Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as C-PTSD, is a common problem among those who have suffered childhood abuse, in particular abuse at the hands of a parent with narcissistic personality disorder. It is psychological damage caused by prolonged trauma where the victim has no means of escape. Some situations that cause C-PTSD are:
- Childhood abuse.
- Imprisonment, such as a hostage or prisoner of war situation.
- Long term exposure to gaslighting.
- Long term exposure to hovering and abandoning behaviors, which are common among those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Often those with C-PTSD “stuff” their emotional reactions to the repeated trauma for various reasons, such as not being in an environment where it is safe to deal with these emotions. The result is finally they find they are unable to suppress their feelings any longer, and their emotional dam breaks.
Those who experience C-PTSD share many symptoms of PTSD. Some of those symptoms are:
- Flashbacks – a sense of reliving painful events, during which it is difficult to tell reality from the memory. Or, emotional flashbacks where you experience all of the emotions of a traumatic event without the sense of reliving it.
- Intrusive thoughts – thoughts of anxiety or depression, or even bad memories that usually can’t be controlled
- Rage – either turned inward (eating disorders, substance abuse, allowing oneself to be used or abused) or turned outward (being controlling, violence towards others).
- Depression – possibly even to the point of suicidal thoughts.
- Cognitive dissonance. This is a state of discomfort that arises from when your beliefs, attitudes and/or behaviors conflict with new information. This is why it is so painful to accept a parent is narcissistic. As a child, one grows up thinking their parent loves them and has their best interests at heart, like all parents should. Then one day, that child learns about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and realizes that the parent does not love them, is incapable of love and only cares about their own selfish interests. The truth conflicts with what the child always assumed was true, and creates pain. That pain is cognitive dissonance.
- Avoiding social situations.
- Constantly trying to keep your mind busy. This could mean watching a lot of TV, surfing the net, etc.
- Hyper-vigilance – an unhealthy extreme awareness of surroundings, the feelings and reactions of other people for fear of being hurt either physically or emotionally.
- Low self-esteem, even self-hatred.
- Panic attacks.
- Physical symptoms– inflammatory disorders (Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis) pain with no known physical cause (mostly back pain), digestive problems, heart troubles, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.
- Nightmares – they can involve replaying traumatic events or not. If not, they trigger similar emotions to what you experienced in traumatic situations.
- Trouble falling asleep – this is because your fight or flight reflexes won’t stop.
- Trouble staying asleep.
- Periodic times of your heart racing.
Treatment for C-PTSD should not be done by just anyone. It should be done by a qualified therapist experienced in trauma. It may involve medication for anxiety and depression. Counseling most likely will involve:
- Removing oneself from the source of the abuse.
- Accepting that the traumatic events as real and abusive.
- Mourning the loss, such as loss of a parent who should have loved you, yet abused you instead, loss of childhood, etc.
- Focusing on what can be recovered, such as self-esteem.
- Self-discovery. Constant abuse leads to not knowing oneself, because you are too busy trying to survive.
C-PTSD is a very serious illness, not to be taken lightly. The trauma that causes C-PTSD and its more commonly known counterpart, PTSD, actually causes physical changes in the brain. The prefrontal lobe is damaged, which causes one to have trouble finding the right words to express oneself. The hippocampus being damaged results in short term memory issues. The prefrontal cortex is what regulates fear and emotional responses. When it is damaged after trauma, it can leave you feeling afraid and anxious. And, lastly, the amygdala is damaged. That is the part of the brain that regulates emotions. When it is damaged, you end up with mood swings that are difficult or impossible to control.
Unfortunately, no matter how well your C-PTSD is managed, you’re still going to have some bad days. C-PTSD is not an easy disorder – it is a very complex journey, and as such, bad days will happen. Please read this link for more information on the inevitable bad days: Bad Days
When you have C-PTSD, people may dismiss your illness. They have with me. I have heard comments such as “Get over it,” “You’re living in the past,” “Just let it go, “Just don’t think about it,” “Stop wallowing,” “You’re too negative,” “That’s the only mother/father you have! She/he won’t be around forever!”
Such invalidating comments are extremely hurtful, and may trigger painful memories, anger or depressive episodes. If this happens, remember that you did NOT ask for this disorder. No one in their right mind would want to live with the hell that is C-PTSD. Having it also does not mean you have not moved on from the trauma. It is merely a sign that you have survived something terrible. Also, having C-PTSD does not mean something is wrong with you – rather, it means something wrong happened to you.
Also, some people (I am one of them) believe that having C-PTSD, PTSD or depressive illness is a sign of strength. The fact is that people who are caring, responsible, and helpful push themselves hard, often past their own limits. They also can feel things much deeper than others. These things can result in C-PTSD, PTSD or a depressive illness when people who are that way are exposed to traumatic or very challenging situations. People who are not very caring, are irresponsible and lazy give up when things get too hard. This means they do not push themselves so hard or care as much. Just keep that in mind if anyone tells you that you are weak for having C-PTSD!
If you believe you may have C-PTSD, remember, you are NOT alone and you are NOT crazy!