Complex post-traumatic stress disorder or CPTSD may develop as an effect of complex trauma. Complex trauma results from repeated exposure to adverse events over a prolonged period of time. Adult children of toxic parents and those who were raised in highly dysfunctional environments are, therefore, prone to have experienced childhood abuse and neglect (including emotional) which, in turn, increase their probability of identifying with the following 6 signs of CPTSD:
1- High reactivity and difficulties regulating emotions: unresolved childhood trauma is connected to unprocessed grief, built up anger and deep feelings of loneliness and abandonment depression that require conscious self-soothing efforts. Due to hypervigilance and high arousal levels, however, feelings of anxiety arise quickly and easily, making it harder to understand and manage one’s inner life. Emotions are often felt intensively and without a sense of matching or even belonging to specific context contexts.
2- Changes in consciousness: dissociation, difficulty remembering traumatic events, including the emotions related to it.
3- Negative self-perception: strong negative beliefs about oneself that are felt in the body even when they do not correspond to objective thinking (“I know I am competent/good enough/loveable, but I do not feel that way”). Strong inner critic, tendency to see the world in black and white, impostor syndrome and catastrophising are commonplace.
4- Relationship difficulties: difficulty trusting others and seeing relationships as sources of wellbeing. Natural tendency to gravitate toward abusive/toxic people and codependent and emotionally dependent relationships since they feel familiar and create a false sense of safety.
5- Distorted perception of the abuser: considering the abuser as powerful and able to cause continuous pain, control or even destroy one’s life, even when he or she is much older, physically and mentally weaker and emotionally immature. Tendency to obsess about feeling heard and having emotions and experience validated by the abuser and having recurrent thoughts/fantasies about talking to him or her, explaining things as well as planning revenge, etc.
6- Loss of systems of meanings: feelings of hopelessness and loss of purpose in relation to the world, life, people and spirituality.
Other symptoms may include chest pain, frequent headaches, migraine, armouring, bruxism, gastrointestinal problems, low libido, difficulty enjoying sex, weaker immune system, sleep disorders, flashbacks, avoidant behaviours, suicidal thoughts, higher susceptibility to addictive behaviours and depression.
If you have identified with the above, CPTSD management is possible via a very conscious and proactive attitude that includes a combination of trauma therapy, such as Attachment-Focused EMDR, and dedicated self-care.