PTSD and Complex PTSD consist of a series of symptoms that arise after a traumatic event. Generally, PTSD is often seen in victims of a singular traumatic event e.g. an accident, a natural disaster, being a victim of a crime, etc. Complex PTSD is associated with prolonged trauma, and has additional symptoms to PTSD.
Childhood trauma usually comes under Complex PTSD because 1) it can last for many years if the home environment is traumatic; 2) it can occur early on in life which impacts emotional development and regulation; and 3) children cannot easily leave the home environment and so it’s much harder for them to assert control over the traumatic circumstances.
Here’s a super quick breakdown of symptoms that both PTSD and Complex PTSD usually share:
· Flashbacks – reliving all or some of the traumatic event as though it is happening now. Feeling unsure of what is past and what is present. Flashbacks can involve intrusive images, sounds, smells, emotions, thoughts and sensations.
· Nightmares or sleep terrors
· Hallucinations, delusions, or illusions that are associated with the traumatic event
· Severe anxiety reactions or panic attacks
· Feeling paralyzed with fear or wanting to run away.
· Strong efforts to avoid any thoughts, feelings or situations that might evoke traumatic memories. This may involve staying very busy, overworking, dissociation or using drugs or alcohol.
· Amnesia - being unable to recall some or all of the significant aspects of the traumatic event. Trauma impacts autobiographical memory recall.
· Emotional disconnection
· Inability to feel joy
· Unwillingness to talk about your experience or wanting to desperately forget.
Hyperarousal Symptoms (‘feeling too much’):
· Persistent physical symptoms of tension: tenseness, agitation, restlessness, impatient and feeling on ‘high alert’
· Easily startled and hypersensitivity to what is going on around you
· Irritability and feelings of intense rage, or crying
· Difficulty going to sleep or waking up frequently in the night
· Attention problems – find it difficult to listen
· Chaotic mind – lots of thoughts all at once
Hypoarousal Symptoms (‘feeling too little’):
· Physical numbness, inability to feel pain
· Blank mind, unable to think or speak
· Brain fog and forgetfulness
· Detachment and disconnection
· Inability to move or talk
· Extreme sleepiness
If you recognize any of these symptoms in your daily life, you are not alone. Many people all across the world struggle with PTSD or Complex PTSD in the aftermath of trauma.
It’s OK to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak or shameful or unable to manage your own life. In fact, there is strength in self-awareness and recognizing when you need additional support.
Don’t let your past hold you back from your future.