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It’s Complicated

suicide, addiction, trauma, abuse, shame

Trauma and Complex PTSD

Repeated trauma in adult life erodes the structure of the personality already formed, but repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation.

Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery


Brace yourselves. Please. The following requires your full attention – it’s heavyweight and worth knowing. I wrote in a previous post that narcissistic abuse symptoms are often similar to those of Complex trauma and Complex PTSD. It’s important to explain what is meant by these terms.

Compounded trauma may result in symptoms of Complex PTSD. In other words, recurring trauma in childhood or adulthood may leave a survivor helpless and wounded. These old and new wounds can result in maladaptive coping and belief systems, fear based responses and deep shame. Chronic constant stressors (eg, an abusive parent/partner) erode the sense of self until a person becomes a set of responses that enable survival. Just. This is similar to narcissistic abuse symtoms.


Symptoms of C-PTSD

Those suffering from Complex PTSD may suffer from:


  • Difficulties with emotional regulation – feelings may overwhelm resulting in extreme reactions eg. suicidal ideation, outbursts of rage, despair, depression, anxiety. This may lead to self harm or addictive behaviours to manage the sense of powelessness

  • Reliving the trauma /flashbacks and rumination – one way survivors adapt to the situation is by depersonalising or disassociating from the traumatic events. Environmental triggers may result in flashback that disturb or dibilitate. A smell, place, photograph or memory, for example, can send a survivor spiralling.

  • Toxic shame and guilt – if a child is raised in a critical environment they may feel that any normal needs, boundaries and feelings make them defective and therefore worthy only of rejection and abandonment

  • Difficulties relating/in relationships – survivors of abuse find it hard to trust but can often trust too easily – wanting to be loved and accepting. Predators will know what to say early on and capitalize on this yearning for a safe haven

  • Learned helplessness – when seeking understanding, help, support and compassion falls on deaf ears. Expectations lower then cease once and for all.

  • Cognitive dissonance and distorted perception – it really is a mess for the survivor. Knowing that they have been abused but still loving their parents. They may minimize the danger they were in and minimize clear and present dangers in current relationships


Effects of C-PTSD

It follows then, that survivors of early childhood trauma who experience abusive relationships in adulthood often show symptoms of complex trauma and Complex PTSD.

If a child with an abusive parent has learned to tolerate cruelty at an early age he or she may become more easily attached to emotional predators in subsequent relationships. This re-vicitimisation can continue in a vicious cycle without psychoeducation and/or therapeautic intervention. For example, an offensive remark may not be addressed because the consequence of doing so (by narcissistic parent) was punishment or threatened abandonment. If a parent or guardian tells a child that they will abandon them if they disagree, the child will not find it easy to express anger or hurt in subsquent relationships.


It’s Complicated by mwmct | Nov 24, 2022 | Uncategorized | 0 comments (Content includes: suicide, addiction, trauma, abuse, shame) Trauma and Complex PTSD Repeated trauma in adult life erodes the structure of the personality already formed, but repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery Brace yourselves. Please. The following requires your full attention – it’s heavyweight and worth knowing. I wrote in a previous post that narcissistic abuse symptoms are often similar to those of Complex trauma and Complex PTSD. It’s important to explain what is meant by these terms. Compounded trauma may result in symptoms of Complex PTSD. In other words, recurring trauma in childhood or adulthood may leave a survivor helpless and wounded. These old and new wounds can result in maladaptive coping and belief systems, fear based responses and deep shame. Chronic constant stressors (eg, an abusive parent/partner) erode the sense of self until a person becomes a set of responses that enable survival. Just. This is similar to narcissistic abuse symtoms. Symptoms of C-PTSD Those suffering from Complex PTSD may suffer from:

  • Difficulties with emotional regulation – feelings may overwhelm resulting in extreme reactions eg. suicidal ideation, outbursts of rage, despair, depression, anxiety. This may lead to self harm or addictive behaviours to manage the sense of powelessness

  • Reliving the trauma /flashbacks and rumination – one way survivors adapt to the situation is by depersonalising or disassociating from the traumatic events. Environmental triggers may result in flashback that disturb or dibilitate. A smell, place, photograph or memory, for example, can send a survivor spiralling.

  • Toxic shame and guilt – if a child is raised in a critical environment they may feel that any normal needs, boundaries and feelings make them defective and therefore worthy only of rejection and abandonment

  • Difficulties relating/in relationships – survivors of abuse find it hard to trust but can often trust too easily – wanting to be loved and accepting. Predators will know what to say early on and capitalize on this yearning for a safe haven

  • Learned helplessness – when seeking understanding, help, support and compassion falls on deaf ears. Expectations lower then cease once and for all.

  • Cognitive dissonance and distorted perception – it really is a mess for the survivor. Knowing that they have been abused but still loving their parents. They may minimize the danger they were in and minimize clear and present dangers in current relationships

Effects of C-PTSD It follows then, that survivors of early childhood trauma who experience abusive relationships in adulthood often show symptoms of complex trauma and Complex PTSD. If a child with an abusive parent has learned to tolerate cruelty at an early age he or she may become more easily attached to emotional predators in subsequent relationships. This re-vicitimisation can continue in a vicious cycle without psychoeducation and/or therapeautic intervention. For example, an offensive remark may not be addressed because the consequence of doing so (by narcissistic parent) was punishment or threatened abandonment. If a parent or guardian tells a child that they will abandon them if they disagree, the child will not find it easy to express anger or hurt in subsquent relationships. Accepting the Unacceptable For those in narcissistically abusive relationships it may be hard to identify corrosive behaviours because they have never known unconditional love and acceptance. A person whose worth was fostered, reinforced and accepted without conditions in childhood, will usually know when they are being treated in a way that is less than ok. They have the confidence to assert themselves. And this is where recovery starts for the survivor without such a start in life or who has found themselves in an abusive relationship that has left them unable to recognise their former selves. When a therapist (or helping other) emphasises that what happened was and is not acceptable and explaining why. I have lost count of the number of times clients second guess whether they have been abused. I have had clients who;

  • said that their partner was not violent because they “only” pushed them or put a fist through the wall

  • whose partner took money out of the family account and justified it because they were the main earner

  • who passed STIs to their partner but accused the survivor of catching them from someone else

This is abuse. It is traumatic and when it is repeated over years and the suffering is compounded there is trauma and PTSD and Complex – PTSD and often the survivor, receiving treatment for symptoms (eg. depression or anxiety) possibly medication (labelled the “sick” one) suffers the additional trauma of their abuse going unrecognised and unacknowledged. Until now. Educate yourself, your physicians, your family and friends, your colleagues and community. You owe yourself this much. At least.

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