Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Trauma

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Trauma (CPTSD) 

Trauma is a lasting emotional response to experiencing a very distressing or upsetting event, or series of events. These events may have been directly life-threatening or they may have symbolised unsafety, or threat to your safety, or the safety or others in some way. Typical examples of a traumatic event or events may include:

  • Childbirth
  • Road traffic accidents
  • Chronic or acute episodes of illness
  • The sudden or complicated death of someone close to you
  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • A terrorist attack
  • A natural disaster
  • Disruptions in core attachment relationships (I.e. with parents, partners or spouses)
  • Relationship breakdown or perceived betrayal by a friend or partner

The risk of a list like this is that you may consider your own experience not to fit with these events. Many of our clients have told us they don’t feel they have a valid traumatic event that could be considered ‘trauma’, but after further clinical assessment, they are clearly struggling with trauma symptoms. It is important to consider that any distressing life event, or series of events collectively taken, have the potential to cause a trauma response and the interpretation the brain makes of these events is what causes trauma, rather than the perception of the magnitude or ‘status’ of an event that may have occurred.

There is a growing recognition that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our population and more and more people are identifying trauma symptoms following this period. This is understandable because of the combination of meanings the pandemic presented to us as it threatened our own and our loved ones lives; it also presented us with challenges we have never had to face before.

What symptoms might someone with trauma experience?

The most common symptom of trauma is avoidance. This could mean avoidance of people, places or situations that risk triggering difficult emotions, thoughts or memories, or it may mean internal avoidance where a trauma survivor might do anything possible subjectively to avoid thinking about or remembering something traumatic. It’d very possible that people who avoid subjectively, don’t know they are doing this as they may have got so good at it that it’s become an unconscious process.

Other symptoms of trauma might include:

  • Vivid flashbacks or reexepriencinfg of the traumatic event/s (feeling like the trauma memory is happening right now)
  • Intrusive thoughts of images of the traumatic event/s
  • Nightmares
  • Chronic feelings of shame (this may be generalised and feel like it’s triggered by anything)
  • Frequent episodes of depression or mania
  • Insomnia and chronic sleep problems
  • Intense feelings of distress at anything that may remind you of the traumatic event
  • Physical experiences of trauma such as sweating, trembling, shaking, nausea, pain

We have a greater appreciation now that trauma can be stored or ‘held’ physiologically in the body and may be experienced by many as physical pain or sensation. It may be that you can’t easily link these physical sensations to memories of traumatic events.

Those suffering with symptoms of trauma are also likely to encounter chronic and sometimes debilitating feelings of shame which may be managed by avoidance. For many of us, our brains are very clever at finding ways of avoiding memories of the most distressing things that have happened to us. While this helps most of us function in our daily lives, it also means that at quieter times, or times when something goes wrong in life, all of the trauma feelings rise to the surface and are likely to be debilitating and painful. As a result of this, trauma may also come hand-in-hand with the emergence of unhelpful coping strategies such as:

  • Self-harm
  • Substance misuse (alcohol and drugs)
  • Addictive behaviours (sex and love addictions, gambling)
  • Patterns of relationship breakdown (in friendships and in other relationships)
  • Destructive or reckless behaviour
If you think therapy for PTSD or CPTSD could be beneficial for you, get in touch with us today and arrange an appointment for an initial consultation.

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