Trauma and Complex PTSD

Trauma and Complex PTSD

It’s not your fault


Something bad happened to you, and now you’re having a hard time sleeping, you startle easily, you get triggered by the smallest things. This isn’t your fault. It’s a normal reaction to something bad that happened to you. We are experts in trauma therapy and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can help you heal safely.


What is trauma anyway?

Traumatic experience isn’t defined by the experience itself, but rather on how you perceive the experience. Trauma happens when you feel that your life or well-being, or that of someone else, is threatened. Two different people can experience the same thing. While one person is unaffected, the other has a deep impact. Getting lost in a large store can be traumatizing for a child if they are scared that they will never see their mother again. Virtually all of us have some kind of trauma in our lives, though at varying degrees.

Is trauma the same thing as PTSD?

Not necessarily. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has very specific diagnostic criteria in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), which includes experiencing trauma but also includes other criteria such as nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance of “triggers.” Not everyone who has experienced trauma has PTSD. Sometimes PTSD symptoms show up years after the trauma happened, especially if you have blocked out the event.

What kinds of things cause trauma or PTSD?


Often people think of trauma as being caused by war or something similar. But trauma can also be caused by physical, sexual or emotional abuse, forced separation from a caregiver at a young age, birth trauma, a car accident, a really bad break-up, or even an invasive medical procedure. The event doesn’t have to cause physical damage. In fact, some research shows that emotional and verbal abuse of a child (yelling at or humiliating them) can sometimes be more damaging than physical abuse. Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:

  • It was unexpected;

  • You were unprepared; and

  • There was nothing you could do to prevent it from happening.


So how does this manifest in your life?

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You might have nightmares, get scared easily, have difficulty sleeping and not be able to trust. You might have trouble maintaining relationships in your personal or professional life. You might feel exceptionally sensitive and be hurt easily.

Even when unrecognized, emotional trauma can create lasting difficulties in your life. One way to determine whether an emotional or psychological trauma might have occurred is to look at the kinds of recurring problems that you are having.



Symptoms of trauma and PTSD

  • Insomnia

  • Compulsive behavior patterns

  • Overreactions and sudden floods of emotion

  • Self-destructive and impulsive behavior

  • Uncontrollable reactive thoughts

  • Inability to make healthy professional or lifestyle choices

  • Dissociative symptoms (“checking out”)

  • Feelings of shame, despair, hopelessness

  • Feeling permanently damaged or “broken”

  • Loss of previously sustained beliefs

  • Inability to maintain friendship or other relationships

  • Sexual problems

  • Hostility and arguments with family members, employers or co-workers

  • Social withdrawal

  • Feeling constantly threatened and that you always must be on guard

What is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?

C-PTSD is more complicated than simple PTSD since it involves chronic assaults on your personal integrity and sense of safety, as opposed to a single acute trauma. Repeated and chronic abuse and trauma result in a confusing array of symptoms that you may not even associate with your childhood experiences.

The symptom clusters for C-PTSD are:

  • Alterations in regulation of emotions, emotional displays and impulses

  • Changes in relationship with others

  • Somatic symptoms – body memories, aches and pains, unexplained physical problems

  • Changes in meaning of events in your life

  • Changes in how you see yourself

  • Changes in attention and consciousness – dissociation, feeling disconnected, “checking out”

When you are repeatedly abused (emotionally, sexually, physically) in early childhood, it becomes almost impossible to develop a cohesive and coherent personality structure. Your personality splits into parts. This is not the same thing as dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Rather, it is a protection mechanism where some parts keep you functioning in day-to-day life and some parts protect you by resorting to defenses such as fight, flight, freeze and submit.

Trauma therapy requires special training. At Bay Area Mental Health we have that expertise.

Read our free e-Book in the Resource Center:

The Hidden Presence of PTSD

  • Learn about symptoms of PTSD and trauma

  • Understand the physiology of trauma

  • Understand how trauma affects the brain

  • Learn more about methods of treating trauma and PTSD

  • Learn more about emotional trauma therapy

  • Answer the question “what is trauma therapy?”