What is CPTSD?
There was no medical term for what I had when I was in my twenties and dealing with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional household. CPTSD was not officially recognized as a mental health condition until a few years ago (2019). CPTSD, also known as developmental trauma, is related to PTSD in that they share some similar symptoms.
Adverse childhood experiences are increasingly recognized by legislators, caregivers, and the media as a threat to an individual's health and well-being. The original Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study increased public awareness of this critical public health issue.
Learning about CPTSD has been vital to me. Researching for this website has helped me pull together a clearer picture of my condition and solidify my recovery.
Let me assert that I am not a medical doctor or a psychologist. I am a survivor, a well-informed patient, and a concerned citizen. Personal experience, research, and analysis have all shaped my viewpoint. I do not claim academic knowledge, and this website is not intended to provide professional advice. However, I hope you, the reader, can find some inspiration for your recovery journey.
I understood that the trauma I endured as a child directly influenced my physical and mental well-being as an adult even before I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD. Following my diagnosis, I discovered and understood that the trauma directly impacted the formation of my personality, inner voice, self-perception, and even physiology.
I was self-aware enough to recognize that my childhood difficulties surfaced whenever I was under tremendous stress or faced a challenging situation as an adult.
Understanding the more profound impacts of CPTSD was made much easier for me by studying developmental psychology. Reading about it aided me in unexpected ways. I came across the subject while investigating dysfunctional families. As I've gained a better understanding of the subject, I've been more aware of the importance of childhood in developing emotional, relational, self-regulatory, and self-image imprints that last into adulthood. It enabled me to shift my focus from experiencing to comprehending my agony.
I was able to take apart the areas where things had gone wrong for me by learning what normal, healthy development is. I could see a little better where my fundamental issues were; trust issues, boundary concerns, and complications with my self-perception became clearer.
One way of spelling out what childhood is meant to look like is through developmental psychology. It's about developing adult-life abilities, such as a pattern of functioning, beliefs, perceptions, and self-image. It creates the groundwork for how a person interacts with oneself and the rest of the world.
Looking at development gives me a context for my problems and recovery objectives. Addressing them again became an essential part of my rehabilitation process. This information served as a guide for determining the age or stage at which some aspects of my development deviated from the norm.
What Causes CPTSD?
A wide range of circumstances or experiences that pose a severe threat to a child's physical or psychological well-being is referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences. Child abuse and neglect, spousal violence, bullying, serious accidents or injuries, prejudice, extreme poverty, and community violence are manifestations of childhood adversity. According to research, such events can have significant implications, especially if they happen early in life, are chronic or severe, or occur repeatedly. Adverse childhood experiences, for example, might become biologically imprinted throughout critical phases of development, leading to lifetime physical and mental health issues.
Being entirely dependent on another person (often unable to meet their most basic needs without them), combined with the knowledge that there is no end in sight, can damage the victim's psyche and impact them on a deeper level. Because the brain is still developing in youngsters, who are only learning who they are as individuals, comprehending the world around them, and forming their first relationships, severe trauma disrupts the entire course of their psychologic and neurologic development.
The psychological and developmental consequences become intricately woven and spun into who that child believes they are, creating a tangled web of fundamental beliefs that is far more difficult to untangle than the flashbacks, nightmares, and other posttraumatic symptoms that follow.
Another thing to remember is that the trauma that causes CPTSD is usually highly interpersonal inside the child's caregiving system. In addition to the traumatic events and the perpetrator, there is frequently a component of neglect, alternating affections from a primary caregiver, or open invalidation of the trauma if a child attempts to speak up. These jumbled attachments and confused messages from those intended to provide love, comfort, and protection - all on the borders of trauma - can lead to even more unique challenges.
Adversity, on the other hand, does not always predestine children to terrible results. Many children can recover with the right supports—most notably, the regular presence of a warm, caring caregiver.
Trauma impacts each kid differently depending on their individual, family, and environmental risk and protective variables.
Adversity in childhood has long-term consequences for many people. Abuse impairs natural development, resulting in a variety of psychological and physiological problems. Although some of these issues may manifest later in life, they have roots in the early family setting.
There is a significant link between cumulative exposure to multiple types of traumatic experiences and symptom complexity in adults.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study links multiple childhood traumas and poor adult health. This study looked at nine different sorts of experiences:
•Addiction (of caregiver)
•Incarceration/hospitalization (of caregiver)
•Mental illness (of caregiver)
•Inconsistent family structure
The ACE Study assigns experience categories to a rough characterization of developmental trauma that can link system complexity in CPTSD patients. During my childhood, I was exposed to six of the nine types. Reading this study was quite beneficial to me in terms of defining the magnitude of difficulties I needed to address during my recovery.
Much of my self-therapy focused on childhood incidents while I worked on my recovery. Using these trauma classifications to assist my developmental trauma work, I created a trauma inventory during my treatment.
Effects of Trauma
CPTSD is one of the probable outcomes of trauma exposure. Trauma happens when a person considers an incident or combination of circumstances as terrifying, hurtful, or threatening—emotionally, physically, or both. Strong negative feelings (e.g., terror or helplessness) and physiological symptoms (e.g., rapid heartbeat, bedwetting, stomach aches) can arise quickly after a kid has been exposed to trauma and can last much beyond the initial encounter. Trauma reactions in children are more common in some types of childhood adversity.
Toxic stress can develop when a kid faces intense, long-term, and severe adversity (e.g., chronic neglect, domestic violence, or severe economic difficulty) without enough assistance from a caring adult. Childhood adversity, such as ACEs, can over-activate a child's stress response system, causing the body and brain to wear out over time. Toxic stress is the term for this overactivation, and it is the most common way that adversity harms a child's development and well-being. The extent to which a child's stress response to adversity becomes toxic and leads to severe health and mental health problems in adulthood is also determined by the child's biological makeup (e.g., genetic vulnerabilities, prior experiences that have damaged the stress response system, or limited healthy gene expression) as well as the characteristics of the adversity (e.g., intensity, duration, whether a caregiver caused the child harm).
Trauma affects a child's normal development, resulting in a wide range of psychological and physical problems. Stress-related disease can manifest later in life, but it has its roots in the family.
Numerous studies have documented the consequences of interpersonal trauma and disruption of caregiving networks on psychological development over the last three decades. Affect regulation, attention, cognition, perception, and interpersonal interactions have all been impacted well into adulthood.
Childhood traumatization has been linked to an increased risk of subsequent trauma in adulthood, according to research. When trauma and chronic stress occur during vital phases of development, it can have a significant impact on an individual's personal and psychological development and sense of self. When trust is shattered or warped, dependency issues — whether in the form of addictions or the continuation of abuse and neglect practices — become self-reinforcing patterns that damage victims' lives far beyond infancy.
Living with Complex PTSD
It can be distressing to suffer from complicated PTSD. It can make you feel alienated and isolated.
Complex trauma therapy employs a variety of methods to address various symptoms. A combination of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exposure therapy is used to treat complicated trauma.
People who have complicated PTSD might seek help from groups that are familiar with the issue.
The current treatment for complex trauma, according to Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, medical director and founder of the Justice Resource Institute's Trauma Center and professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, only addresses one element of the trauma - the memory portion. While treating the memory is beneficial, it is not sufficient.
Because trauma affects the survival section of the brain, a person who has experienced complex trauma either becomes numb to the trauma (hypo-aroused) or hyper-reacts to the slightest sign of danger. Dr. Van Der Kolk notes, "In the long term, the largest problem of being traumatized is that it's hard to feel that anything that's going on around you matters. It is difficult to love and take care of people and get involved in pleasure and engagements because your brain has been re-organized to deal with danger."
We must also seek to heal the unconscious since complicated trauma affects both the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain. Body-oriented techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) have recently been discovered to help the body and mind reconnect.
Furthermore, neurofeedback (a sort of biofeedback that focuses on brain waves) has shown potential in assisting individuals with complex PTSD in learning to change their brain waves activity to become calmer, more self-aware, and better able to interact with others.
You regain control of your reactions by regaining self-awareness and learning to focus on what's going on between your rational and emotional brains. Dr. Van Der Kolk states, "People get better by befriending themselves. People can leave the trauma behind if they learn to feel safe in their bodies—they can feel the pleasure to know what they know and feel what they feel. The brain does change because of trauma, and now we have tools to help people be quiet and present versus hijacked by the past."
Recovering from complex PTSD takes time.
One goal of treatment is to develop or recapture feelings of trust in others and the world.
It may help to attend a support group, either in person or online, to connect with others who have similar experiences.
People with complex PTSD may lose trust in others; therefore, they must strive to engage in everyday activities. This is an essential step for people who want to live a healthy, balanced life.
Some people will face obstacles for the rest of their lives as a result of their condition. People can manage their symptoms and live a good quality of life with counseling, medicine, and lifestyle modifications.