"Unlike simple stress, trauma changes your view of your life and yourself. It shatters your most basic assumptions about yourself and your world."

Mark Goulston
Panic Attack Symptoms and Treatment

Complex PTSD Symptoms, Behavior, and Treatment

Whereas Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known by its abbreviation of PTSD, was once something many of us had never heard of, or were only vaguely familiar with, in recent years it has gained the attention and understanding that is so essential for those suffering with it. When a disease or disorder isn’t part of the public consciousness, it can be much more difficult for the research and treatment of the condition to get the necessary attention, funding, and ongoing exposure. While it is never a positive thing to see more people experiencing PTSD and Complex PTSD, there is progress in more people being familiar with PTSD, and more people understanding that it’s something people were suffering from long before it had a name.

Complex PTSD and Those “Boys Who Came Back Different”

When I was a child in the early 1980s and asked my mother questions about the Vietnam War, she got quiet. With a bit of a faraway look in her eyes, she told me as much as she thought a young girl could grasp. I had heard rumblings for years amongst adults that “those boys were never the same after that war,” but I didn’t fully comprehend what was meant by that. Thinking back now, with all the advances that have been made since then in understanding the complexities of trauma, I realize the adults saying it probably didn’t fully comprehend it either.

In the 1970s, 80s, 90s, early 2000s, and every time period before, there was no widespread, cultural understanding of PTSD, Complex PTSD, and the myriad ways that these conditions are fed by war. There was simply a very basic understanding that bright, young men left America to go fight a war that was confusing in and of itself, and many of them came home very “different” than they were when they left.

The Vietnam war occurred in an age before the internet; an age before 24-hour news stations and social media. The average American had little understanding of what soldiers, nurses, and doctors were enduring every day in Vietnam. Even today, with all this increased information available to us through the media, we still can only begin to imagine what those who are actually experiencing it are dealing with. But if there is any benefit to be gained, it is in our awareness.

Once we recognize that repeated stress and trauma have a significant, lasting impact on those living through it – even though we can’t ever know the extent to which it is affecting them – we can fully acknowledge that they need and deserve help to work through it. We can stop speaking in vague statements of people “never being the same again” after war, child abuse, spousal abuse, or another series of traumatic events, and instead shift our focus to helping them process what they’ve been through and learn the coping mechanisms necessary to live a happier, healthier life.

What is Complex PTSD? How does it differ from PTSD?

PTSD and Complex PTSD share many similarities, with the primary difference between the two being the duration of the event that caused the trauma. Among the primary causes of PTSD you will find many events that, while having the potential to cause deep, lasting trauma, are singular catastrophes. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Earthquakes
  • Floods
  • Car accidents
  • Unexpected death of a loved one.

Causes of PTSD can also include repeated, or chronic, traumatic events, such as those endured in war, long-term child abuse, or long-term domestic abuse as an adult.

However, it is in these instances of chronic trauma that we start to see a distinction in symptoms for some people – distinctions that have helped psychologists understand that PTSD is more multidimensional than originally believed. For trauma survivors who are living with traditional symptoms of PTSD, as well as symptoms beyond those, there is a possibility that their actual diagnosis should be Complex PTSD.

Additional Symptoms Exhibited in Complex PTSD

While any traumatic event can be life-altering and affect an individual in countless ways, in instances of repeated exposure to pain and suffering, or repeated personal victimization, an effective treatment plan may require going beyond the traditional PTSD therapies. These additional symptoms of Complex PTSD are outlined by The National Center for PTSD to include:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Dissociation
  • Negative self-perception
  • Distorted view of the perpetrator of the trauma
  • Trouble in relating well to others
  • Loss of faith or hope

Symptoms of Complex PTSD are most often experienced after prolonged physical or emotional captivity. While serving in the military, or living in a war-torn country, are among the common causes of Complex PTSD, the majority of the clients we have treated at Bridges to Recovery have developed the disorder as a result of long-term abuse. For some, it was caused by ongoing child abuse that they had pushed below the surface of their consciousness for as long as they could, while others have arrived at Bridges the same day they left an emotionally or physically abusive adult relationship.

Living with Complex PTSD: Recovery

To be sure, there is no medication or therapy in the world that will erase the past, but inpatient treatment for Complex PTSD can work absolute wonders in helping you come to terms with the past, and look forward to the future. This does not mean forgetting what was done to you, and needn’t mean forgiving the person or people who inflicted the pain. But it does mean making a conscious decision to stop allowing your past trauma to dictate the decisions you make today, and the feelings at the forefront of your mind. It means letting the emotional wounds stop bleeding long enough that they can scab over and eventually become a scar – a reminder not only of what happened, but more importantly, that you survived.

Whatever the unique scenario you are facing, our exceptional team is prepared to help you work through all the twists and turns of your trauma. We understand and respect that it will take time, trust, sweat, and tears, and want you to know that we are already incredibly proud of your perseverance. You’ve lived through something that not everyone is able to; you’ve walked through the fire and came out a bit burned, but breathing. Complex PTSD treatment will help you take that same strength you used to survive and channel it into thriving. And we can’t wait to see the wonderful life that’s ahead of you.

"Unlike simple stress, trauma changes your view of your life and yourself. It shatters your most basic assumptions about yourself and your world."

Mark Goulston

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