An Introduction to Complex Trauma

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PTSD and Complex Trauma are not the same. Treatment for each is also not the same. Each should be approached by a professional with specialized training. 

Complex trauma is often the result of prolonged trauma as a child. This can be as invasive as repeated physical or sexual assaults or more subtle 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 that imposes her own anxieties onto the child. In each, the child spends the day trying to read the emotional tone of the caregiver and predicting the best course of action to avoid trouble. Adding to the complexity of the trauma is a child being abused by the same parent they are dependent upon for food, shelter, and clothing. Regulating love and fear become survival in a constantly changing environment.

Additionally, the child is not receiving nurturing, self understanding, or a general sense of security within themself. The child is conditioned to interact with the world from a heightened state of threat assessment. They socialize without healthy trust, connection or attachment. The child can no longer modulate their own emotions. Others dictate the emotional state. It’s a significantly diminished internal choice.

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 to maintain close friendships or long-term dating relationships can be the result. Emotional responses can hijack the person causing the person to feel out of control with fear, anger, panic, sadness, and sometimes physical body. Complex trauma can cause a disconnected or dissociative 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.  

Complex trauma can be connected to chronic headaches, gastrointestinal problems, repeated illness, sleep disorders, persistent panic/anxiety, disordered eating, addiction, depression and sexual dysfunction.

About Chris Jones

Chris specializes in working with trauma, PTSD, major depression, long-lasting anxiety, out-of-control anger, probation, borderline personality, narcissistic personality, and abuse recovery.

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