Complex PTSD has been attracting increased attention in recent times, and understanding this mental health condition can help us understand the brain and mental health recovery in important ways.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised Complex PTSD (or C–PTSD) in it’s 2019 revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD–11). C–PTSD is being increasingly recognised by medical professionals as an explanation for chronic and persistent mental health symptoms that can be difficult to treat.
Imagine you have been through some really tough stuff in life. Not just one traumatic event, but a series of them. Maybe it was an abusive relationship, a difficult childhood, or even being in a war zone. These experiences leave a deep impact, and that’s where C–PTSD comes into play.
Really stressful situations cause reactions in our minds and bodies. Your heart might race, you might feel anxious, or you can’t sleep well. That’s your body’s way of handling stress. But when someone faces ongoing trauma, their stress response system can react in unpredictable and intense ways.
The onset of C–PTSD symptoms can occur across the lifespan, typically after exposure to chronic, repeated traumatic events and/or victimisation that have continued for a period of months or years at a time.
Research into trauma has shown the considerable impact of relational experiences in childhood. Experiences such as absent or inconsistent warmth from caregivers, lack of secure and consistent attachment to caregivers, and/or lack of emotional validation from caregivers can contribute to C–PTSD in later life.
Symptoms of C–PTSD are generally more severe and persistent in comparison to PTSD. Exposure to repeated traumas, especially in early development, is associated with a greater risk of developing C–PTSD rather than PTSD.
In C–PTSD, people experience not just the usual symptoms of PTSD (like flashbacks, nightmares, and avoiding reminders of the trauma), but also other difficulties. Feelings of intense shame or guilt, having a distorted sense of self, or finding it hard to trust others are very common with C–PTSD. It’s like the emotional world gets all tangled up.
One of the main things about C–PTSD is that it affects how someone sees themselves and others. Sufferers may start feeling like they’re fundamentally broken or unlovable because of what they’ve been through. This negative self–image can impact their relationships, making it hard for them to connect with others in a healthy way.
With C–PTSD, the ‘injury’ is inside the mind, but it is real and deserving of attention and care.
So, how can people heal from C–PTSD? Well, therapy is a big help. Talking to a therapist, someone trained to unravel those emotional tangles, can make a world of difference. Therapy can come in many forms — some people find comfort in traditional talk therapy, while others might benefit from things like art therapy, where they can express their feelings through creativity.
A particularly effective therapy for C–PTSD is dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), which focuses on building emotion regulation and mindfulness skills in both group and individual therapy sessions.
Supportive relationships are very important too. Having friends, family, or even support groups where people can share their experiences without judgment can be incredibly healing. It’s like having a safety net, knowing there are people who care and understand.
Self–care also plays a huge role. Healthy habits like regular exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep can make a surprising difference. It’s like giving the body and mind the strength they need to cope with the challenges that come their way.
And let’s not forget about mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Learning to be present in the moment, taking deep breaths, or practicing meditation can help calm the storm inside. It’s all about finding what works best for each individual, because everyone’s journey to healing is different.
Healing from C–PTSD isn’t a linear process. It’s more like a roller coaster ride! There might be ups and downs, good days and bad days. But with the right support, patience, and understanding, people can learn to untangle those emotional knots and move towards a healthier, happier life.
Mental Health Access Line
(Central Coast): 1800 011 511
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Mindful Recovery Services:
www.mindfulrecovery.com.au or (02) 4660 0100
Alex Wilson is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker and Director of Mindful Recovery Services and the Central Coast DBT Centre, providing psychological treatment and support for adolescents and adults. Alex is passionate about dispelling myths about mental illness,and is highly skilled in dialectical behavioural therapy. She is an experienced public speaker and provides consultation to other professionals on managing difficult behaviours in teens. Alex lives on the NSW Central Coast with her partner, 2 young boys, 2 goats, a bunch of chickens and a cheeky puppy named Axel.