Understanding your symptoms
Are you in a state of constant alert, forever searching your surroundings for signs of potential danger?
Like something bad is going to happen… again?
Your mind flips endlessly through the painful memories of your childhood, flashing frightening images before your inner eye.
At night, it plays horror movies for you till you wake up perspiring and terrified, desperately looking for something familiar to tell you you’re safe.
You can’t relax and everything feels unreal.
Are you ill?
“We all come from dysfunctional families. The issue is not whether our family was dysfunctional but whether we can put meaning to the experience of our lives.” – Stephen Porges, MD
You ask your GP for help, but he dismisses you with a wave of his hand while saying:
“Many women have difficult relationships with their mothers. Get over it,” like my doctor did.
So you open your notebook and start researching, only to be drawn into the world of trauma.
All those words, terms and explanations… Your head is spinning and you feel overwhelmed.
Let me help.
Let’s have a look at the terms you’ve found:
- PTSD and C-PTSD
- Developmental trauma (disorder)/DTD
- Childhood traumatic stress, childhood trauma, childhood wounds, mother wounds etc.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is best known as a condition of war veterans, but they aren’t the only ones afflicted by it.
If you ever felt powerless in a dangerous situation like an earthquake, flood, severe car accident, fire, or terrorist’s attack, you can develop PTSD, too.
Professionals like first aid medics and policemen who see or listen to horrifying experiences may also suffer from this condition.
PTSD is officially recognized and included into DSM-V and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases ICD-10.
Most of the people exposed to a traumatic event experience symptoms of traumatic distress. In most cases, these symptoms resolve after a few months. But when symptoms persist six months or longer, it may be diagnosed as a disorder.
That’s another one.
It’s also known as C-PTSD/ CPTSD and Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
C-PTSD is about exposure to a repeated or prolonged stress. It’s usually interpersonal e.g. it happens inside a relationship. Again and again, when a person is trapped in her circumstances, unable to escape.
A single incident in complex trauma may be less severe than a traumatic event causing PTSD, but the effect accumulates over time resulting in a profound damage to a person.
But it can also originate in childhood or adolescence. In this case, it develops usually within a relationship to a caregiver who is the source of child’s chronic but inescapable distress.
Child’s mistreatment can be excruciating for her emotional, mental, social, and physical development and health.
Although C-PTSD is not included into any official diagnostic systems, there plenty research data showing that C-PTSD is more common than PTSD:
Preliminary evidence suggests that CPTSD is a more common condition than PTSD. Preliminary findings also suggest that CPTSD is a more debilitating condition compared to PTSD with regard to survivors’ functioning. Childhood, multiple, and interpersonal trauma are all most likely associated with CPTSD as opposed to PTSD in both clinical and population samples.
And it is harder to treat.
Symptoms Common to PTSD and C-PTSD
- Involuntary re-experiencing of traumatic events that shows in flashbacks and recurrent nightmares.
Avoidance of anything that reminds of trauma – thoughts, feelings or conversations. Activities, places, and people, as well.
Sense of threat that shows in hypervigilance–a state of being oversensitive to the environment and other people. Constantly checking surroundings for potential dangers and preparing for self-defense.
- Overreacting to small things; irritable, aggressive or reckless behavior.
- Change of feelings about self or others to more negative. Feeling bad, guilty or ashamed.
- Difficulty in concentrating and sleeping problems.
- Experiencing depersonalization/derealization (dissociation) symptoms is possible.
PTSD may also have developmental origins like complex trauma.
Child’s life and her experiences may increase the risk of trauma exposure later in life. It may also increase the risk that she will respond with PTSD to traumatic events.
We can also develop symptoms of C-PTSD in situations of captivity with no perceived possibility to escape. Think of a hostage or a soldier captured and taken prisoner.
How PTSD and C-PTSD are Different?
Although complex PTSD and “simple” PTSD have common symptoms, C-PTSD includes other symptoms, too.
If you suffer from complex PTSD, you also may experience a few of the following symptoms:
- Difficulties with emotional self-regulation. It shows in reactive anger, uncontrollable temper outbursts, chronic sadness and suicidal thoughts. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
- Negative self-concept that includes feelings of being easily hurt, worthless, ashamed and guilty.
- Interpersonal problems that show in being suspicious and distrustful. In feeling distant or disconnected from other people, isolated, too. Or in repeating attempt to find a savior.
- Obsession with the person who hurt you. Having ongoing internal dialogs with her. Feeling hatred and fantasizing about revenge.
- Inability to be at the moment. Instead, you live in the past constantly reexperiencing your traumas. Or you have no memory of what happened to you.
Phew! So far, so good.
What about ACEs, Developmental Trauma, and Narcissistic Mothers?
ACEs describe a spectrum of adverse traumatic experiences that a child can be exposed to.
Some are directly harmful to a child while others affect the environment in which she grows up.
We are talking about physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Neglect or abandonment. Life with unloving or mentally ill parent(s); domestic violence or substance abuse. Separation from a parent(s) due to divorce, death, hospitalization or other reason.
It means exposure to an overwhelming stress that a child needs help to cope with. But her caregivers are either absent, unable to help or they are the ones who cause the stress.
Can you see where your narcissistic/abusive mother fits in?
Want to know how exposure to ACEs affects health and adult life? Watch this TED talk:
Exposed to ACEs, a child experiences developmental trauma or DTD.
We are talking about “repeated and severe episodes of interpersonal violence and significant disruptions of protective caregiving as the result of repeated changes in primary caregiver, repeated separation from a primary caregiver, or exposure to severe and persistent emotional abuse.” – Bessel van der Kolk, MD
You can find related terminologies like complex trauma, childhood trauma or childhood traumatic stress.
Exposure to ACEs may traumatize a child to a degree that as an adult, she will develop symptoms of C-PTSD.
Educate Yourself and Your Doctor
Why is diagnosis important?
The answer is simple: the right diagnosis helps you to find the right treatment.
Most of us need help at one point or another. It’s important to heal trauma in a relationship because that’s how it emerged.
We need someone to listen and understand, to help us through the excruciatingly painful emotions of anger, grief, and shame. To support us in learning who we are and what we want for ourselves and from life. And to integrate it all.
Keep learning and help your doctor understand what you are going through.
You can do it
I know you can.
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