What is Complex Trauma/Complex PTSD?
Complex PTSD is a psychological stress injury caused by ongoing or repeated trauma from which there are no real or perceived means of escape (e.g., sexual/physical/emotional abuse or neglect/ abandonment) and most commonly is perpetrated by someone of interpersonal significance to the victim (e.g., parent, partner, employer, coach, teacher, religious leader).
Complex PTSD may also develop in the face of repeated ongoing trauma which is impersonal but horrific in nature (e.g., war, natural disaster, emergency service work, combat). Complex PTSD may develop at any time during the lifespan from childhood to adulthood.
Interpersonal trauma may be overt and extreme as in sexual abuse, domestic violence, or torture, or it may be more covert and nuanced (e.g., a parent who uses their children as a source of attention; unwanted sexualized attention; covert pressure/harassment in the workplace). Whatever the case, the trauma is devastating psychologically and has lasting cognitive, emotional, and physical effects.
There are three symptoms shared by Complex PTSD and PTSD.
• Re-experiencing the trauma in the present (visual/emotional flashbacks; nightmares)
• Avoidance of traumatic reminders (thoughts, people, places, things; dissociate/numb out/self-medicate when stressed or triggered)
• Persistent sense of threat (hypervigilant, heightened startle response)
There are three additional symptoms of Complex PTSD which deeply affect one’s sense of self, self-worth, and confidence.
• Affective dysregulation (heightened/flattened anger, sadness, joy)
• Negative self-concept (shame, critical of self/others; feelings of inferiority)
• Disturbed relationships (difficulty with intimacy; a tendency to isolate; feeling different than others; social anxiety)
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