Do you or someone you know suffer from C-PTSD?
Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or C-PTSD, commonly co-occurs with addiction. C-PTSD is a complicated trauma reaction caused by enduring extreme stress over a prolonged period of time. Its frequent companion, addiction, typically evolves as repeated attempts are made to find respite in substance use from painful symptoms of a trauma disorder.
Chronic Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Exposure
Sadly, exposure to tragic experiences come in various forms throughout life—from a single incident such as an accident, a natural disaster, or episode of violence, to prolonged adverse situations such as chronic physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and combat. Exposure to critically adverse events–those in which we fear serious injury or death, for example–can cause a lingering psychological and physiological experience of terror or horror with all its attendant effects. This is the essence of PTSD or a clinically significant and adverse response to an overwhelming event.
Humiliation and psychological violations can have the same traumatic impact if the conditions are adverse and/or persistent enough. Also, we do not have to be in harm’s way ourselves to be traumatized. Trauma reactions can develop when we witness others face severe violations, threat, injury or death. As human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time, we are all vulnerable to such reactions. Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when we are exposed to such overwhelming experiences over a prolonged period of time.
Stuck in Survival Mode—the Brain’s Involvement
Trauma reactions have their ‘roads of access’ into our lives through the hard-wiring of our species. They are evidence of instinctual survival mechanisms meant to save us even without our consent. Nature doesn’t concede to our mental or emotional tendencies to deliberate or delay when physical or psychological survival is at stake. We fight, flee, freeze or collapse because the brain takes over in emergency mode, doing its job to protect us as best it can. It stays in charge with elevated alarm and functioning until it is finally convinced we are safe.
Only when danger has passed do we have the luxury of resuming normal life, but the brain must be convinced that all is well and this is not always so easily achieved. Operating in full-on emergency status, especially for prolonged periods of time, injures the brain. It loses its capacity to find a safe mode. Consequently, even in serene surroundings, our internal alarms continue to sound. Sensations, images, memories and thoughts of the emergency continue.
Unrelenting Crisis—the Cause of C-PTSD
It is impossible to list all possible events that would result in C-PTSD, but here are some examples to help you better identify if you or a loved one may be experiencing the condition. People who suffer from C-PTSD have experienced adverse situations such as:
• Entrapment in prolonged and humiliating circumstances such as exposure to a sexualized environment as a child or as an unwilling adult witness.
• Prolonged and significant periods of social ridicule or bullying.
• Coerced participation in prostitution, pornography, criminal or other activity abhorrent to the individual.
• Exposure to recurring interpersonal violence such as victims of battering or their children who witness it.
• Repeated episodes of sexual and/or physical abuse.
• Combat exposure.
• Being present in the prolonged aftermath of natural or man-made disasters or war.
• Starvation experiences or an enduring lack of other survival needs.
• Being a victim of stalking.
The Impact of C-PTSD and Hope for Recovery
All trauma reactions are life changing, at least for a time and in significant ways. C-PTSD, however, causes pervasive negative effects across many aspects of one’s life. Its reactions cut deep to the core of who we are. In fact, our personalities can form around this extreme reaction, setting the stage for a great deal of suffering in our daily lives, our relationships, and the way we orient ourselves in the world at large.
To understand the difference between PTSD and C-PTSD, imagine that a piercing storm warning alarm sounds and you immediately seek shelter, desperately wanting to be safe. Now, imagine the same piercing alarm ringing continuously for months or even years because you remain in danger continuously for that long. This last example is more akin to the complex form of a trauma reaction.
A significant sign for many who suffer from C-PTSD and co-occurring addictions is that even repeated attempts at sobriety have failed. As insurmountable as the challenges of C-PTSD and co-occurring addiction sound, they aren’t. Recovery is possible with the right help. Contact the Sanctuary at Sedona for more information about resolving these complex and intertwined conditions.
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