Why The C in C-PTSD Will Haunt You

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From Gemini Adams: “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is the unfortunate cousin of PTSD, referring to an identifiable mental and emotional health condition that arises from traumatic events that consistently happen over a long period of time, are inter-personal, and often occur in childhood.

Abandonment, neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence, physical, emotional or psychological abuse — such as spanking, bullying, gaslighting, shaming and name-calling — torture, being enslaved or held captive by a terrorist, kidnapper or within some kind of cult or [authoritarian] dynamic (including religious, political or educational settings), all fit the bill.

However, unlike PTSD, the symptoms of C-PTSD are often entrenched in an individual’s personality, having taken root during formative years, when attachment styles and brain development are fragile and still maturing.

This typically leads to severe, yet often-times invisible symptoms, which can inwardly feel like a disability, including: mental health challenges, lack of emotional or self-regulation, intimacy and trust issues, pervasive low self-esteem, guilt and toxic shame, lack of boundaries, prolonged feelings of terror and hyper-vigilance, , conflict-avoidance, chronic self-isolating, struggles with spatial awareness, interoception and cognitive function, mood swings, dissociation or detachment from reality, a tendency to self-medicate with substances, work, sex or sports, suffering from repetition compulsion, exhibiting both  and  behaviours, people-pleasing or dominating, and real struggles in forming and maintaining healthy relationships with self and others.

Essentially,  is complex by definition; both in its symptoms and also in how it is first formed. For example, a child who grows up in the chaos of a dysfunctional home; whereby the parent who suffers from narcissism, a mental health condition, cluster B personality, or an addiction, is ill-equipped to provide that child with the foundational elements that will promote the formation of a healthy, happy adult.

An absence of boundaries, or violated ones, lack of compassion or empathy, unavailability, cruelty or abuse, ignored needs, love withdrawn or over-exerted at times, provides no model for clear and direct communication, healthy emotional expression or authentic relating. Consequently, the child simply fails to get the right operating system fully installed. They are robbed of the chance to form a strong and solid sense of self, or learn what kind of behaviours within relationships are right or wrong.

C-PTSD is often described as life-altering, but it really goes much, much deeper than that. The absence of these essential ingredients in one’s early life, in the words of many of my own clients, creates ‘a void.’ Life is certainly altered. But, unlike with those who suffer symptoms of PTSD, whereby there is a noticeable ‘healthy’ before — where the adult was mentally and emotionally well, capable and content in communications and relationships prior to the traumatic event — with C-PTSD there is rarely a ‘healthy’ before. As international activist Jesse Jackson wisely observed: ‘You can‘t teach what you don’t know.’

The end result of this is that a ‘wounded child’ is left wandering around inside an adult body, doing their best — but lacking the tools or wherewithal — to behave or interact as a ‘healthy adult’ would. This can include the capacity to earn or retain money, to create stability, to hold down a job, to identify one’s own needs, to understand what one even enjoys or is good at, to engage in social activities or even feel that you belong, or are worthy of being part of any group, job, community or even receiving human decency.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I stopped reading at the BS about parents with so-called cluster b personalities. Where do you think those personalities came from? When you spend paragraphs talking about children who experience trauma growing up to have personality problems because the abuse they experienced was while their personality was forming. It makes me sick. Do you think maybe the cluster b personalities have C PTSD too and there is literally nowhere to get help for it and in fact in many cases such as mine I was just abused more when I tried to get help for it abused terribly by the helping people and the helping systems with brain shocks and forced toxic drugs and borderline diagnoses no one ever diagnosed me with complex PTSD I can tell you that. No one ever acknowledge the trauma I had gone through. You’re not helping anything or anyone this is idiocy. It’s this type of thinking that guarantees intergenerational trauma will continue and will only get worse.

  2. “C-PTSD is often described as life-altering, but it really goes much, much deeper than that. The absence of these essential ingredients in ones early life in the words of many of my own clients; creates “a void”. Life is certainly altered. But, unlike with those who suffer symptoms of PTSD, whereby there is a noticeable ‘healthy’ before — where the adult was mentally and emotionally well, capable and content in communications and relationships prior to the traumatic event — with C-PTSD there is rarely a ‘healthy’ before. As international activist, Jesse Jackson, wisely observed: “ You can‘t teach what you don’t know”.”

    I think this is a tremendously astute quote. I’ve often wondered at the marked difference between how my older sister treated her healing and recovery from being raped in her 20’s. She knew what ‘healthy’ was and she fought to get back there. And yet my wife repeatedly told me when we first started this healing journey 15 years ago, ‘I don’t even know what healthy looks like.” And beyond that, I just don’t see the ‘fight’ in her to get healthy that I saw in my sister. It’s frustrating, and yet, I have to accept it for what it is as I try to walk with her and help gently move her toward ‘healthy.’

    And it’s not surprising she never got that as a child because both her parents are fairly, emotionally/relationally dysfunctional. Last year after my father-in-law almost died twice, he talked with his daughter, my wife, about some of those topics that never get discussed in most families, even healthy ones, and he admitted to my wife that his wife, her mother, probably had mpd (multiple personalities disorder) which is the old name for what my wife has. He was apologetic for how his wife had treated her, their daughter, and confessed he never knew how to change things. But that was no revelation to my wife and I since we recognized all the signs in her mother once we started our own journey. And her own father has so many signs of trauma as well. It’s surprising my wife did as well as she did with our son because of all that she lacked in her own upbringing from her parents.

    Sadly, besides apparently adhering to the common view of mental health struggles, the article ends on a rather low point in my opinion as it calls for the preeminence of the ‘skilled therapist’ to do what no therapist could possible do, sigh. In my opinion, it would be inappropriate, as well as impossible, for any therapist to do many of the things only the primary attachment figure can do. It’s been a 24/7 x 15 year ‘job’ for me as I walk in all aspects of our relationship with my wife helping her heal the trauma and dissociation…and we still aren’t done. It’s labyrinthine in complexity and overwhelming in scope. If not for my love for her AND my vows, there are many days I would walk away as I feel as broken by this at this point as she conveys to me that she does. But we are in it together; healing, learning, attaching, and hopefully, someday, we’ll make it out on the other side to find the happy, healthy relationship we both so desperately want.

    Sam

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