Complex trauma differs from PTSD in the following ways:
Trauma Therapy Can Help! The trauma can be as invasive as repeated physical abuse or sexual abuse or it can be subtler, such as living in a home that was always emotionally unpredictable and frequently critical. Examples include living with an angry, alcoholic father or an emotionally erratic mother who imposed her own anxieties onto the child – perhaps a parent with a personality disorder. In each situation, the child spends the day trying to read the emotional tone of the caregiver in order to predict the best course of action to avoid trouble. Oftentimes, the child is being abused by the same parent or caregiver that he or she is dependent upon for food, shelter, and clothing. This adds to the complexity of the trauma. In order to survive, the child learns to regulate love and fear in a constantly changing environment.
An abused child is not receiving the nurturing or love which would promote an understanding of self and a general sense of security. The child is conditioned to interact with the world from a heightened state of threat assessment, which means he or she socializes without healthy trust, connection, or attachment. The child can no longer modulate his or her own emotions because others dictate the emotional state. Complex trauma creates a significantly diminished range of emotional choices. Fight, flight, or freeze is his or her norm, which leads to an overactive sympathetic nervous system. This can cause problems with digestion, sleep and anxiety, among others. Trauma therapy can help with these issues.
The outcome of complex trauma too often leaves the imprint of “It’s my fault” and “I’m not good enough” as the narrative for all adult interactions. An inability or a difficulty to maintain close friendships or long-term relationships can be the result. Emotional responses may often “hijack” the person, causing him or her to feel out of control with fear, anger, panic, sadness, and sometimes, the physical body. Complex trauma can also cause a disconnected or dis-associative experience. The triggered emotion may leave the adult feeling like a child. The reaction to a situation is grossly out of proportion to what would be expected, but the body and brain are operating in past “trauma time,” where the reaction would have been appropriate and even necessary for survival.
Complex trauma can be connected to chronic headaches, gastrointestinal problems, chronic illness, sleep disorders, persistent panic or anxiety, aggression, disordered eating, self-harm, addiction, depression, and sexual dysfunction.
Trauma Therapy: Due to its nature and complexity, treatment requires specialized training from a trauma therapist who knows how to implement grounding and stabilization techniques and dis-associative integration strategies.