Signs of Complex Trauma – Pt. 1

When you think of trauma, you might automatically think of a single event that is difficult to process. Events like natural disasters, car accidents, or a divorce are examples of what is sometimes called “Big T” trauma. This type of trauma can occasionally lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While these events and others like them can happen to anyone at any point in their lives and have a lasting impact, they have a very different impact than what is called “little t” trauma. These traumatic events are often ongoing in nature and can have more long-term, less obvious impacts. Examples of these traumatic events would be experiencing childhood sexual abuse, having an alcoholic parent, or living in a community with frequent gun violence. Complex trauma, or chronic PTSD (CPTSD), is the result of many traumas over time. There are many ways that this type of trauma is different. For example:

You Can’t Trust Yourself
While it is normal to second guess yourself at times, it is not helpful to constantly undermine your perceptions. For example, you might worry that you are overreacting to a situation and seek validation or affirmation from someone you can trust. If this is an ongoing dynamic of needing others to assure that you are living in reality, you may have experienced gaslighting. Gaslighting is a popular term that is sometimes used to replace lying or dishonesty, but it goes much further than that. Gaslighting is the intentional use of denial, minimization, or other tactics an abuser will use to deny your reality. This causes you to guess yourself and your perceptions until you can no longer trust yourself. After extensive gaslighting, it is not uncommon to feel you are crazy or to need input from others to check your perception of reality. Others can remind you that your experiences are valid, but a critical part of the healing process is being able to provide that validation for yourself and trusting your own perception of reality.

You Have a Big Disconnect Between Your Thoughts and Your Feelings
Another common sign of possible CPTSD is when there is a large disconnect between how you feel and what you think. For example, you might know in your mind that what happened was not your fault, but it might not feel that way. You could tell yourself “I’m safe now” over and over but feel your body responding as though danger is around every corner. If your positive affirmations or reliance on facts is not changing your emotional experience, complex trauma may be at work.

You Need More Time to Process
It may be ideal to be able to handle conflicts in the moment that an issue comes up, but for some people, it is overwhelming to do so. For people with an extensive history of trauma, it can be nearly impossible to understand what is happening, what you think and feel about it, and find the words to communicate it all to someone else at the time of conflict when they are triggered. Taking a few moments to cool off and come back to the conversation is one thing, but if you need a few hours or even days to sort through your experience of the issue or trigger, your past experiences may be impacting your relationships with others.

If you recognize several of these signs, it may be worth it to work with a professional counselor on unraveling the impacts of trauma on your life. Trauma is rarely something you have control over, so it can be empowering to be in control of whether, when, and how you’d like to heal from the trauma. Start the journey of living life on your own terms by contacting us today to schedule an intake.

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