What is C-PTSD? with 5 Suggestions for Moving Deeper into Healing

What is CPTSD? 

C-PTSD stands for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s different from your garden variety PTSD (no disrespect, just trying to lighten things up) in that it typically occurs in a relational context and is repeated or prolonged over time. PTSD is often associated with combat or disaster, while C-PTSD may be associated with child abuse, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. When we talk about abuse or violence, it may occur in one or many of the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual realms. 

Here’s my summary: CPTSD is a collection of coping strategies that helped keep someone alive or safe in cases of repeated trauma; today these same coping strategies cause great distress, disconnection, and dysfunction in one or more life areas, especially relationships, health, career, and finances. 

Why does CPTSD develop? 

This is a bit oversimplified but I think the theme can be helpful in understanding why CPTSD develops: 

In the case of repeated and prolonged violence, we develop coping strategies to handle the overwhelming pain, fear, confusion, and helplessness we feel at the hands of our loved ones. The body-mind split in an attempt to protect from feeling pain, leaving us in a dissociated state. The nervous system gets stuck in fight-flight-freeze, and we’re easily triggered and flooded. 

CPTSD develops as a healthy response to unhealthy circumstances. 

What is it like to live with CPTSD? 

Our emotional responses are out of proportion to everyday situations, and we struggle to feel safe and powerful in our own bodies. Because the abuse or violence is prolonged, we condition our systems into hyper-vigilance as a normal state of being. In essence, we’re used to being “on alert,” and we struggle to relax, release tension, or feel safe. 

We struggle to regulate our emotional responses. We live with a sense of impending doom. We feel like something is deeply wrong with us, like we’re broken, and that we need to be “fixed.” We are highly functional and get plenty of shit done, but we live with a deep sense of powerlessness or helplessness. This cognitive dissonance between who we are as victims and who we are as expressions of the divine frustrates us to no end. We are highly self-critical and wonder when what we do will finally work and change our lives. We’re so tired of repeating the same patterns and mistakes over and again. 

Sometimes I feel like it’s never going to end…Is there hope? 

Here’s the great news: THERE. IS. HOPE. 

Many of us have reached out to a bevy of healers, each of them helping us learn something more about our own resilience. Oh yes, as a survivor of repeated, prolonged trauma YOU ARE MAGNIFICENTLY RESILIENT! And yet we still live with “stuck places” somewhere in our experience. We’re sure there’s MORE . . . but we aren’t sure how to access it. 

For me the first step was identifying that CPTSD was accurately descriptive of my experience. One of the hardest things about living with unresolved trauma was identifying that “it” was the root cause of my suffering, not some deficiency in my being. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I knew how to source the help I needed. My path took me down the road of studying psychology, physiology, biology, and neurology. My natural inclination toward health and healing paid off in that I was able to advocate for my own treatment. 

How do I move forward?

The following steps are suggestions for moving deeper into healing: 

  1. Know that this is a process. There isn’t a magic pill or cure to resolving trauma. You will experience ups and downs. I applied a lot of business “stuff” to explain this process to myself. Change management principles are super helpful in understanding growth and development.

  2. Commit to taking great care of yourself. This process is going to be challenging, as any growth endeavor is. That looks different for each person, but basics like sleep, nutrition, exercise, and time outdoors are vital for healing.

  3. Educate yourself and keep your mind open. Research trauma, CPTSD, and various options for enhancing your wellbeing. Provided that it’s safe, give something a try or two.

  4. Define what is safe for you. To go along with the above, it’s necessary to figure out what “safe” is, particularly if you haven’t experienced it before. This may also require some research.

  5. Learn about healthy relationships. The catch-22 of healing CPTSD: we were wounded in relationship and we are healed in relationship…but we’re terrified to BE in relationship so we often live a diminished experience. Start with experiences that allow you time and space to process. Reading books, listening to podcasts, and working with professionals are three effective ways to learn about healthy relationships.

Empower Yourself with Yoga & Mindfulness for Trauma

I help highly functional women restore their sense of choice and power over their bodies using empirically validated practices. If you’d like to learn more about how we might work together, please call me or contact me.