(Trigger Warning – Discussion about Trauma)
I hate Complex-PTSD. There is no way around it, I hate it. I got triggered today. All it took was for me to be sent spiraling was for me to notice that a relative of mine had changed their profile picture on Facebook. It was a completely innocent thing for them to do. There was nothing wrong with the picture that my relative chose, but for me, it was enough to trigger a cascading effect of interacting layers of trauma that I have accumulated over the years.
“Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape.”
C-PSTD can occur in such cases of:
- domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- entrapment or kidnapping.
- slavery or enforced labor.
- long term imprisonment and torture
- repeated violations of personal boundaries.
- long-term objectification.
- exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
- long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull, splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
- long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
- long term exposure to crisis conditions.
How did I get to this point? I grew up in an emotionally neglectful and abusive household. I married what I knew and the covert emotional manipulation and emotional abuse only got worse. I have also been taking care of mentally ill family members for over 16 years now. Then there is the medical trauma I endured 15 years ago that resulted in my initial diagnosis of PTSD which eventually grew to C-PTSD when more and more layers of trauma were exposed.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and C-PTSD are similar, but they do differ in causes and symptoms. C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little to no chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.
***Remember, C-PTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor is it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.
People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.
Emotional symptoms may include:
- Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
- Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
- Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
- Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
- Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
- Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
- Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation
Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:
- Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
- Chronic pain
- Cardiovascular problems
- Gastrointestinal problems.
From Out of the Storm:
Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD
According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:
- Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks. While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional. That is, a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused. These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) .
- Sense of threat – constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
- Avoidance – of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)
Symptoms of CPTSD Only
Cloitre et al (2014) suggest that CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it has three additional symptoms:
- Emotion regulation – Emotional sensitivity; reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner
- Negative self-concept – Feeling of worthlessness and defectiveness. Walker suggests that those with CPTSD suffer from toxic shame and have a virulent Inner and Outer Critic.
- Interpersonal problems – Difficulty feeling close to another person; feeling disconnected, distant or cut off from other people (depersonalization, social anxiety).
Everyone is unique and the above list of symptoms is not complete and not everyone with C-PTSD will exhibit all the symptoms listed. I, for one, do not have the physical symptoms of “Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity”. There was a time I wanted revenge, but I couldn’t stand that feeling and fought hard against it. Revenge never solves anything and can ultimately destroy the person seeking revenge. I have wanted to die, but I have never had suicidal thoughts. I also have never been violent, destroyed property, nor committed theft. I do not have cardiovascular problems, but I do experience chest pain during anxiety and panic attacks. I have had to establish healthy boundaries and am no longer in contact with certain family members beyond an occasional email. I also never lost my ability to form close personal relationships with others.
What makes experiencing all this worse for me is that things that trigger me are typically seen as happy moments by most people, so there is little to no understanding as to why I cut myself off from exposure to reminders and why an unexpected exposure to a photograph of my happy sister, her happy husband, and her new baby affected me so badly. I didn’t experience anger seeing that photo. I was terrified! Pregnancy and children birth reminders are horrible, panic inducing triggers for me. The reason for this is my medical trauma resulted from me being pregnant and giving birth. I am not going to go into detail, but more information can be found here and here.
I got triggered this morning by a reminder of that horrific time in my life that was my medical trauma, the lack of emotional support I experienced from my family and continue to experience, and all the loss I experienced and continue to experience. That one trigger not only triggered me regarding my medical trauma, but every emotional trauma after it. There is a lot. As I stated before, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and came from an emotionally manipulative and neglectful home life that followed me into adulthood.
It is 11:31PM now. I am still struggling. I have been crying off and on all day, but most of my crying was this morning. How have I coped? I used music and running. I let myself ride the melody and lyrics of specifically chosen songs and played them over and over again. I let the music flow through me and let the emotion flow with it. I had to. No more pretending. I am safe now. I don’t have to hide my anguish anymore. I have to let my pain out, but I have to do it in a health way. I have been a runner for 24 years. Running helps me regulate my anxiety and helps me control my meltdowns. Running is not for everyone, but it is a way for me to help ground myself when the whole world feels like it is collapsing all around me like it did today.
My theme song today was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. I felt this song fit with how I was feeling and how I wanted to express myself, because I had no words, just tears and pain. (Lyrics)
I have been waking up lately with this song playing in my head. I wouldn’t mind at all having an angel sent to me right now with some guidance and emotional support. Days like this are so hard, but they do eventually get better. I just have to keep moving forward. A better day will come.