People sometimes ask, “What is the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD?” Fast explanation, “It is the same difference between a simple broken leg and a compound fracture.” Some people explain it has to do with age, duration, care taker vs stranger, and other external influences that complicate the person’s reaction. I follow Lilly Hope Lucario and she lists 12 symptoms that impact the lives of survivors of Complex PTSD. When I was first diagnosised with PTSD the term ComplexPTSD was not in use. This is a more recent differentiation because the healing from PTSD appears to take a different route than Complex PTSD. Complex PTSD is not recognized at this time officially in the Psychologists bible DSM 5. No matter how people identify themselves without being in the DSM 5 book insurance companies refuse to cover it. I was blessed with a counselor that did not put much stock in a name for my diagnosis as much as he did in recognizing in my effort to survive I was missing vital learned behaviors and skills that were ignored in my effort to survive. Follow the link to read a chart of the differences and similarities between PTSD and Complex PTSD. Also Lilly’s experience is different than my in several areas.
Warning Tough subjects discussed including suicidal thoughts and feelings.
1. Deep Fear Of Trust – If the people that are supposed to take care of you can’t be trusted, why trust anyone else? My first counselor would occasionally get frustrated when I still didn’t fully trust him after years of working together. Then, he would remember that lack of trust is part of the issue.
2. Terminal Aloneness – This is a term used by Lilly that describes her feeling different than everyone else. I better understand this as the feeling alone in a crowd. I can be at an event or party or gathering and feel alone in that setting. I sometimes prefer to be actually alone rather than feeling left out in a group.
3. Emotion Regulation – The first hurdle I had to over come was to access my emotions at all. I made them disappear, please understand, I did not suppress the emotions I literally shifted them down in my mind to where they were inaccessible. Counseling is the process of healing emotions, if you can’t reach them or acknowledge they exist, you can’t heal them. First, my counselor connected me to my emotions then I had to learn how to regulate them. Ugly ugly process. Do not suppress your emotions. They are messy and difficult and painful but undoing the type of damage I did is horrendous. Doable but it makes cancer seem like a reasonable option.
4. Emotional flashbacks – Lilly divides these up into categories, I viewed them as being on a spectrum. I had the ones that were like I was back in time and place and no way could you convince me that I was an adult and my abuser was dead…some people consider this a total break with reality, I considered it being flung back into an old reality. The other end of the spectrum is dropping backwards to feeling small, helpless, and terrified as I was when I was a child being terrorized. Some people discount this later kind where it is “just your emotions.” Well folks, just your emotions can really wreck havoc without have the more concrete images and memories to give me clues as to why I feel the way I do. Lilly goes into these differences fairly extensively. I work hard at avoiding them all together including in my nightmares.
5. Hyper-vigilance About People – my hyper-vigilance is about everything. It also comes in handy when driving on the freeway and I anticipate the actions of others. I am on constant alert…yes, it is exhausting. No I do not have a ‘safe’ place where I feel I can relax. The closest I get is out in nature right up to when a twig snaps when I am not moving….yea pretty much never totally relaxed. In sleep I brace myself for the nightmares that haunt. One place I did relax and zone out blissfully was in the dark room developing photographs. That was magical.
6. Loss Of Faith – This is one area that I differ from Lilly. Yes, I loss faith in family, friends, school and those around me however, I had, have and continue in a powerful faith in God. My counselor asked me about this, because he noticed that among his severely damaged clients a rock solid belief in Jesus Christ or God the Father existed that was unshakeable. My simple answer, I would not have lived without that faith. It was the powerful thread that held me when my life shattered again and again. From my foundation and belief in a Loving Heavenly Father sending His Son Jesus Christ, I started to build a faith in others. This is an excruciatingly slow process….I measured progress in years not weeks or months.
7. Profoundly Hurt Inner Child – I would simply list this as profoundly hurt from my earliest memories. My first memories are terrifying and explicit that I rarely share. All through childhood needs were neglected or manipulated to meet someone elses needs. My counselor described that dissociation happens to all people but he expressed he didn’t understand why some children do not reconnect. I thought for a minute then replied, “If the thing that shattered me was going to happen again the next day and the next, when was I suppose to know it was over?” He admitted he never thought of that way before. A damage soul gets that way because of extensive damage. Yes, I returned to childhood pursuits such as coloring, playing with toddlers, playing at the park, swings and other childhood activities touched a part in my soul that needed those reminders that all of me is important from childhood to being an adult.
8. Helplessness & Toxic Shame – Trained to believe I was helpless was stomped into my soul. Fighting back resulted in violent retaliations. I finally stopped. I existed. I robotically followed orders. Before counseling my language was full of “I have to______” partnered with crippling fear that if I didn’t do what I was told to do horrible things would happen because horrible things did happen. Shame was intensified by blaming and shaming from my abusers, it was my fault that I made them hurt me. Yup a small child had total control over adults to make them hurt me but I was helpless to stop the assault. The deep feeling that I am bad is difficult to shake. This is an ongoing process to overcome.
9. Repeated Search For A Rescuer – Every one I met, every teacher I had I hoped that they would be the one to rescue me. It doesn’t work that way. In counseling, my therapist clarified that he would not rescue me, he would teach me to take care of myself. He would teach me how to run the life maze, he was my coach. Searching for someone to rescue often tumbles a person into situations that continue the abuse. Or the tread mill if this time I explain well enough, do good enough, be enough they will finally understand and/or love me. The answer to that is no, they won’t. Letting go of that need to be good enough was hard one to let go.
10. Dissociation – I am really good at this one. This is to me the ultimate survival tool and cripples you for living. It comes at a terrible price. However, I did survive. I learned to stop this. I know the source of this knowledge of where I am now, it was powerful personal journey. I also understand that I need to be careful not to use it like I did before. It is a tool but a tool with a heavy price. I like the example of don’t use a 10 lb (4.5 kg) sledge when a ball pein hammer will do.
11. Persistent Sadness & Being Suicidal – Before I started counseling I felt so guilty for the suicidal thoughts and feelings of sadness, because I didn’t remember my past. My present was good but the sadness and thoughts constantly intruded. Counseling and remembering brought these feelings to light and made sense as to why I felt the way I did. My counselor kept trying to tell me how I could handle things. I looked at him oddly, of course I could. He assured me I could handle the pain….I reminded him I could straighten out a broken arm without whimpering. He thought then the light bulb moment occurred. It was an execution not an escape. My abusers purposely convinced me I was so awful I didn’t deserve to live, be fed or breath. My counselor taught me I deserved to live, really live.
12. Muscle Amoring – The body braces itself for the next blow and the next one only now there are no blows coming. However, my body muscles are not convinced. I am constantly prepared for battle. I tried massage….no go- no way. My body will not tolerate it. What helps me most is karate. I teach my body control and I can protect myself. I passed my purple stripe and working toward purple belt. For those that might not know ranking, starts out new student white belt, yellow, then orange followed by purple stripe then purple belt. The longer I work on this the better I feel about myself and my body occasionally relaxes without having to pass-out to do it. I am thankful for a teacher that is accepting of my personal challenges including reminding me that I do not need to apologize if I make a mistake. My job is simply to improve from what I did before.
This is a daunting list and yes, I have 12 out of 12 plus all the symptoms from PTSD. This is one time when I wish I didn’t have 100%.