The majority of us have heard about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), the condition that can occur when someone is exposed to a situation over which they had little or no control and from which there was little or no hope of escape. It is often associated with members of the military who have witnessed the horrors of battle, or with people who have endured an extreme physical or emotional trauma. PTSD can occur after experiencing even just one threatening situation, such as being involved in a car accident. But, what about those who have gone through long-term exposure to a continuing, intense level of stress?
Recently, mental health experts have begun to realize there are more layers to the emotional suffering experienced by people who have been through long-lasting stressors like childhood sexual abuse, for example, or years of domestic violence. In cases like these, a PTSD diagnosis partly addresses their condition, but doesn’t adequately define the severe psychological harm that has resulted from the trauma. Therefore, some mental health professionals now believe there should be a new category added to the PTSD diagnosis – one that will encompass this emotional scarring from long-term, chronic trauma: Complex PTSD (C-PTSD).
Even with this new classification, it is important to note that the victims of chronic trauma can have both PTSD and Complex PTSD simultaneously. Here is an easy way to see the differences between the two conditions:
- A child witnessing the death of a friend in an accident may show some symptoms of PTSD
- A child who has lived with years of sexual or physical abuse may have symptoms of C-PTSD in addition to PTSD.
People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.
Emotional symptoms may include:
- Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
- Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
- Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
- Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
- Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
- Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
- Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation
Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:
- Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
- Chronic pain
- Cardiovascular problems
- Gastrointestinal problems.
Help for Complex PTSD
With Complex PTSD, healing cannot happen on its own because the survivor keeps reliving the trauma through flashbacks and dreams. People who suffer from C-PTSD may go for years before making the connection between their symptoms and the chronic stress and trauma they have been trying to cope with. Once they do, healing can begin and many people have been able to overcome their past to find a more meaningful and healthy present.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be highly effective in treating both PTSD and Complex PTSD. This therapy works to change unhelpful thinking and behaviors. It challenges deep-seated patterns and beliefs. CBT therapy helps replace “errors in thinking” (for example: magnifying negatives, minimizing positives, and overthinking) with more realistic and effective thoughts. This serves to decrease both emotional distress and self-defeating behaviors.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a fairly new therapy that helps specifically in the treatment of trauma recovery and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/CPTSD. It has been shown to help trauma survivors heal faster than through traditional therapy. In fact, EMDR can be successful in as few as 3-12 treatment sessions. This means that relief from your pain is not only possible but it can be obtained in a relatively short amount of time.
We Can Help
Complex PTSD can be debilitating. Those who suffer from CPTSD may be at greater risk of substance abuse or of deliberate self-harm in order to cope with their emotional pain. We can help! To learn more, contact the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email The Center today.