Complex PTSD and Dissociation

Programs for Complex Trauma and Dissociation at Icarus in NM

Dealing with traumatic experiences, especially when you’re younger, can have a lasting impact on your mental health. A traumatic memory of the event or time period where you experienced trauma can return to you randomly or when triggered by something else, causing distress and affecting your daily life. Or, you may find that you don’t remember some of the trauma at all, but can still feel its impact eating away at your happiness and ability to be around others comfortably.

Both of these scenarios are common with cases of complex PTSD and dissociation that often results from it. They’re debilitating effects of trauma that influence many aspects of your day-to-day activities, making it difficult for you to live your best life. So, it’s crucial that you get help if you’re suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation.

Icarus Behavioral Health understands the layered nature of your condition and provides comprehensive treatment services that work to address the cause of the conditions, minimize the symptoms you’re experiencing, and equip you with the coping skills required to live with complex PTSD.

With Icarus, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Keep reading to learn more and find help for CPTSD and its symptoms now!

What is Complex PTSD?

What is Complex PTSD

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as CPTSD, is a mental health condition that results from some form of trauma, usually over an extended period of time or during childhood. It’s an ongoing disorder that impacts the way you act, think, feel, and live due to its ability to present you with flashbacks or memories of the trauma you experienced.

What Causes Complex Trauma to Occur?

CPTSD episodes are often jarring and distressing. They’re often triggered by a familiar or related experience to the traumatic event or events that caused your condition, leading to people avoiding talking about the trauma or revisiting where it occurred.

Some examples of causes of complex PTSD include:

  • Being neglected as a child
  • Sexual abuse
  • Seeing family be mistreated or abused at home
  • Living in unsafe conditions
  • Experiencing or seeing regular violence
  • Killing while in the military
  • Being held captive
  • Dealing with inescapable domestic abuse

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder can take weeks, months, or years to develop, so regularly experiencing traumatic events is more likely to result in complex PTSD needing treatment. It’s also common in those who suffer childhood trauma due to the ongoing development of the brain and the lack of coping skills they possess.

It’s especially prevalent in cases where a guardian is an abuser, violating the child’s trust and making them feel trapped or unsafe in their home environment that they are powerless to escape.

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How Do the Symptoms of CPTSD Affect Everyday Life?

Complex PTSD can present in a variety of different ways depending on the person, the type of trauma, and when it happened. Most people will experience anxiety when their trauma is triggered and depression as a result of the symptoms of complex PTSD impacting their daily lives.

If you have CPTSD, you might also experience:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidant behavior
  • Aggressiveness
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Impulsivity
  • Memory loss
  • Guilt
  • Difficulty connecting with people
  • Borderline personality disorder

These symptoms primarily stem from the stress response that occurs when your PTSD is triggered. It can also come from conditioning that occurred during your traumatic experiences, such as having to be on guard for threats in unsafe environments or acting out for attention in cases of neglect.

All of these experiences change the way you act, think, and communicate, which can result in day-to-day life difficulties.

PTSD vs Complex PTSD

PTSD vs Complex PTSD

Both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD are mental illnesses that revolve around trauma that you’ve experienced. Each produces psychological stress responses when triggered that include anxiety, depression, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and other negative symptoms that can affect your daily life. However, they’re not exactly the same.

Complex PTSD is formed over longer periods of time or as a result of multiple traumatic experiences. PTSD can be a result of a singular traumatic event like a car crash, assault, or witnessing someone’s death. As a result, CPTSD often has greater impacts than PTSD because it involves a change in lifestyle, perspective, and experiences from what is considered “normal,” making it harder for people to cope with the changes they experience after the trauma.

For posttraumatic stress disorder, symptoms are often less widespread, and triggers more directly reflect the specific types of traumatic memories rather than an increase in trauma responses to multiple triggers.

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What is Dissociation? Everyday vs Trauma-Based

Have you ever been riding in a car and, before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination with no memory of the trip? Do you often get “lost” in books or TV shows and wonder where the time went?

If so, you’ve experienced a mild form of dissociation that’s common in those without PTSD or CPTSD. However, there are also more harmful forms of dissociation that accompany these disorders.

Everyday Disassociation

Dissociation is an interruption or disruption of your memory, emotions, awareness, or consciousness. Mild dissociation can appear when you’re focusing intensely on something like a book, causing you to lose your sense of time and self-awareness because you’re so heavily invested in it. It’s not harmful, but it can be distressing if you don’t know why it happens.

Harmful Disassociation

More serious dissociative symptoms can result from overstimulation, an overwhelming experience, or a traumatic event. It’s an involuntary state that is your brain’s way of protecting you from processing trauma that can have a significant psychological impact on your mental health.

During dissociation, you might feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience or that you’re running on autopilot. In some cases, you can go about your daily routine, interact with people, work, and drive without any memory of the day once you get home and are able to relax.

Dissociative symptoms often occur during and directly after stressful events like a medical emergency, a natural disaster, or a car accident. These activities flood your brain with adrenaline and cortisol to create a strong “fight or flight” response that is supposed to help you escape or overcome a stressful situation.

However, if you can’t escape or fight back, your brain and body will freeze instead, allowing you to distance yourself from the trauma through dissociation. In some cases, these memories will also become blocked due to their painful nature, resulting in what is known as dissociative amnesia.

The Complex PTSD and Dissociation Connection

Complex PTSD and Dissociation Connection

If you experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re more likely to have experienced or continue to experience dissociation in response to triggers and stressful situations.

Many people who survive abusive households or other childhood traumas dissociate at some point during that experience. When you’re young, you’re unable to escape abusive or neglectful situations that constantly generate stress responses. You might not expect to ever be free, causing your survival instincts to kick in to help you protect yourself.

So, your brain will find a way to separate your consciousness from your mind and body so that you don’t have to actively experience your life until you’re able to reach safety. As a result, you don’t retain memories of things that happened to you during the traumatic events.

The Triggers that Cause Dissociative Symptoms to Surface

You can also experience dissociative symptoms once you’ve escaped the stress of your traumatic experiences. After you’ve used dissociation to survive a stressful situation, you’re more likely to resort back to it again in times of stress because your brain has proven that it protects you.

If you experience distressing events like a death in the family or a disaster, your stress response can trigger dissociation as a coping mechanism. This reaction leads to gaps in your memory, a detached emotional state, and a poorer quality of life while you’re actively dissociating, which can extend for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Alternatively, you can dissociate as a result of your CPTSD when you have a flashback, nightmare, or trigger memories of your traumatic experience. For example, visiting your hometown where you experienced abuse during your childhood can cause dissociation. Your brain associates that location with trauma, so it activates its coping mechanism to prevent you from suffering again or reliving the experience.

The Challenges of Living With Complex PTSD and Dissociation

Living With Complex PTSD and Dissociation

Living with any mental illness is difficult, but CPTSD can be especially debilitating. Living up to its name, complex PTSD is a diverse, complicated, and multi-layered disorder that impacts most aspects of daily life. It also affects everyone differently, making it harder to diagnose and treat.

CPTSD can present itself in various ways, including physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here are some characteristics people with complex PTSD may have.

Trouble Regulating Emotions

When you live with complex PTSD and dissociative disorders, your emotions become incredibly difficult to manage due to the complex trauma you’ve experienced.

Once you’ve spent a long time under chronic stress and acting a certain way, it becomes much harder to change the way you think to a less guarded and emotionally reactive mentality. Once that familiar feeling of stress returns, it’s easy to slip back into “survival” mode.

The Development of Additional Mental Health Diagnoses

Complex PTSD can result in borderline personality disorder, a mental illness that makes managing your emotions more difficult. A lack of emotional regulation means that you’re likely to experience more extreme emotions like sadness or anger. You may shift between emotions more quickly, creating higher highs and lower lows that can lead to erratic behavior.

Some people might even develop dissociative identity disorder, a rare disorder where multiple identities exist in a single person. Emotional dysregulation can also lead to violence due to intense anger or substance use to cope with strong negative emotions that present during a low period.

Depression is common among people with CPTSD, which can result from the symptoms you experience because of the disorder or due to the traumatic experiences themselves. The depression that you experience can also contribute to thoughts of suicide and self-harm, making it crucial that you get help if you’re experiencing these feelings.

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Struggling to Build and Maintain Relationships

People who have been wronged by others, especially trusted friends or family, may understandably have issues with building and maintaining relationships. Once you’ve escaped from an abusive relationship with a family member or other guardian, your perception of relationships is likely to be skewed based on how you were treated.

You might not know how to be a loving partner, a supportive friend, or a caring loved one in a safe and healthy way. It’s possible that some of the relationship dynamics that you were involved with as part of your trauma may even spill over to new relationships if you don’t know any better. When combined with emotional dysregulation concerns, this makes it hard to build meaningful connections with others.

Trust issues are another reason for poor relationships found in the cases of many people with complex PTSD. If you feel like you’ve been betrayed by your abuser, someone who was the most important person in your life at one point, it’s reasonable to have trouble trusting others who try to get close to you.

Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem Issues

Low Self Esteem Because of CPTSD

Prolonged trauma at the hands of another person creates a power imbalance that can change the way you see yourself. If you were neglected or abused when growing up or you lived with an abusive partner for an extended period of time, it’s common for you to feel like you’re inferior to them. For example, you might have dedicated your childhood to making your parents proud or assumed that your partner had your best interests at heart, so you let them decide what was right for you.

After you escape that relationship dynamic, it can be overwhelming to have to make decisions on your own. In some cases, people even consider going back to their previous situation because they lack the confidence to be independent. You may not believe that you’re capable or that you’ll mess up anything you try to do, resulting in self-confidence issues that impact you academically, professionally, and socially.

Another way self-confidence issues arise in people suffering from CPTSD is the belief that their mental illness is their fault. You might try to justify the way you were treated because you were “stupid” or “childish” and deserved to be subjected to abuse or neglect, increasing the chances of returning to an unhealthy situation.

Lapses In Memory or Consciousness

Dissociation is a significant element of CPTSD because it acts as a coping mechanism for stressful situations, like growing up in an abusive household or growing up in a war-torn area. When you dissociate, you can separate from your consciousness and avoid creating harmful memories of your trauma. However, this also means that dissociation later in life has the same effect.

If you suffer from complex PTSD, you can expect to experience lapses in your memory or feel like you’re lacking consciousness in the form of an out-of-body experience. You might not remember taking your pet to the emergency vet, visiting a loved one in the hospital, or the flight to go visit family – especially if there’s turbulence. It can be frustrating for friends and family who want to share memories, which may make you feel disconnected from others.

How Complex PTSD Treatment Helps Improve Your Quality of Life

Complex PTSD Treatment

How you deal with complex PTSD plays a major role in your quality of life. While the disorder is debilitating and can cause issues with daily activities, it gets better with effective treatment.

Treatment at Icarus for complex PTSD focuses on helping you build the skills you need to cope with the physical symptoms of triggering a flashback, manage your emotions, and build the self-confidence that was taken away from you. You’ll also work to address any comorbid conditions like depression or anxiety at the same time so that you’re in the best mental state possible to continue improving each day.

The goal of treating CPTSD is to wipe your “slate” as clean as possible so that you can take control of your mental health as much as possible and make progress on your healing journey.

Can Complex PTSD Be Cured?

Unfortunately, CPTSD cannot be fully cured. It’s an incredibly complicated mental health condition that requires a combination of multiple treatment strategies and an experienced care team to improve your quality of life. But relief is possible.

CPTSD Treatment Options

The right treatment option for addressing the symptoms of your complex PTSD will vary depending on factors like your type of trauma, any co-occurring conditions, and how the disorder affects you.

The treatment option that is often used first is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). This talk therapy focuses on addressing the beliefs, distortions, and emotions surrounding the traumatic events that you went through. It was originally used to help prevent children and teens from developing trauma-related disorders after stressful events or extended periods of trauma, but it can also be applied to adults.

CPT and EMDR: Proven Tools to Help Overcome Trauma

EMDR Proven Tools to Help Overcome Trauma

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, but it takes a more direct approach to analyzing your beliefs and behaviors, identifying how they may be harmful, and correcting them. CPT is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD and can translate to CPTSD as well.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another form of psychotherapy that is used to treat both PTSD and CPTSD. It helps you process memories, negative thoughts, and emotions surrounding your trauma to help reduce the effect that triggering flashbacks or dealing with nightmares can cause.

Finally, medications like antidepressants and benzodiazepines are used to treat the comorbid conditions like depression and anxiety that accompany complex PTSD. They can help to stabilize your emotions and curb anxious reactions to flashbacks so you can avoid distressing situations as much as possible.

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Get Comprehensive Treatment for Complex PTSD at Icarus

CPTSD can be an incredibly isolating, stressful, and depressing condition to deal with. Through no fault of your own, you’ve been handed a burden that can seriously influence the way you live your life and can place obstacles in your way. It might feel hopeless to try to cope with your complex PTSD, but it’s not. You can achieve relief and improve your quality of life with the right treatment plan.

Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico provides inpatient and outpatient mental health services for people suffering from all kinds of mental illnesses. Their caring and compassionate team will create a customized treatment plan that helps to lessen the burden of CPTSD, teach you effective coping skills, and organize aftercare to help you thrive once you leave the program.

Complex PTSD might make you feel out of control, but with the help of their caring staff, you can take back the reins of your mental health and embark on your healing journey. Make the confidential call to get support options at Icarus now!

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