Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD as it’s commonly known is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context where the persona has little or no chance of escape. What the heck does that mean? It means C-PTSD is the result of exposure to traumatic events over a period of time.
How is it different from PTSD? Post traumatic stress disorder is typically the result of a single traumatic event. So a car accident, earthquake, tornado, violent attack, or any other single event can lead to PTSD. On the other hand, things such as child neglect, child abuse, or an abusive relationship will lead to C-PTSD.
For me, my C-PTSD is a result of my childhood. I wish I could share all of those details. In reality, I can’t. I have very little memory of my childhood. I can kinda remember 2-3 events. My life is mostly a blur. As I’m going thorough therapy, I’ve found that most of my memories are there. They’re just hidden. This is my brains way of protecting me. Protect me from what? I’m not entirely sure. Frustrating right? Memory loss is one of the many side effects of C-PTSD. Imagine walking through life not remembering much of your childhood. Now imagine going through life not remember what happened last week. Well, that’s my life.
Another thing that has resulted from my C-PTSD is my Hyperarousal. This means that I’m always alert for danger. This is oftentimes confused with being super observant. Well yes! My mind thinks life depends on it. This also comes with the ability to read people/situation incredibly well. I will say this has served me well with pets/foster pets. It’s nice to notice the small changes and catch an issue before it becomes a big issue. It’s saved my bunnies life. Other than that, it’s pretty annoying to always be vigilant.
Now imagine having a lack of emotional regulation. This means that my feelings can go from completely numb to explosive anger. I struggle with controlling my own feelings. Most of the time, I’m not sure what they are. By the time I notice, they’re pretty intense. For most of my life, I’ve suppressed my feelings in favor of autopilot. As I type this, I’m working through understanding my feelings. It’s about conscious effort into feeling my feelings. I’ll share a secret… it’s terrifying.
One of my favorite “side effects” of C-PTSD is difficulty in relationships. For me, this means I have a hard time trusting people. I have a hard time trusting myself. Remember, I’m always vigilant. I’m also terrified of recreating the romantic relationship I grew up around, so I’ve decided to be single. To my family, this translates as “she must be a lesbian.” It’s not like “she’s terrified of making real connections.” Besides a few close friends, my best friends are animals. Let me tell you, I’ve learned that most trauma patients end up being animal lovers. As my therapist says, animals do not judge and love unconditionally.
Finally, C-PTSD gives me a great deal of guilt and shame. This leads me to feel like I’m not like other people. It also connects my worth to what I’m able to produce. Growing up, I was the “smart one, or the “hard working one,” so I’ve made it my mission to produce. I identify as what I’ve accomplished. I feel the constant need to achieve and to receive approval. This approval had to come from my family. This was especially true of my father. Spoiler alert: it never came and I doubt it ever will.
My C-PTSD is seeped into every fiber of my being. Sometimes I’m not sure what is trauma and what is me. Who am I outside of this identity? I’m not sure, but I’m finally willing to find the answer.
*I am not a mental health professional. Everything written here is from my personal experience. If you are suffering, please reach out to a qualified professional for assistance.