complex trauma and ptsd
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is something which has always existed, but has only been recognised and labelled as such during the last fifty years. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is still not an officially recognised phenomenon and struggles to be labelled.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD or Complex Trauma) is defined as a psychological stress injury which results from ongoing or repeated trauma over which the victim has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape. This accumulation of trauma distinguishes Complex PTSD from the better known Post Traumatic Stress Order (PTSD) in which trauma typically involves a single event or a group of events of limited duration (e.g., witnessing a tragedy, being the victim of a violent act, short term military combat exposure). It is anticipated that Complex PTSD will be included in the 11th version of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD11) to be published in 2017-2018 as a separate and distinct entity.
Working with Complex Trauma and its symptoms is quite a new science and much research is still being done.
Complex trauma occurs when a person experiences many traumatic events over time. These experiences can become merged and it is difficult to distinguish one from another. For example, this can happen to someone who is born into a violent neighbourhood and suffers physical abuse and loss during childhood, especially when there is minimal support from care-givers.
It can also result if a person experiences a natural disaster but suffers multiple challenges, such as being trapped and also losing family members. This presents as a much more complex trauma that of someone who has experienced only one of these events.
Very often, young people and adults are labelled with disorders related to attention, mood and attachment, without consideration of their trauma history. These people often feel betrayed by the authorities who are supposed to protect them, thus making them difficult to engage in therapeutic work.
What the experts say
Complex trauma is identified by Judith Herman and other leaders in the field of traumatology as “the existence of a complex form of posttraumatic disorder in survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma” (Herman, 1992).
''Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: the past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”— Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma