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Ptsd (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and complex ptsd (cptsd - complex post-traumatic stress disorder) both come as the result of trauma but compared to ptsd, cptsd is, no surprise, more complex as it stems from chronic, long-term exposure to stress that disrupts one's self at the core.
Survivors of cptsd have trouble regulating emotions -- just being able to understand them or label them accurately can be challenging, not to mention controlling the emotions.
People with CPTSD tend to experience their identity in a distorted way, often different from how others perceive them. They may identify with the trauma, feelings of shame and overlook other, more wholesome parts of their personality or experience. This can result in a situation when a person standing in front of you, who is the most brilliant, strong and compassionate person, would be blind to their own inner beauty.
Interruption in consciousness is another frequent occurrence in people surviving cptsd. Dissociation, chronic daydreaming, feeling disconnected from the body, memory gaps and other forms are something people with cptsd often live with. Sometimes, traumatic material is completely inaccessible, in others, people may be experiencing flashbacks, intrusive images, body memories, etc.
Many people who suffered complex trauma experience difficulties in relationships, feelings of isolation, they have little trust in people or the opposite - trust people unconditionally, rescuing those who may hurt them repeatedly, unable to use their 'gut feeling' with other people and establish healthy boundaries.
The above-mentioned challenges are not exhaustive. They are part of, and contribute to, a feeling that is at the center of a cptsd survivor's reality - feeling unsafe. The survivors not only experience the world as a dangerous, unfair, non-inclusive place, but also they rarely feel safe enough in their own body.
Re-establishing of safety is a key element in my work with the cptsd survivors. There is no universal approach to building safety - everyone must identify what makes them feel safe - perhaps a place, a person, an image, a movie, journaling, yoga practice, etc. The next step is to identify triggers. An example of a trigger would be - a person developed a severe headache during the day and in the evening, instead of going to sleep or rest, they may stay late watching TV. It is often an internalized lack of self-care (in other words, boundaries) that perpetuate the feeling of unsafe. Part of the process of healing after a complex trauma is practicing a good self-care.
The next part is to identify what feelings and thoughts come up when feeling unsafe. Finding out one's specific 'flavour' of the experience is important. One individual may have more insecure thoughts, feel stuck in the past sense of helplessness when people who supposed to protect them, let them down, whereas another person may become sad. Through identifying what he or she is like when unsafe, one can start to re-establish safety.
Recovering from cptsd is a challenging journey however it is perfectly possible. You are not alone. Getting support, working on safety, finding out what sooth you, takes time, but it will pay off.
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