PTSD And Complex PTSD: What Happens When You’ve Lived In A Psychological War Zone

Normally when we think about “PTSD,” our minds jump to those who’ve been in combat. While it is certainly an issue for those who’ve been in real-life war zones, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex PTSD isn’t just exclusive to war veterans. In fact, many survivors of childhood emotional neglect, physical or emotional abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and rape can suffer from the symptoms of PTSD or Complex PTSD if they endured long-standing, ongoing and inescapable trauma.

These individuals face combat and battle in invisible war zones that are nonetheless traumatic and potentially damaging. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8 million people can develop PTSD every year and women are twice as likely than men to experience these symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms of PTSD and Complex PTSD?

There are four types of symptoms that are part of PTSD and some additional symptoms for Complex PTSD as listed below. Complex PTSD, which develops due to chronic, ongoing trauma, is more likely to occur due to long-term domestic violence or childhood sexual and/or physical or emotional abuse. Around 92% of people who meet the criteria for Complex PTSD also meet the criteria for PTSD (Roth, et. al 1997).

It is recommended that you seek professional support if you’re struggling with any of these symptoms, especially if your symptoms last longer than one month, cause great impairment or distress and/or disrupt your ability to function in everyday life. Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose you and provide an appropriate treatment plan.

1. Reliving and Re-experiencing the Trauma

PTSD: Memories, reoccurring nightmares, persistent unwanted and upsetting thoughts, physical reactivity, vivid flashbacks of the original event can all be a part of PTSD. You may also encounter triggers in everyday life – whether it be something you see, smell, hear, that brings you back to the original event. This can look different for every survivor. A sexual assault survivor might hear the voice of someone who resembles her assailant and find herself reliving the terror of being violated. A domestic violence victim might find herself being triggered by someone raising their voice. Triggers can be seemingly minor or overwhelmingly major, depending on the severity and longevity of the trauma endured.

Complex PTSD: According to trauma therapist Pete Walker (2013), you may also suffer from emotional flashbacks where you ‘regress’ back into the emotional state of the original event and you behave maladaptively to the situation as a result. Walker states that for people with Complex PTSD, individuals develop four “F” responses when they are triggered by emotional flashbacks: they may fight, flee, fawn (seek to please) or freeze. These responses are protective, but they may end up further harming the survivor because the survivor might fail to enforce their boundaries or may use excessive force in protecting themselves.

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