Each and every one of us starts off this life traumatized. In fact it is the trauma from pushing or being surgically removed from the mothers womb and the rupture of the amniotic sac that causes such shock to the infants system that the baby screams in distress, drawing oxygen into the lungs, releasing the fluid and starting the cycle of breathing oxygen in the outside world. For one to say they have never incurred trauma is virtually unheard of as it is trauma that drives the evolutionary system to develop new ways to cope and move forward in our complex and intellectual society.
Unlike our primates and lower creatures within the animal kingdom, our intellectual abilities cause havoc in the otherwise healthy system of the regulated mammalian. Animals succumb to fright, terror and life threatening situations many times daily in the wild and use their innate fight, flight or flee systems to try and outwit their opposition and in turn save their own lives. After an episode of “playing dead” (pretending their meat is not worthy of consumption) the animal will slowly allow irregular movements and twitching to release the frozen energy and allow it to move through and out of their bodies. Because of this they appear to go back to their daily happenings with little disruption. This regulation process has been an innate method of survival from the beginning of time, however, because lower animals don’t have the same reasoning and processing systems as humans do their recovery rate is almost instantaneous compared to the vast array of traumatic complications that can arise in the human.
Trauma comes to us in many different forms. Perhaps we hear news of a loved one passing, our life dream comes crashing down, a traumatic accident disables ones physical ability, someone remembers they were abused as a child; carrying right down to other traumas that we might not consider like child birth, how our employees and peers merely speak to us, loud noises that cause a fright, and how we respond to the constant tragedies happening all over the earth (just to name a few).
In a healthy functioning mental system the individual uses the sleep cycle to process the last day and weeks events but mainly it is a chance to integrate and dispel traumas from the energetic system. During REM sleep our minds process thousands of memories which appear in all different sensory inputs. Forms, sound, touch, smell and taste all have the ability to arise in dreams via our inner sensory system. We are all likely aware of this fleeting cycle of sleep as we remember small snippets throughout the day of our dreams, but if these memories are not processed in this REM cycle there becomes a build up memory to be processed. In waking life the individual will begin to feel more frantic and as if their minds are “whirling” or “clouded”. Because we cannot process the trauma in the allocated sleep slot this falls over into waking life and deep sleep which means the individual loses the ability to remain in deep sleep as the processing must continue. Here one may awake with night terrors and night sweets, insomnia or have such a racing mind they cannot find sleep with aid. Our minds are frantically trying here to not only process the memory but to SOLVE the problem that is out of rhythm within the system. The body knows it has been abused, but the information is incoherent as traumatic memories are not stored collectively in one unit in the brain like other memories but rather the parts float around, sporadically causing re-traumatization of the victim at any given time. If one has PTSD or C-PTSD the mind is trying to understand “why did this happen to me” and “where does it fit into my life in a coherent way” but more often than not it cannot find a conclusion and the mind remains in opposition to the body. Without understanding and completing the underlying trauma cycles in waking life through very specialized trauma therapy, a severely traumatized individual will be unable to provide their bodies the support it needs to process the trauma. Methods such as retrieval hypnotherapy or EMDR are ways that one can one truly start to regain control of their consciousness. HOWEVER, if the individual is suffering from C-PTSD the best way to begin the therapeutic process is to teach secure attachment and self-regulation processes before the therapy begins as to ensure the safety of the victim and their bodies throughout the treatment program.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PTSD and C-PTSD?
PTSD is caused by experiencing a one-off traumatic event that brings about flashbacks, terror and the inability to stay present and regulate ones inner and outer systems. Uncontrollable anxiety and feelings of confusion cause the individual to become stuck in the past memory as often traumatic memory is consolidated outside of space and time. The key point of this is that someone living with C-PTSD or PTSD may re-enter the traumatic state at any time in life if it hasn’t been processed and hasn’t been configured into the timeline of the individual. PTSD is surprisingly simple to treat IF you know the cause and have the correct therapist to walk the client through the process. This wording of “simple” refers to the process itself from a therapeutic point of view, it will still be an incredibly difficult process for the individual but will be able to addressed more readily than C-PTSD.
C-PTSD is far more chronic form of trauma, with the C in the title referring to “complex”. C-PTSD arises from repeated trauma. Usually this comes about from ongoing childhood abuse and the inability for the child to form a secure attachment with a primary adult. When this cycle of abuse is apparent the individual is literally locked in a place of fight, flight or flee which means the body cannot self regulate between one traumatic event and the other. Because of this the individual remains in a heightened and alert state of mind (activating the Sympathetic nervous system over and over again) meaning cortisol and adrenaline flood the body to help it prepare for an unsafe situation and do not have a chance to be eliminated from the body before the next round of abuse. If a child is in an abusive environment growing up, for example being told every day they are useless and bad, seeing violence or being apart of a violent household, not having a stable home or parents, being exposed to sexual trauma or having to fill a role of maturity far beyond the allocated age, C-PTSD has a high chance to override the natural system of the individual. Surgeries containing anaesthesia, unprocessed injury and simply not having a safe adult as a main caregiver are other less obvious causes of C-PTSD. The problem is that usually the individual is so accustomed to the abuse that they don’t actually realize they have been abused due to “traumatic bonding”. They will go on and on looking for answers to unexplainable pains and medical conditions. They may be diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety disorders, Bipolar, Multiple Personality Disorder, Autism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and many more incorrect conditions. Trying one medication after the next only to find no consistency in the treatment. The reason for this is that C-PTSD has been difficult to understand and study. The reason it has taken so long to be recognized in the mental health database is that often symptoms don’t become truly apparent to the individual from anytime between 6 weeks to 20 years after the abuse. This means it has been hard to attain valid research to support the theory or even know about such disorders as C-PTSD. We must commend here those who have undergone heavy research into military and family abuses as it has finally been recognized that those who live with Complex PTSD actually have a different chemical response and regulatory system to people who have not undergone severe and ongoing trauma. They live predominately in the lower areas of the brain, focusing primarily on survival on a day-to-day basis even though they are likely unaware of this. This individuals need a completely different system of recovery than that which sterile face to face therapy offers. It is critical for the treatment of C-PTSD that the individual find a safe therapist that understands the complexity of the disorder to assist in the unfolding of the healing process.
It is important to note that PTSD can turn into C-PTSD if the individual never gets help to complete the process of trauma. For example if someone is raped and they never seek therapy, they will continue to experience the symptoms sporadically throughout their days and lives. This is recognized by uncontrollable flashbacks, negative self talk and clenched bodily muscles. It is this ongoing re-exposure that eventually creates the build up of chemicals in the body to bring about a dis-regulated hormonal system, eventually leading to C-PTSD. Often children who undergo childhood emotional neglect and abuse are unaware that they have ever been exposed to trauma and never understand why they don't feel "right" within their bodies. Simply put they didn't have a consistent elder to show them the way in life in a trustworthy and kind manner, making the child feel unsafe at such a deep level that they perceived a lack of environmental safety at such a deep and integrated level that they actually convince their systems that this feel of "unsafety" is actually "safety".
SO HOW DO WE HEAL?
First things first is understanding that we have trauma from our past that is affecting our current ability to live. Once we realize we have a problem we must learn to self regulate which means becoming aware of HOW we react and WHAT emotions arise during certain situations. We must become aware of our internal nature and where we are holding onto feelings of tightness and pain. Then by learning learning basic regulatory skills such as breathing and grounding we can start to relax into the tightness caused by the past.
Before delving deeply into trauma repair it is crucial that one feel supported by at least a few people in their community. It is also very important to have a trusted therapist or other individual who can comfort the individual through the trauma in such a way that a trusted and secure relationship is formed. A doctor, naturopath, personal trainer, art therapist, life coach, neighbours, friends or family are recommended as extra supports to create a team of professionals who all have the individuals best interest at hand. The individual should try to have a few close friends who know of their struggles with trauma to assist in healing as this is no easy feat and having people that understand the individual creates a more supportive environment for the person to heal.
Healing doesn’t mean cutting out all the bad things in life. The things we have turned to in order to bring our bodies the comfort it so badly craves. Healing means committing to yourself first and then watching the supports, the cigarettes, the marijuana, the shopping addiction, the alcohol, fall away as the empty space they once filled becomes filled instead with self compassion, empathy, care, understanding and love. Watching these supports falls away as one deals with the root cause of the trauma and finding comfort deep within the body rather than looking for it in the outside world is what trauma therapy is all about. Getting to know the person who it is that is hurting within rather than living only via the person on the outside and numbing the painful feelings is the most profound experience one can give to themselves. Nothing else compares to that, because when you realize that your inner self has been trying to ask you to care for it this whole time, a whole new world arises and brings a quality of life you never thought possible.