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Understanding C-PTSD: a Journey into the Trauma Brain

Woman crumpled on a bed, arms and hair covering her face, apparently crying.

While many people are familiar with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), fewer may know about Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Both conditions arise from exposure to traumatic events, but they have distinct differences. PTSD typically results from a single traumatic incident, such as a car accident, natural disaster, or violent attack. In contrast, C-PTSD stems from prolonged or repeated trauma over months or years, often in situations where the individual feels trapped or powerless, such as ongoing physical and/or emotional abuse, captivity, or severe neglect. C-PTSD occurs when chaos becomes your new normal.

Symptoms of Complex PTSD

CPTSD shares many of the same symptoms as PTSD, including flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and severe anxiety. However, it also encompasses additional symptoms that reflect the chronic nature of the trauma:

  • Emotional Regulation Issues: Difficulty managing emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.

  • Negative Self-Perception: Persistent feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness.

  • Relationship Difficulties: Trouble forming or maintaining healthy relationships, often feeling detached or mistrustful.

  • Dissociation: Feeling disconnected from oneself or the world around. Often looks like staring into space, avoidance, or losing oneself to screens.

My Journey with CPTSD

My experience with C-PTSD stems from the challenges of parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder. My child often became physically abusive towards me (sometimes in my sleep...), creating an environment of constant fear and stress. This prolonged exposure to trauma led to C-PTSD. Even though the direct trauma has ended, its echoes remain in my daily life.

One of my biggest triggers is stress, especially financial stress. During the trauma years, we accumulated significant debt, which we're only now starting to clear. This financial strain brings back memories of those turbulent times, causing intense anxiety and panic attacks.

Current Struggles and Triggers

Although the physical trauma is in the past, my mental health continues to suffer. Cleaning out the house where so much trauma occurred has been particularly triggering. Additionally, facing legal action against the sellers of the house we lost, which we had hoped would be a place of new beginnings, has been mentally exhausting.

The stress has plunged me back into what I call "trauma-brain." I find myself overreacting, lashing out, and crying for hours. These reactions are part of my C-PTSD, and they make everyday life feel overwhelming and unmanageable.

Reaching Out for Help

To all the parents out there who may be experiencing similar struggles, I urge you to recognize the signs of C-PTSD and seek help before it becomes too overwhelming. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Safety Plan: Create a safety plan listing friends and/or family you can reach out to when you're in crisis.

  • Therapy: Find a therapist who specializes in trauma and C-PTSD.

  • Support Groups: Connect with others who understand what you're going through.

  • Alternative Treatments: If talk therapy isn't really your thing, check out some of the alternative treatments available to help with trauma, such as neurofeedback, accupuncture, footzoning, ketamine therapy, etc.

  • Self-Care: Prioritize your mental and physical health. Take time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation and be sure to exercise.

  • Educate Yourself: Learn more about C-PTSD to understand your symptoms and find effective coping strategies.

My Plan for Recovery

I am dedicating my 8-week break from school to focusing on my mental and physical health. This period is crucial for me to reset and regain some semblance of peace. I want to break free from the constant overreactions, the endless tears, and the feeling of being trapped in my own mind. My goals include:

  • Establishing a Routine: Creating a daily routine that includes time for self-care and relaxation.

  • Mindfulness Practices: Engaging in mindfulness and meditation to help manage stress and anxiety.

  • Exercise: Incorporating regular physical activity to boost my mood and overall health.

  • Healthy Diet: Eating nutritious meals to support my physical and mental well-being.

A Message to Fellow Parents

To those of you raising children who have suffered trauma, I see you, and I understand your pain. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Prioritizing your own mental health is not selfish; it’s necessary. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to support your child and navigate the challenges that come your way.

Let's reach out, support each other, and break the cycle of trauma. Together, we can find a way to heal and create a brighter future for ourselves and our children.


Check out our website and our podcast for more trauma resources!

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