“12 Life Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure”

It's Not That Simple

Complex Trauma and Complex PTSD are fairly new terms and not well understood by many professionals or by many who suffer with it. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD, but didn’t fully understand all the ways in which it has impacted my life.

I have lived my life with the effects of severe depression and Complex PTSD without a name for my suffering, until just recently. So I locked it all up inside. I didn’t understand or know what I was experiencing or why. So I hid it. I was afraid and I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. It has been a very frightening experience in so many ways.

I felt shame for my internal struggle. I thought it was me! I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know why I struggled with all the internal turmoil. I often had those close to me ask me, “Why does this upset you so much.” I would look at them and say, I don’t know. But their reactions made me think that I was wrong or defected because of how I felt inside. So I withdrew and hid my feelings.

I can’t explain what it has meant to have this weight lifted, the pressure that I was defective, that all of this was my fault. Understanding Complex PTSD and the ways in which it effected me has given me answers. It has made my reactions and thoughts and feelings make sense. It has been the trauma I have endured that is responsible for these reactions, not my personality or my weakness. It has actually been a tremendous amount of pressure to carry all of this without any awareness of not only what was happening to me, but why.

I hope this helps others in the same way it has helped me. It doesn’t stop or heal the Complex PTSD, but it gives clarity and allows us to put the blame where it belongs… on those who traumatized us and on those who didn’t protect us.

I shared this with A. last week and we went over the following list and discussed each one. When I first read the following article, I was shocked to see that I could relate to something under every item in this list. It gave me the clarity I needed. It has been the best article I have read to understand the symptoms of Complex PTSD and the ways in which it wreaks havoc in our lives. It is not a complete list, but it is a good starting place to bring some much needed understanding to the effects of complex trauma.

* * *

The following is from an article, 12 Life Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure, by Lilly Hope Lucario:

Complex trauma is still a relatively new field of psychology. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) results from enduring complex trauma.

Complex trauma is ongoing or repeated interpersonal trauma, where the victim is traumatized in captivity, and where there is no perceived way to escape. Ongoing child abuse is captivity abuse because the child cannot escape. Domestic violence is another example. Forced prostitution/sex trafficking is another.

Complex PTSD is a proposed disorder which is different to post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the issues and symptoms endured by complex trauma survivors are outside of the list of symptoms within the (uncomplicated) PTSD diagnostic criterion. Complex PTSD does acknowledge and validate these added symptoms.

The impact of complex trauma is very different to a one time or short-lived trauma. The effect of repeated/ongoing trauma – caused by people – changes the brain, and also changes the survivor at a core level. It changes the way survivors view the world, other people and themselves in profound ways.

The following are some of the symptoms and impact most felt by complex trauma survivors.

1. Deep Fear Of Trust

People who endure ongoing abuse, particularly from significant people in their lives, develop an intense and understandable fear of trusting people. If the abuse was parents or caregivers, this intensifies. Ongoing trauma wires the brain for fear and distrust. It becomes the way the brain copes with any further potential abuse. Complex trauma survivors often find trusting people very difficult, and it takes little for any trust built to be destroyed. The brain senses issues and this overwhelms the already severely-traumatized brain. This fear of trust is extremely impactful on a survivor’s life. Trust can be learned with support and an understanding of trusting people slowly and carefully.

2. Terminal Aloneness

This is a phrase I used to describe to my counselor — the terribly painful aloneness I have always felt as a complex trauma survivor. Survivors often feel so little connection and trust with people, they remain in a terrible state of aloneness, even when surrounded by people. I described it once as having a glass wall between myself and other people. I can see them, but I cannot connect with them.

Another issue that increases this aloneness is feeling different to other people. Feeling damaged, broken and unable to be like other people can haunt a survivor, increasing the loneliness.

3. Emotion Regulation

Intense emotions are common with complex trauma survivors. It is understandable that ongoing abuse can cause many different and intense emotions. This is normal for complex trauma survivors.

Learning to manage and regulate emotions is vital in being able to manage all the other symptoms.

4. Emotional Flashbacks

Flashbacks are something all PTSD survivors can deal with, and there are three types:

Visual Flashbacks – where your mind is triggered and transported back to the trauma, and you feel as though you are reliving it.

Somatic Flashbacks – where the survivor feels sensations, pain and discomfort in areas of the body, affected by the trauma. This pain/sensations cannot be explained by any other health issues, and are triggered by something that creates the body to “feel” the trauma again.

Emotional Flashbacks – the least known and understood, and yet the type complex trauma survivors can experience the most. These are where emotions from the past are triggered. Often the survivor does not understand these intense emotions are flashbacks, and it appears the survivor is being irrationally emotional. When I learned about emotional flashbacks, it was a huge lightbulb moment of finally understanding why I have intense emotions, when they do not reflect the issue occurring now, but are in fact emotions felt during the trauma, being triggered. But, there is no visual of the trauma – as with visual flashbacks. So, it takes a lot of work to start to understand when experiencing an emotional flashback.

5. Hyper-vigilance About People

Most people with PTSD have hyper-vigilance, where the person scans the environment for potential risks and likes to have their back to the wall.

But complex trauma survivors often have a deep subconscious need to “work people out.” Since childhood, I have been aware of people’s non-verbal cues; their body language, their tone of voice, their facial expressions. I also subconsciously learn people’s habits and store away what they say. Then if anything occurs that contradicts any of this, it will immediately flag as something potentially dangerous.

This can be exhausting. And it can create a deep skill set of discernment about people. The aim of healing fear-based hyper-vigilance is turning it into non-fear-based discernment.

6. Loss Of Faith

Complex trauma survivors often endure a loss of faith. This can be about people, about the world being good, about religion, and a loss of faith about self.

Complex trauma survivors often view the world as dangerous and people as all potentially abusive, which is understandable when having endured ongoing severe abuse.

Many complex trauma survivors walk away from their religious beliefs. For example, to believe in a good and loving God who allows suffering and heinous abuse to occur can feel like the ultimate betrayal. This is something needing considerable compassion.

7. Profoundly Hurt Inner Child

Childhood complex trauma survivors, often have a very hurt inner child that continues on to affect the survivor in adulthood. When a child’s emotional needs are not met and a child is repeatedly hurt and abused, this deeply and profoundly affects the child’s development. A survivor will often continue on subconsciously wanting those unmet childhood needs in adulthood. Looking for safety, protection, being cherished and loved can often be normal unmet needs in childhood, and the survivor searches for these in other adults. This can be where survivors search for mother and father figures. Transference issues in counseling can occur and this is normal for childhood abuse survivors.

Inner child healing can be healing for childhood abuse survivors. It is where the survivor begins to meet the needs of their hurt and wounded child, themselves. I have further info about this on my website.

8. Helplessness and Toxic Shame

Due to enduring ongoing or repeated abuse, the survivor can develop a sense of hopelessness — that nothing will ever be OK. They can feel so profoundly damaged, they see no hope for anything to get better. When faced with long periods of abuse, it does feel like there is no hope of anything changing. And even when the abuse or trauma stops, the survivor can continue on having these deep core level beliefs of hopelessness. This is intensified by the terribly life-impacting symptoms of complex PTSD that keep the survivor stuck with the trauma, with little hope of this easing.

Toxic shame is a common issue survivors of complex trauma endure. Often the perpetrators of the abuse make the survivor feel they deserved it, or they were the reason for it. Often survivors are made to feel they don’t deserve to be treated any better.

Sexual abuse can create a whole added layer of toxic shame, which requires very specific and compassionate therapy, if this is accessible. Often, sexual abuse survivors who are repeatedly enduring this heinous abuse can develop feelings of being dirty, damaged and disgusting when their bodies are violated in this way.

9. Repeated Search For A Rescuer

Subconsciously looking for someone to rescue them is something many survivors understandably think about during the ongoing trauma and this can continue on after the trauma has ceased. The survivor can feel helpless and yearn for someone to come and rescue them from the pain they feel and want them to make their lives better. This sadly often leads to the survivor seeking out the wrong types of people and being re-traumatized repeatedly.

10. Dissociation

When enduring ongoing abuse, the brain can utilize dissociation as a coping method. This can be from daydreaming to more life-impacting forms of dissociation such as dissociative identity disorder (DID). This is particularly experienced by child abuse survivors, who are emotionally unable to cope with trauma in the same way an adult can.

11. Persistent Sadness and Being Suicidal

Complex trauma survivors often experience ongoing states of sadness and severe depression. Mood disorders are often co-morbid with complex PTSD.

Complex trauma survivors are high risk for suicidal thoughts, suicide ideation and being actively suicidal. Suicide ideation can become a way of coping, where the survivor feels like they have a way to end the severe pain if it becomes any worse. Often the deep emotional pain survivors feel, can feel unbearable. This is when survivors are at risk of developing suicidal thoughts.

12. Muscle Armoring

Many complex trauma survivors, who have experienced ongoing abuse, develop body hyper-vigilance. This is where the body is continually tensed, as though the body is “braced” for potential trauma. This leads to pain issues as the muscles are being overworked. Chronic pain and other issues related such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia can result. Massage, guided muscle relaxation and other ways to manage this can help.

All of these issues are very normal for complex trauma survivors. Enduring complex trauma is not a normal life experience, and therefore the consequences it creates are different, yet very normal for what they have experienced and endured.

Not every survivor will endure all these, and there are other symptoms that can be endured. I always suggest trauma-informed counseling if that is accessible. There are medications available to help with symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

There are also many self-help strategies to manage the symptoms and help heal.

Lastly, I advise that empathy, gentleness and compassion are required for complex trauma survivors.

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47 thoughts on ““12 Life Impacting Symptoms Complex PTSD Survivors Endure”

  1. Hey Blue,

    Half the battle of having such a condition as you have described is being apply to realize and to be open to accepting that you have such a condition and to be receptive to share candidly with other good people out there that are willing to help you to get thru all this.You truly are doing the right things and I know you are a strong individual. Nothing in life is easy and there naturally are a lot of ups and downs, joys and disappointments that each of us experience..I think every individual in one way or another has a set of personality issues/disorders that affect them….however so few are willing to realize and to accept this., I believe that it is those individuals who know and who confront their issues face on and seek ways to proactively overcome their challenges are the ones that truly succeed and that successfully overcome all this in due time. You are doing great….You are on the right tract and we are out there to support you when, if and as needed. Gary.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gary, you are so right. I think we are all only as healthy to the degree to which we face our inner pain and battles. We can try to ignore the pain, but it never goes away unless we face it and release it. It takes love, compassion, empathy, and connection to heal the pain inside. We can only process the experiences we have had if they are first validated. Without connection, we are all lost. Struggling alone creates a sickness that is deeply effecting our society. Thank you Gary! We are all here for you too!

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        1. You are welcome! No, I haven’t read anything about that. My therapist kind of laughed when she read that and said, “Easier said than done!” I don’t think it is easy. I think it is a process!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This post was so enlightening, thank you sincerely for sharing it. I wasn’t aware of Complex PTSD, and how it differs from PTSD. I’m looking forward to sharing this with others. There’s something validating about this kind of information. Thanks again! 🙂 xo

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow. I am literally writing the fourth installment of a long blog on my site about PTSD and I am so thankful that you have shared this. It is validating that I am not alone and that this is a real thing people other than myself suffer from.
    I read the list you shared and I can confidently place a check mark for each one. This is very eye opening and helpful.
    Thank you so much for being brave and sharing.
    Cheers!
    Kat

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Reblogged this on Killing Me Softly: Emotional & Psychological Abuse and commented:
    Light is only just now being shed on the phenomenon of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)- something experienced by many, if not most, survivors of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and ongoing emotional and psychological abuse. In fact, the biggest predictor of developing CPTSD is the emotional/psychological aspect of abuse; greater even than that of sexual abuse.

    I can relate particularly well to the deep fear of trust, difficulties with emotional regulation, emotional flashbacks (big-time!), deeply wounded inner child and the ever-present, utterly relentless toxic shame.

    Thanks to A Broken Blue Sky for sharing such important information and personal insights. We’re all on a journey … and sometimes it feels as though it will never end.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This was very helpful to me as well. It is so important that we understand the ways in which trauma effects us so that we can stop blaming ourselves for our thoughts, feelings, and reactions. And to stop the feelings of shame. Thank you! Hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I was under the impression that Complex PTSD was not included in the DSM V. Has there been an update? Have you heard anything about a shift in diagnostic criteria? I’m diagnosed with PTSD, but I strongly relate to the other symptoms you listed. I have trouble with dissociation, for example. And definitely emotional flashbacks. All of the symptoms, actually. Anyway, please let me know what you’ve heard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think it is yet, but is expected to be. There can be flashbacks with PTSD usually through memories and images. The biggest difference between the two (to simplify it) is PTSD is from a one time trauma; like rape, combat, natural disaster, accident etc. Complex PTSD is from prolonged and/or multiple traumas, especially and usually starting in childhood. And often involves no way of escape with C-PTSD. I hope this is helpful. You may want to see a therapist who specializes in trauma. Many therapists will say they can treat trauma, but it is vital to seek one who was trained and specializes in it. I saw a psychologist with a Ph.D. and did not get diagnosed. So the degree alone will not help you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What you say about psychologists is so true. We really need to ‘shop around’ when it comes to deciding on a therapist. It might take a couple of sessions to build any rapport and gauge whether or not the ‘helper’ is really able to ‘help’.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I am so appreciative for your posts, and those of others who suffer from the same condition. I have no idea how to deal with this diagnosis, or the fallout that this condition brings to all aspects of our lives. I am hopeful that I can learn from everyone here.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It certainly does help to understand ourselves better. You are not alone. There are many of us trying to understand this diagnosis. I do hope you have a good therapist who specializes in trauma to help you as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish you the very best in your healing journey.

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    2. It’s been the blog community who have given me the most support, encouragement and the information I need to move forward. My therapist was a great human being and did help a little – but not a lot. Stay in touch with all of us bloggers, reach out, ask questions and most of all, don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. All who’ve shared this experience of abuse and CPTSD will understand, accept and support you. Love and light.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you so much. I feel like I am not part of that group because I did not suffer a traumatic event like a rape, but rather years and years of “crisis mode”, coupled with verbal and emotional abuse. It wasn’t until I started therapy that I realized that, by definition, I was a victim of child abuse. I have never been physically abused so it almost seems unfair that I share a diagnosis with those who clearly suffered more trauma than I. Perhaps I am just carrying over guilt and shame into this new world of recovery. I feel so messed up. Thanks for your kind words!

        Liked by 1 person

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