hopeless, as if there is no way to escape the trauma.
Those with both PTSD and C-PTSD may experience flashbacks. Those with simple PTSD may experience visual flashbacks or nightmares. A person with complex PTSD may additionally experience emotional responses to things that trigger the memory of trauma from childhood into adult life. At times, these responses may be in relation to something that happened to someone else. For example, a person who has been sexually assaulted may experience emotional flashbacks to their trauma after hearing of someone else who was assaulted.
Nightmares and difficulty sleeping may occur with both conditions. C-PTSD may also cause night terrors and chronic insomnia. Both also can come with different health conditions like chest pains or a disruption in the prefrontal cortex.
Complex PTSD Treatment And Recovery
How Betterhelp Can Support You With C
you are experiencing symptoms related to complex PTSD, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Getting treatment as soon as possible can help prevent symptoms of PTSD from getting worse.
There are many options for mental health assistance. Whether you choose to talk to a mental health practitioner or join a support group, the important thing is to know that you are not alone.
Many online resources are available, and online counseling is increasingly becoming the most convenient choice to seek treatment for PTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy delivered online has been shown to both alleviate the severity of baseline PTSD symptoms and reduce the instances of comorbid conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
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Choosing Not To Form Any Intimate Relationships
Survivors living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder have the same desires and needs for intimacy, sex, and attachment as anyone else. The difference is that they may choose to avoid forming intimate partner relationships.
It is vital to understand that in childhood these adults experienced a betrayal of trust, and often the sexual violation of their bodies.
Due to the betrayal of their trust in childhood, when these survivors do find themselves in a romantic relationship they often confound their partners by allowing them to draw close, but then quickly withdrawing.
Then, due to the sexual violation in childhood, sex is a huge issue for some. Forcing survivors to act like they are enjoying sex with their partner. When in fact, they are not. This pretense can result in them feeling dirty, used, and full of revulsion.
It is easy to see that in either scenario there will be big problems with anyone who attempts to form a loving and long-term relationship with survivors, leading to broken hearts and break-ups.
Because of the pain survivors inflict on others and themselves, many choose to live in terror of forming intimate relationships and avoid them totally.
Mental Illness Has Always Been A Part Of My Family History But For Some Reason I Thought I Had Somehow Narrowly Escaped It It Started To Become Clear To Me That I Hadnt
It wasnt until 2015, when I started working alongside a team of trauma therapists, that I finally understood that I likely had complex post-traumatic stress disorder , a different form of PTSD along with depression.
During my first intake, they asked me questions about my emotion regulation, alterations in consciousness, and relationships with others and my childhood.
The intake got me to look back and take stock of just how many traumatic incidents had taken place in my life.
As a child, my self-esteem was continually pummeled as my parents would spend time gaslighting and criticizing me it seemed I could do nothing right, because, by their estimation, I wasnt thin enough or didnt look feminine enough. The psychological abuse wore me down over the course of many years.
Those feelings of self-blame and shame came to the surface again when, at my 30th birthday party, I was raped.
These experiences have imprinted themselves on my brain, forming pathways that have affected how I experience my emotions and how connected I am to my body.
Carolyn Knight explains in her book, Working with Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma, that a child shouldnt have to cope with abuse. When abuse occurs, a child isnt psychologically equipped to process it. The adults in their lives are meant to be role models on how to regulate emotions and provide a safe environment.
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What Is Complex Ptsd
Besides the symptoms of PTSD, those with complex PTSD may also have other symptoms.
Problems with self-esteem. Those with complex PTSD may feel worthless or blame themselves for their trauma. They may believe bad things happen because of something in them.
Emotional dysfunction. Those with complex PTSD often experience intense emotions, which are sometimes inappropriate. Besides anger and sadness, they may feel like they’re living in a dream. They may have trouble feeling happy.
Relationship problems. Complex PTSD can make it difficult to trust others. Some people stay in unhealthy relationships because the situation is familiar. If their trauma involved abuse, their feelings about their abuser may be complicated. Or they may obsess about their abuser or focus on revenge.
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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Remind Them About How Their Nervous System Works
Its power to color experience is awesome. We have all had it happen we are having a high stress day and our ability to cope plummets. Even minor setbacks feel life threatening.
Our early relationships with our parents largely shape our autonomic nervous system. So if your loved one grew up in what I call a high threat home they will be in the habit of responding as if everything is a threat. In essence, they are living with constant emotional memory flashbacks. The exact opposite can happen too, and we can become adept at dissociation, disconnection and emotional numbing.
The threat brain works by convincing us there really is an emergency. After all, if it werent so compelling, our survival brain wouldnt be doing its job well. It can be helpful to remind yourself and your loved one that the problem isnt the specific situation- its the habitual triggered reaction.
I Know Firsthand Just How Scary And Isolating Living With Cptsd Can Sometimes Be But Over The Last Three Years Ive Come To Realize It Doesnt Have To Be A Life Lived In Silence
Until I was given the skills and the tools to know how to handle my emotions and deal with my triggers, I didnt really know how to help myself or help those around me with helping me.
The healing process hasnt been an easy one for me personally, but its been restorative in a way I know I deserve.
Trauma manifests itself in our bodies emotionally, physically, and mentally and this journey has been my way of finally releasing it.
There are a number of different approaches to treating PTSD and CPTSD. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular form of treatment, though some studies have shown this approach doesnt work for all cases of PTSD.
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How To Live With Complex Ptsd
Youre probably somewhat familiar with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder , as its often depicted in movies and television as a condition that affects war veterans and trauma survivors of mental or physical abuse, violence, natural disasters, and death. However, living with Complex PTSD is a different diagnosis and experience. C-PTSD is more specific to severe, repetitive trauma that typically happens in childhood.
Just based on acronyms alone, it may seem like PTSD and C-PTSD are similar, as they both have origins in trauma, and can involve disturbing behavior like flashbacks, nightmares, and insomnia. However, living with Complex-PTSD is dramatically different in how it manifests itself by actually reshaping a persons entire perspective.
Lets get into what each of these disorders is and how trauma focused therapy and a therapist matching service can help.
How Did You Receive A Diagnosis Of Ptsd Or Complex Ptsd
Sophie: I was in a major car accident when I was younger. It was after that I received a diagnosis of PTSD. I was having nightmares about the accident, or being in another accident. I had a panic attack straight after the accident, and I kept having panic attacks whenever I heard cars slam on their brakes or beep their horn.
A few weeks or so after the accident, I was walking down the street, and heard a car crash into another car behind me. I had a panic attack from hearing that noise. Nearly two years after the accident, I had surgery on an injury I sustained from the accident. When the surgery wasnt successful, the panic attacks started again.
Jess: I had started seeing a new therapist for a flare up in my eating disorder symptoms. We were discussing how this was likely from unresolved and unrelenting trauma. As I began to trust her more, I opened up more and more about my experiences. One day, she brought up complex PTSD quite casually, without making it sound scary.
I had never heard of complex PTSD in my life before. She told me about some of her other clients who had this diagnosis, and asked whether I related to these stories. We delved a little deeper and I then knew that my collection of symptoms had a name. I suddenly felt like I made sense and felt less alone too.
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What It’s Like Living With Complex Ptsd From Childhood Trauma
We all need to feel at home, especially in our physical surroundings, but early childhood trauma can rob us of that comfort. Its a double injury the one we had to survive as children and the one we struggle against as adult survivors.
I have a physical structure to wake from and come back to every day, but it isnt yet a home. I have placed my sentimental and practical things throughout so that it feels like me, looks like me, welcomes mebut I can never feel like I truly belong. I am aware that my sense of home is one that eludes me because of my childhood trauma. In fact, feeling alone and isolated is a major symptom of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD. I know this is the case, but my rational and emotional selves are at odds.
Having never had an attachment to my parents, having never felt safe or a sense of belonging in my childhood home, having spent my most formative younger years running away from the place that should have been my safety, as an adult I struggle with a kind of homelessness. Not by choice, but by habit, by comfort level and a persistent fear of being trapped.
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I reside in a space inside my head that says I have to keep moving. My fear of being in the wrong place prevents me from buying big girl furniture, decorating spaces with excitement that Im making my home, inviting people over to a real house warming. Instead, I live in a place of uncertainty.