|Pelican, digital art with Medibang Paint Pro and Wacom pentablet.|
But there is a different kind of trauma. This has been spoken of more the last few years, and is called C-PTSD. These people who get this diagnosis, are living in a constant "war-zone" in their whole life. It mostly starts in childhood, with children living in abusive environments, where they never get any time to recover, since there constantly will be new traumas all the time. These traumas are never being resolved, so the child learns to live vigilantly, in fear, anxiety, and depression. The definition for PTSD doesn´t cover what C-PTSD brings to the table. These children were born targets to the abusor, or abusors, right from the start.
Complex psychological trauma involves multiple repetitive chronic stressors. It´s not one event. It´s the danger in the whole life situation, that the child experiences every day. C-PTSD comes when someone is chronically, repeatedly, exposed to traumatic events over years. It usually involves harm from those people in their lives, who should have been care givers. So the ones who were there to care for the child, were the ones who do the traumatizing. It often occurs in developmentally vulnerable times. So it has a tremendous potential to severly compromise human development.
It´s a whole different thing to be traumatized by your father, than by a tsunami. They are premeditated, always caused by other human beings. They involve profound relational betrayal, because it´s usually some kind of care giver, and a profound deception. It´s usually repeated, chronic, and the child is being marinated in trauma from birth. This child was supposed to develop, grow and blossoming, but is instead buried in this stuff called chronic trauma at every stage of their development. It can be physical abuse, sexual, emotional abuse, chronic neglect in the childs life.
C-PTSD describes people who has layers of trauma. All the different traumas have an accumulative effect over the life span.The factors in creating C-PTSD in a childs life includes: first of all it results in disorganized and insecure attatchments. How do you bond with parents who damage you chronically? They are exploited wherever they are vulnerable. Victims of this kind of trauma live in constant distress. And that has profound physiological impact, on the brain, on the adrenal gland, all kinds of things that often last life long. They are not only under constant stress, but there is no exit door. If you´re five years old you can´t get away, when your father is raping you. So they have gross insecurity, instability, and ongoing pain and suffering. In such an environment an individual never gets to regain emotional equilibrium.
Think of a car accident. If you´re hurt, and need to be hospitalized, and you´re afraid to get behind the wheels again. Eventually you get some emotional equilibrium, and little by little can claim that area of your life back. But when you live with chronic trauma there´s no place to do that. There´s no equilibrium to gain. C-PTSD is not a terrifying event, it´s rather a terrifying life.
As a result of this, the individual will be extremely vigilant. Very watchful for danger all the time, constantly expecting it. Live with chronic anxiety, and terror. All their psychological energy is bent by necessity towards cooping, which means things like hiding, self protecting rather than having that psychological energy bent to learning, which is where a healthy child in a healthy environment gets to go. They get to imagine, experiment, to test, be valued for who they are, experience, and to learn. They don´t have to keep cooping with trauma all the time. The victim is being betrayed, and is often not even being separated from the caregiverers or nurterers, or they are stuck with those who are not. There is no safe person in their life. They don´t know what that means.
Developementally children are malleable, like clay, they are capable of being shaped. So they are developing a sense of person. When the child is born, you don´t know who it is, neither does the infant, the infant hasn´t discovered himself yet. The child is looking for answers to: who am I, what am I good at, do I matter, am I loved, do I have impact- if I cry does somebody come? Just as children learn to walk, eat, dress, so do they develop a sense of self, personhood. An awarness, definition, of my "self". The impact of interpersonal violance in that process is staggering. Secondly, C-PTSD involves betrayal at its core. The child is being hurt by someone they are supposed to be able to trust, parent, grandparent, siblings, uncles, aunts, coaches, teachers, who should be care takers, teachers, protectors.
Those who should help, not only fail to help, but repeatedly morally damage the child, and erode their sense of self. So the self is marinated in abandonment, deception, blame, humiliation and isolation. When you marinate something, you do it so the flavour gets all the way in. So when a child gets marinated in this way, the damage gets all the way in.
The child developes a deep and abiding sense of shame. Children think egocentricly, they believe they are the center of universe. Because they think that way, when something bad happens, they believe that´s their own fault. So if parents are going through a difficult divorce, the child might believe it´s their fault. A child can´t see beyond itself, it´s how humans develop.
And often those bad things that the child assume responsibility for, that responsibility is reinforced with blaming words, shaming, by the supposed care taker. An uncle would for example say to a ten year old girl "I wouldn´t sexually abuse you, if you weren´t so sexually seductive. " So she thinks she is the center of the universe, and he blames her, so she think that who she is, is bad. Children that are growing up in C-PTSD don´t see themselves as children that do bad things, they see themselves as the essence of bad. So they believe that the "self" is disordered.
It has been found that people with C-PTSD had additional disorders up to eight times more than the individuals without PTSD. They often have major depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, dissociative disorder, addictions, you have a whole page full of diagnosis. Maybe all these diagnosis are subsets of one diagnosis, C-PTSD.
There are parts in the developement that changes, when the individual has C-PTSD, so when you get to be an adult, these things are being different, than they would have been in a different environment. The most severe traumas are the ones that happens the younger the child is.
The first has to do with regulating your emotions and impulses. People who have been in prolonged trauma, tend to overreact to stress. They become easily overwhelmed. They exhibit intense anxiety and fear. They have very difficulty to calming themselves down. They do not know how to self sooth. They are often self destructive, have eating disorders, addictions, injury, cutting, things like that. They don´t know how to modulate fear and anxiety. How to manage impulses. Addictions and self harm makes people feel numb, instead of intense anxiety and panic attacks. Addictions also helps individuals to remove themselves from the trauma emotionally.
There´s also changes in the ways the individuals need to attend to, and be aware of things. Chronic trauma, is by definition, unescapable. It´s very distressing, it overwhelmes all the normal cooping mechanisms that humans use. If someone is hurting you, you get away if you can. Or you fight back, if you can. Or tell them to stop. You get help. None of those things help when a child is being chronically traumatized.
So when there´s no way, to get away from that which is terrifying and overwhelming, the only way to get away is in the head. Children that live this way, often use dissociation, by taking the mind away from the present, and putting it away somewhere where there´s no awarness of the trauma. While someone is being sexually abused, they can take themselves to the corner of the roof in the room, and hide behind the flower in the tapestry.
So the capacity to take away the mind (the awarness) from the ongoing abuse, gets habituated over time. And what that does is, to people that are terrified all the time of being abused, they are not being able to protect themselves. Research has shown that women that have been frequently raped, are more times subjected to rape than others. When a rape victim is out in an alley at night, and hears someone coming, their mind spontaneously "leave", and they become unaware of their surroundings and the threats, that are approaching. It´s like being set up for another rape. She can´t pay attention to what´s going on, and to protect herself. She needed this mechanism for her survival as a child, but as an adult it becomes a huge problem. She unconsciously quits processing what´s happening around her, and becomes blind in a way. She retreats into her hiding place inside her mind. She´s unaware, blocking out what she hears. And she is obviously more likely to get hurt. What happens when an experience is being blocked, is that the emotions are not being regulated. People who survived the holocaust, are experiencing the same survival mechanisms as individuals with C-PTSD. The symptoms are similar.
Other ways of being changed, is destruction of the way we see ourselves. They become to see themselves as damaged, flawed, defective, incompetent, markt. Like anybody can tell. Unloveable, undesireable and feel helplessness. Victims blame themselves, and dont´t belive anyone will understand. So they try to forget and minimize what happened. They carry a great sense of shame. Not only because what was being done to them, but because of that they believe it was done to them because of who they are.
It also changes the perception of the perpetrator in the victim. Many victims constantly think about their abusor. They are terrified that the abusor is going to show up. They feel controlled by him, even if he´s long dead. They will take the perpetrators view of themselves, so they attribute total power to the abusor.
There are sometimes children that live in a family where the father is the perpetrator, and the mother is abscent minded, does nothing, and doesn´t connect with the child. If the father sometimes shows kindness in that environment, it does all kinds of scrambled things in the head of the child. This is the one that buys new shoes, takes the child to the school, cooks food, puts the child to bed at night, and this is the one that rapes the child at night. The parent creates a particualr bond with the child, and the child gets attached. This bonding is necessary for the child to grow up. But it´s also a terrible dilemma.
This victimazation creates no models for the individuals of how healthy relationships should look like. So they don´t know how to relate to other people in a healthy way. You can´t do what you´ve never seen, and can´t imagine. It´s not possible to picture that in the head.
When victimized people see situations where abuse is going on, they immediately feel helplessness. Chronic trauma impacts the body phyciologically for the rest of their lives, and it changes the brain.
Chronic trauma changes the stress response systems in the body, the capacity to evaluate stimuli. It hinders information processing. So, when all these things are going on in the body, what happens to the child when he goes to school, and trying to learn how to read? They are set up for a failure. Traumatized individuals have overreactive nervous systems. They have an exaggerated startle response. Overproduction of certain chemicals results in constant anxiety. They don´t know what it´s like not to be anxious. They have a great difficulty in sleeping, which also has a huge impact on their health. Research has also shown immunsystem dysfunction in many women, with history of chronic childhood abuse, and also that it creates autoimmune diseases.
The final change is the change in spiritual meaning. It results in despair, hopelessness. These individuals have a very difficult time, in making sense out of life. And they believe that a god that allows such abuse, is very confusing at best, and evil at worst.
So to process a history of chronic brutal trauma threatens every belief, formerly or currently heald. After abuse has happend it changes the victims life forever. But when truama begins in early childhood, there is no before. Trauma involves events that threatens life, safety, it takes away choice. You don´t get to say if you want it or not, and results in overwhelming fear. These individuals feel very lonely, they often are, they feel helplessness, they often are, humiliated, they often are, and without hope. So following trauma, the portion of the whole person turns inwards, away from life. They can´t handle "outside-here" and "inside-here" at the same time. So much of the childs energy is turned inside, so they can´t process reality.
A recovery involves a reversal of the experience of trauma. So you have to understand the dynamic of trauma, so that you can reverse the trauma in whatever care giving relationship you have with them. Trauma silenses human beings. Partly because there´s no words describing what it´s like. It brings emotional darkness, isolation, the feeling as if nobody cares, and if they did they wouldn´t understand. It makes time stand still, because they get so lost in what happened, so they can´t see ahead. Many victims are silensed and have great difficulties in sharing their experience of chronic trauma. They do need to talk, but they have to decide for themselves when to share, how and to whom. There´s three main thing that is needed, to reverse trauma. All three must happen. Talking, tears and time.
Trauma disconnects us from our relationships. Talking abut the trauma gives a caring connection with the receiver. Facing a new world full of losses creates an incredible grief. They have feelings of fear, sadness, isolation, shame, dispair and anger. These are strong emotions, and are hard to experience. And since they cannot regulate their emotions, they get completely overwhelmed again by their own feelings. But feelings must be expressed, because they tell the story as much as the words do. They tell us the story of the impact the abuse had in the emotions. It shows the story what the abuse did emotionally, in the same whay that blood does in a cut wound. It´s like seeing and attending the physical wounds after a car accident. It takes tremendous courage to face chronic trauma. People shouldn´t do it alone, they need a safe connection with a wise and patient person, that is able to receive the pain without trying to fix it. Whether a memory is spoken of or not, it continues to impact individuals their whole lives.
Time does not heal all wounds. If you´ve got an infection on your leg, time might lead to you losing it. The healing must include the talking and the tears. The victim has to be reminded that healing takes time, because the process of dealing with the trauma can be so overwhelming.