How Complex Trauma Changes a Person

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From GoodTherapy.org: Although not currently listed in the DSM, the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress (C-PTSD) has gained widespread acceptance in the mental health community. The effects of prolonged, recurring trauma are often diagnosed as ADHD, depression, anxiety, or personality disorders; unlike C-PTSD, these labels do not address the origination of the symptoms.

“How a parent interacts with their child can have a huge impact on the child’s emotional development. If a child is not properly attuned, attended to, or acknowledged as an infant or in early childhood, a lifetime of damage may result. Generally, no visible scars or marks offer clues that anything damaging has occurred. When the person becomes an adult, they may experience serious relationship problems or struggle with addictions and other issues without understanding why. This, too, is complex trauma.

In fact, when someone has been chronically maltreated during any portion of life as a result of any type of abuse or emotional neglect, they may develop an inner propensity to manifest a variety of external symptoms. These tend to include but are not limited to ‘airheadedness,’ anxiety, somatic symptoms (migraines, stomachaches, etc.), dissociation, and depression.”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. This article is a good start, but it’s only a start…there are 3 key parts that I have found in helping my wife heal from her c-PTSD

    1) The trauma: This is the one area the experts all ‘get’. And untangling the associated lies and subsequent behaviors is extremely important, but it’s only the start of the healing process, and yet so many think by doing this the next two steps can be skipped or forced.

    2) The arrested development: From the article:”Each “persona” or “mode” is rigidly committed to a lack of growth and causes a level of stunted emotional development.” But the matter is much deeper than simply stating it as if it will care for itself after the trauma is addressed. This is a huge issue. Each persona controls personality traits and functioning, and all these have been severely stunted and missed the normal maturation process that untraumatized children experience. The article talks about adults throwing “3-year-old’ like temper tantrums which is true. But think of it in EVERY area that these persona control…and just to add complexity…each persona may only control PART of an area.

    On my blog I dealt with how my wife’s sex drive is clearly divided between 7 of the 8 girls in her system. Each one controls bits of what we would associate with a healthy, normal sex drive. And so a key part of her healing is helping each girl grow and mature and as she does the associated personality traits and functions correspondingly mature. Then I still have to teach them to work together so that they can function in a normal, healthy way. After 40 years of dissociation, they default to doing things on their own. So I have to work with them over and over and over and remind them to ‘do it with the other girls’ But at first they WANT to do it on their own, sigh, and so it’s a process not a destination…

    3) The dissociation: Again the article acts as if, once the trauma is addressed, integration will naturally happen: it does NOT. And ISSTD’s method is to FORCE integration by what they call ‘fusion’ and these ‘fusions’ have a notorious habit of not being permanent.
    The fact is integration, even after all the trauma is addressed is complicated by a couple of things:
    A) some of the personalities will continue to have a latent fear of connecting with the others. It’s important to remember that the entire dissociative scheme was based on the overwhelming fear of the trauma that was happening, and so even after the trauma is over, and even after it has been addressed and healed, the mind has been conditioned to think “I MUST keep these personas separate to protect the system.” It’s like a safety programming, and it’s really hard to undo this programming. I’ve done it for one girl in my wife’s system, but I am really, really struggling with a second girl who fears connecting with the others even though she loves being part of our family. And the other persona resisting the integration is surprisingly my wife’s host: the one adult in the entire system, sigh…but the host got the ‘easy’ parts of the childhood and so she still has the latent fear of what the other girls know even though she can communicate with them in many respects, she still holds back total communication.
    B) Because each persona only controls part of the personality, he/she doesn’t necessarily have access to the mental traits that might help facilitate the integration.
    C) And this is where ISSTD stumbles the worst: just because you ‘force the integration’ doesn’t mean the brain has the neural connections to actually support it. Neural plasticity teaches us that pathways which have been atrophied by dissociation for decades don’t miraculously become invigorated because some expert tries to force fusion upon various personas. For my wife, I’ve encouraged all kinds of mental and recreational activities that draw the attentions of the various girls and as they all focus on these activities, wanting to be part of the newfound sources of enjoyment, slowly those pathways between them are invigorated and a true, natural ‘group integration’ takes places. But it take a LOT of work and not some expert raising his hand over the person with a ‘hocus-pocus, now you are fused together’ mantra.

    • On my blog I dealt with how my wife’s sex drive is clearly divided between 7 of the 8 girls in her system. Each one controls bits of what we would associate with a healthy, normal sex drive. And so a key part of her healing is helping each girl grow and mature and as she does the associated personality traits and functions correspondingly mature. Then I still have to teach them to work together so that they can function in a normal, healthy way. After 40 years of dissociation, they default to doing things on their own. So I have to work with them over and over and over and remind them to ‘do it with the other girls’ But at first they WANT to do it on their own, sigh, and so it’s a process not a destination…

      Ew. 🙁

      • Ew what? I think you are reading things into my statement for you to say ‘ew’. If you are connecting my example of one’s sex drive with the statement ‘do it with the other girls’ then I am sorry for the misunderstanding…the ‘it’ at that point is simply any task they are attempting, NOT a euphemism for the people who can’t say the word ‘sex’. Otherwise, I really don’t understand your issue with helping connect all the girls so their truncated abilities work together like a football team where each player has a specialty, but none of them can play the entire game on his own…

        • I did read it that way because it was what the paragraph structure suggested. But my comment was more about your general tendency to talk about how you “heal” your wife by having sex with her. It’s TMI, and especially unsettling when you are talking about her child parts.

          • Actually now I know you are reading things into my comments especially since the opposite is actually what’s happening in our marriage right now as I help girl #8 connect to the other 7 girls. In fact I am the one, not any of the girls or my wife’s host, who insisted we temporarily cease at various times for 3 of the 7 girls while they healed and connected to the others.

            And as for ‘her child parts’… they are all part of my wife’s group and the goal is to help them ALL grow up NOT live in some kind of Peter Pan existence where they never grow up.

          • I’m not reading anything that you didn’t write. I could cut and paste examples from your comment history if I was motivated.

            Nor am I trying to vilify you or anything; I’m just saying that the sexual info is TMI and is disturbing in the context of talking about the “girls” that are parts of your wife. Surely there must be some other way to explain your wife’s progress and to talk about attachment theory.

          • In a world where sex abuse is rampant and the understanding of how to help child-abuse victims is rather simplistic, I offered a rather detailed explanation of the various layers and obstacles which I have found need to be addressed before real and complete healing is possible. My wife isn’t there yet, but she is making progress. And unlike your accusation, I, not she, have insisted on various times of celibacy to help her heal and connect to the others, but always with the goal that ALL girls some day will grow, mature, connect and eventually partake fully in their marriage to me.

            I live according to their perspective in which 7 of the 8 don’t see me as their husband, (though 2 of them are willing to do adult things with me because the two ‘girlfriends’ have sufficiently matured), but that doesn’t mean I accept their perspective as ‘healthy.’ It’s not. It’s the result of their cPTSD/d.i.d. and how they were frozen in time from the trauma.

            I will try to be mindful of your opinion in the future and the fact you find this subject triggering. You probably won’t believe this, but I am far safer with the little girls than my wife’s host is. I had to teach her to listen to their fears even though submitting to those fears(like temporary celibacy) while I help them heal and grow has been anything but easy.
            Sam

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