Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental condition commonly associated with military service, but PTSD is more wide-spread in our society. Anyone who has experienced trauma, from a car accident to a natural disaster, could be vulnerable to developing PTSD.
In many cases, the trauma is not an isolated incident but an ongoing occurrence. The type of PTSD that often develops from domestic violence or child abuse is called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD.
What Causes C-PTSD?
Experiencing a traumatic event, whether you are injured in the incident or just a witness, can set off a chain of events in your brain. Not everyone who experiences trauma develops a disorder, but those who do can find it debilitating. The trauma creates emotions that are too much for your brain to process.
C-PTSD can develop differently but is accompanied by some of the same symptoms as PTSD. When the traumatic episode is ongoing over months or years, its effects on mental health can go deeper. Your brain may be able to protect you from the strong emotions of domestic violence for a while, but eventually, after several incidents, you cannot handle the mental pain, rage and uncertainty anymore.
In cases of long-term abuse, the victim is either physically or emotionally held captive while someone with superior power maintains control. The helplessness of this situation causes some people to retreat within themselves and make up answers to the question of why this is happening. They end up distorting the truth to make sense of a bad situation.
Complex PTSD Symptoms
Your brain works very hard to protect you from uncomfortable situations. It may block your memory of certain events or try to replace those memories with a different set of facts. The symptoms of PTSD include:
- Loss of memory
- Sleep disturbances
In PTSD, your brain may replay the incident over and over again to help you process your emotions. It can become an endless loop that is actually more upsetting than the initial incident, as your unexpressed emotions continue to pile up.
In C-PTSD, you experience the same symptoms with some others that are more entrenched. Because of the ongoing nature of the trauma, your brain has more time to try to make sense of the situation. Often in C-PTSD, symptoms of severe low self-esteem develop. The helplessness, guilt and shame force some people to believe they are not as good as other people.
Additional symptoms of C-PTSD can include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Explosive anger
- Persistent sadness
- Preoccupation with revenge
Repeated traumas, or those that continue for a long period of time, can have long-term effects on your mental health. Complex PTSD is a combination of PTSD and additional symptoms that can significantly affect your personality, character and happiness.
Complex PTSD Treatment
By identifying a separate form of PTSD in those who suffer from long-lasting trauma, we have discovered more effective means of treating this condition. Treatment for PTSD involves desensitizing, so it is possible to talk about the trauma without exacerbating the symptoms. For many, this alone is a great relief.
The ultimate goal of PTSD treatment is to help your brain process the emotions and be able to leave the traumatic incident in the past. Like other memories, a trauma is not forgotten, but the details and associated pain should fade with the memory.
The treatment for C-PTSD needs to include work on self-esteem and restoration of a healthy self-perception. To do this, people often need to regain a sense of power and control over themselves, heal the safe relationships in their lives and mourn what they lost.
At Brookhaven Retreat, we treat women with PTSD and C-PTSD to help them put their lives back together following trauma. We understand that trauma may have changed your personality and turned your life inside out. When trauma goes on for a long time, it can become a way of life and begin to feel normal. It takes a lot of courage and patience to rebuild your life after that, and Brookhaven is here to help.