Most of us have heard of PTSD but until this morning, I didn’t know there was a more severe version called Complex-PTSD.
Most people who have looked at adoption very closely already know that trauma is an aspect of having been surrendered to adoption for most adoptees. I’ve become so steeped in it that I can recognize effects now in statements made by an adoptee that to them a vague issues they still don’t know the source of. This lack of awareness occurs most often in teenagers and young adults. Most mature adoptees have worked through many of these and may have had some counseling or therapy to help them uncover the underlying emotions and possible sources of these.
Complex PTSD, however, is specific to severe, repetitive trauma that typically happens in childhood – most often abuse. On the surface, both PTSD and C-PTSD both come as the result of something deeply traumatic, they cause flashbacks, nightmares and insomnia, and they can make people live in fear even when they are safe.
The very heart of C-PTSD – what causes it, how it manifests internally, the lifelong effects (including medically), and its ability to reshape a person’s entire outlook on life – is what makes it considerably different.
PTSD typically results from “short-lived trauma”, or traumas of time-limited duration. Complex PTSD stems from chronic, long-term exposure to trauma in which a victim has limited belief it will ever end or cannot foresee a time that it might. This can include: child abuse, long-term domestic violence, being held in captivity, living in crisis conditions/a war zone, child exploitation, human trafficking, and more.
The causal factors are not all that separates PTSD from C-PTSD. How their symptoms manifest can tell you even more. PTSD is weighted heaviest in the post-traumatic symptoms: nightmares, flashbacks, hyperarousal/startle response, paranoia, bursts of emotion, etc.
C-PTSD includes all the symptoms of PTSD as well as a change in self-concept. How one sees themselves, their perpetrator, their morals and values, their faith in others or a god. This can overhaul a survivor’s entire world view as they try to make sense of their trauma and still maintain a belief that they, and the world around them, could still be good or safe.
When an adult experiences a traumatic event, they have more tools to understand what is happening to them, their place as a victim of that trauma, and know they should seek support even if they don’t want to. Children don’t possess most of these skills, or even the ability to separate themselves from another’s unconscionable actions. The psychological and developmental implications of that become complexly woven and spun into who that child believes themselves to be — creating a messy web of core beliefs much harder to untangle than the flashbacks, nightmares and other post-traumatic symptoms that come later.
The effects are usually deeply interpersonal within that child’s caregiving system. Separate from both the traumatic events and the perpetrator, there is often an added component of neglect, hot-and-cold affections from a primary caregiver, or outright invalidation of the trauma, if a child does try to speak up. These disorganized attachments and mixed messages from those who are supposed to provide love, comfort and safety – all in the periphery of extreme trauma – can create unique struggles.
Credit for this blog and for the beginning of my education in this new concept goes to Beauty After Bruises.