What is Complex Trauma?

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Complex Trauma can feel like you are fighting something all the time~

Complex Trauma is a term that was coined by Judith Herman.  It is a term that is given when a person has survived long-term traumatic experiences rather than a simple traumatic experience such as a car accident or plane crash.  Complex refers to long-term and simple refers to a single incident.  In most cases it involves a victim who is emotionally, physically or sexually abused and is unable to get away from the perpetrator.

The National Center of PTSD  gives these examples of situations that can lead to Complex Trauma.

  • Concentration camps
  • Prisoner of War camps
  • Prostitution brothels
  • Long-term domestic violence
  • Long-term child physical abuse
  • Long-term child sexual abuse
  • Organized child exploitation rings
  • Soldiers who have been exposed to war
  • Emergency Responders

Symptoms seen in Complex Trauma

An individual who experiences  a prolonged period (months to years) of chronic victimization and total control by another may also experience the following difficulties:

  • Experiencing extreme emotions like a roller coaster ride within a day or week. Being accused of over reacting to situations that are considered minor by your friends or family.
  • Dissociation .  Includes forgetting some of the traumatic events or all of it.  Having episodes in which one feels detached from one’s mental processes or body (dissociation). In extreme cases this can look like Dissociative Identity Disorder.
  • Feeling of being cut off or numb.
  • Alternating between feeling ” On”  hyper   (and in extreme cases  manic)  to ” Off” (feeling depressed with no energy).
  • Distorted sense of self-perception.  A sense of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings. Believing that there is something wrong with you. Believing that the world is a dangerous place.
  • Loss of meaning and purpose
  • Distorted Perceptions of the Perpetrator. Examples include bonding with the  perpetrator, becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, or preoccupied with revenge.
  • Difficulty with relationships.  Examples include isolation, distrust,   repeated search for a rescuer , or becoming a rescuer.
  • Hyper sensitivity to sounds and crowds – Isolating. Spending long periods at home. Difficulty leaving the home.
  • Hyper – vigilance (Startle easily) On alert for predator most of the time.
  • Gut problems – Ulcers, Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Constipation – Nausea – Leaky gut syndrome.
  • Anxiety and Panic attacks
  • Difficulty with assertiveness and setting boundaries.
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of traumatic incidents from the past.