|| PTSD and Complex Trauma
by Teresa Joyce, NAASCA representative in the United Kingdom
It's a much talked about corundum and something that can be incorrectly diagnosed but experiencing these two mental health symptoms is so very different, post traumatic stress disorder is mostly as the result of a specific episode an individual subjected to the horror of rape or being witness to a horrific act or incident. All of which can take someone to a place of a complete breakdown with the outcome that mental health intervention is sorely required.
For the most, it can be related to a singular experience by the individual concerned which of course doesn't make it less horrendous. Even if experienced over a prolonged period of time i.e. soldiers returning home bringing with them the images they have been subjected to within a war situation, though it could have been experienced over a longer space of time whilst on deployment, it's a singular episode and unbroken.
I only mention it here alongside complex trauma for comparison but that doesn't make it any less devastating, this disorder can be addressed with complete concentration on the content of the said act directly because it's recognised in its own particular area and it stands alone. Within that support area, it can be reached far more directly because the knowledge is there as to when it started and where it reached its conclusion, concentration can then be applied in the most helpful direction but this is a scenario that is so completely different for those suffering from complex trauma. Yes, there will be a beginning but the end is so far out of sight that it's never believed by the individual that it will stop because it's unimaginable.
Complex trauma often reaches back as far as childbirth it's the only template available in which to build upon, it's the only experience that's remembered love was never shown protection and care was never given, nurturing is unknown help in which to grow within life's structure it just doesn't exist. Yes, its life but only by the smallest of margin any positivity is alien they just exist each day reliving that torture in pain fear and anxiety. There is no sense of being or of mattering mistrust is a state of mind they are treated as inhuman, never able to find hope within themselves whilst used and abused even at times sold to another for pleasure.
They are lost and clearly not seen they are nothing to those that should have been their protectors, they are just a commodity no more and for sure so much less. Predicting how this child will be able to deal with life and function within their future as an adult has already been mapped out in front of them, their journey of abuse is the only one in which they have ever known, and it will almost certainly leave them without the art of the parenting skills required in time with their own children. Sadly for some, the effects of abuse will continue directly through them and on to their children and then their children's children, as the abusive pattern continues to spiral out of control affecting so many lives. At times without it even being a conscious decision but just where could they have learnt the art of parenting? All they have ever had access to enabling them to make reference is their abuse so just how would they know? That's not even a serious question.
I want to also mention here generational complex trauma which is extremely prevalent and held within a particular individual or nation, the atrocities suffered in every sense can only amount to being mass murder. The destruction of their ancestors forever altering the landscape whilst fleeing in fear from the place they called home. This will always be held within and the succession of those to come after them will forever feel it's repercussions, unwillingly they become a catalyst a tool of transference and it's carried through the centuries. Nowhere feels like home no matter where they reside their country had been sociologically raped their culture denied, and out of necessity they are spread to the four corners of the earth. Their identity compromised never able to feel a deep connection anywhere just how can they feel a sense of belonging? There are so many unanswered questions and no repercussions it seems at all for the perpetrators not even an admission of their crimes.
Suffering from complex trauma is a completely different issue than PTSD and it has an enhanced set of symptoms the support required is also very different, it's so very complex no longer are we dealing with a single episode or event but a mammoth range of repeated experiences, that may and still can be within that individual or nation even today. In essence, there will be a complete jumbled mess of consistent abuse creating immense pain and suffering on a daily basis, and it leaves them feeling that there really is no future or release.
In truth for me, I now find myself faced with this mental abuse and the much wanted control by another, directly delivered through my abuser's manipulation yes he may be gone, but I'm to be reminded that in essence that he will never be really gone. The big difference is that I am now within a completely different place in my life, I have taken control of myself and my actions and they are and will now always be mine. Even with many years of therapy behind me which although enormously helpful, I came to accept that it was me that would have to make that difference which was much required. I arrived at a point where I had to choose and so I consciously made my choice never again would I be directed by another I had to take back my life.
Abuse can not only be sexual there is a range of abusive situations that will leave that child forever struggling, indoctrinated by a set of belief that will need to be addressed in adulthood so let's list a few here. Along with sexual abuse there is also psychological abuse physical abuse and complete neglect rejection, and for some, there is also starvation, and sadly for many, they have suffered within all of the above list. Just where do they go to find that someone that had been lost inside? For some they will never be able to do so and for others, it will take many years of therapy, even then it will never really leave them sadly it's a legacy they will be forever left with.
Travelling through such a complex set of circumstances completely owned controlled and unloved, how can they ever really trust any support or recovery offered when abuse is never ending? There are so many overwhelming continual episodes of abuse to deal with and more so if this abuse is still in the present. Of course, it could now be in the distant past but even so, it would still have spanned over so many years of their life as a repeated continued abuse in any manner imaginable. So very often it's by a family member or even members and then there really is nowhere to escape. For some, they may have been caged in or chained to the wall left alone until needed sexually that was their reality, never ever to feel needed in any positive aspect of the word. Just how can the past be redressed in the here and now when tomorrow is feared and abuse is something as felt like part of you? when each day brings with it repeated abusive terror and sexual act's and uncertainty, when there is nothing you can do but to exist in this horrendous living nightmare of a doomed existence.
Where the abuser is supremely paramount from childhood they still have that integral power over that child there is never any doubt that for some it continues well into adulthood. When the requirement of looking over a shoulder is part of the day in truth it's a knee jerk reaction, never feeling safe each morning on waking that abuse is the first thought that enters the mind. Expecting anything never feeling safe it's completely devastating and unnerving. Even if told that it is now safe how can that be believed? Because they know differently the situation hasn't changed if their abuser is still ever present in life and they are so aware of the power they hold over them. Even after their passing sometimes nothing has changed when their abuser leaves this world, control can be passed down to another for it to continue as it reigns above them it's no wonder that when relating to any support they hear only words. They know that words don't have the power required to pull them out from under that every repeated abusive nightmare.
The above for me is something that I myself lived through since the age of seven and it's still ever present today in a turn of fate that in all honesty, I was half expecting, even now at the ripe old age of sixty it seems I am to continue along this road that I've somehow come to expect. It has been forever present in my life it's always been there for as long as I can remember, it's now an integral part of who I am but it no longer holds any power over me, because I'm now able to stay within my truth and I can now see my worth. I am now extremely lucky to have now found the strength to stand my ground and it took time, I guess when learning that even with support it was still something that ultimately I alone had to deal with, it created a change in me. Whilst within the arms of that given support they were only ever able to go so far, and that is by no means their undoing it's a system that for many continues to fail them. Even when support is given whilst trying to deal with our abusive past and maybe even in the here and now, but when the here and now is ever changing and the oncoming future is completely unknown. The professions are also lost...
In this type of situation, the fault can never really be placed at the feet of any support you are receiving they really aren't able to have input with the unknown, there is only one place where we can put this down and it's none other than at the feet of our abuser. Unfortunately, at times there is another to include left with our abusers legacy who has also lived within entanglement and a web of lies, here we see just how it's possible to invade the mind of an innocent by an abusers sheer will alone. Simply because their own life has also been controlled they were also subjected to their own scenario of abuse, in all truth knowing the person that they were subjected to in my own case I can see that they never really had a chance. The abusive control within their own existence is still ever felt and taken as if said by the gods so just where does this ever end? You can clearly see the pattern.
I had reached a point of recognition it was either fight or flight and it was no longer in my nature do the latter, we all survive the best way we know how to but I was no longer going to stay within the flight. I had arrived at a point of understanding that it was no longer an option for me no matter the cost I was done running period! I would face that which was in front of me as I embarked on a journey with a completely different mindset. Control of my life had to be mine by either dealing with it directly or controlling the element at a distance, I'm far from saying that it was an easy thing to do and it still requires management daily, but I'm now able to do just that by using a structure that I have created within growth and recovery which is so far removed from my abuse.
So let's talk a little more about how complex trauma is so very different than PTSD from my own experience, which in all truth is all I can do and just maybe by sharing a little more of myself, it may give others a little more understanding. My aim here is not to give you direction but to hopefully help you to find your own direction because information is never unhelpful it's instructive in the direction of understanding. I.e. my experience will differ from your own and it still hasn't reached its end but the big difference here is that I have reached my end there would be no more. It was now that I had to stay strong but the details I am unfortunately not able to share with you here but they are unnecessary, I also feel that just by doing so I would somehow be relinquishing my power. But more so if I were to do so I would in a sense be giving my abuser air time which is something they will never again receive from my direction.
In trying to explain complex trauma it's so extremely difficult to find the right words because it's so over overwhelming, it's a state of being stuck in a place of pain where there seems to be no end, and so for myself as a child, I created a safe place in which I could go. In truth, it was just too unnerving, painful, and gripping. To stay there my whole body was in a state of alert. But somehow I had arrived at a place of acceptance without choice I had to change that feeling even if only in my mind. Within my own being, I could no longer stay in that place of sexual abuse and any hope of it being removed had long past been extinguished within me. There really was nothing that I could do for so many years I was just a child and I was just in all essence only existing, at that time abuse became something I had to live with only ever counting the hours until the next time, I couldn't even imagine a place where it wasn't there if this was my reality (bodily) I just couldn't stay there.
My abuse was known felt and somehow it had become the norm I lived within it daily and I adjusted my life accordingly, I lived in a potential world without joy I never remembered or experienced any happiness I was in a world of pain without recognition I wasn't even noticed. I felt unimportant without a voice it had long been taken from me physically mentally and emotionally so very long ago, somehow I was in a world of shadow overly more that was just where I wanted to be within that shadow. Because then just maybe I really would go unnoticed but that was never my reality, but I could leave my reality and abuse behind in the only way possible for me whilst still being there bodily. Although it was only through circumstance in my adult life that I would ever come to this realisation and remembrance, and to be able to recognise why and how I conduct my life in the here and now. This would also be at the hands of my abuser and ultimately it was to become his undoing.
Out of necessity that's just what I did, I just left me behind I was in an altered state of complete separation from my being, even though the acts were occurring right in front of me it was no longer happening to me. That was someone else it was someone that I was able to see at a distance I was only looking upon the said sexual act as a conscientious observer. Every physical activity or touch was seen but not felt bodily my mind had become a filter, everything was just passing through I felt no shame I felt nothing how could I because my only crime was being there right? Yes I felt sorry for that other person at the other end of the room but I couldn't do anything, I was in a bubble of my own creation nothing could penetrate my world in that place I was always safe.
Once this process started it would continue to be with me for a lifetime it really is where I learnt the art of separation and I continue to do so when needed, although I am no longer in a place of sexual abuse but as we know abuse doesn't need to be sexual. The mind games continue either spoken or unspoken threats will always remain a tool for concern, it's how we deal with that concern that can differ from the creation of a very young child I was no longer that child I'd done my homework. As an adult, I am now able to stand at a distance from life's tests and painful emotions it's now something that mostly I do with ease, which has meant that as a seemingly functioning adult I can at times be seen as to be aloof or withdrawn. That I'm not affected by traumatic events that may be going on all around me but what's not seen is the complexity of the happenings within me, because I am once more engaged in that stand off position filtering has begun as I observe everything objectively. I am within a thought process that needs that withdrawal I'm in a place of safety within the bubble that I created as a child.
It's where I rearrange everything to a correct place of seating by untangling my emotions and I leave this world behind me for a time to deal with the problem I am faced with, I open a box deep within me where I place that happening by the use of my own sheer will, which oddly I had learnt from that childhood abuse so long ago and I detach myself from the issue, I place it within that box and that's where it remains locked within and I am the only one with that key. In truth, although ironically said, this process has served me well at times in my adulthood for the good but the art of this skill has also taken so much away from me in other avenues. When thought about I guess my abuse has taught me something in life that survival without choice can be altered to survival with choices, it was either that or die and for all of us, the instinct and the need for survival is without a doubt always prevalent.
Complex trauma is a psychological disorder that develops in response to a prolonged abusive and repeated experience, it's interpersonal and a situation in which the individual has little chance or no chance of escape. It's a world of delayed response to trauma to include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares and flashbacks. For me, it has also become that in which I use for the avoidance of my emotions or anxiety at any given moment. Complete withdrawal back into my world of darkness because it was my only option it's been tried and tested and eventually it never fails me. Going within means confronting memories which always bring pain on the point of entry, but once I'm there I know just how to control that emotion from a distance. It's what I know and so I return to it and at the time of doing so it seems far safer than facing that which is unknown This is a legacy which I have carried for a lifetime and its so very ironic that returning to that place seems far safer than the place I am in at times in the here and now. when faced with a situation that is not controllable it's where I go to take back that control and there I stay until control is ready to leave with me.
For myself, I have been lucky enough mostly to now avoid that return journey today without feeling too much pain from my past abuse and I'm thankful, I am now able to go within at a much shallower entry and I'm still able to do the work required without the need of going deeper. But it's a much practised art that took me many years to accomplish and it requires that I distance myself from everyone and everything, I am then able to put my full attention on the task confronting me and the rearrangement required of that crowded space within. It's become for me somewhat like second nature where I don't really need to confront the past any more and I am entering that place for a completely different reason. I'm there in a completely altered state of mind and I'm there to find the answers and not to face any questions they have all long ago been asked.
I can now step around it with ease, that of course, does not mean that the outcome I return with is one of my own liking, it just means that I can now deal with it objectively I have removed myself from any emotional reaction. Of course, my self removal is not always seen as being helpful to others but not to do so would create a situation of no control whatsoever. Control is something that I could or would ever lose again because I will never now be placed in a situation of no control and so for me, it's my lifeline and at that time of removal it's in everyone's interest that I do so.
Events in life will at times always catch us out and when we are unaware of something's arrival we will sometimes fall resulting in us being somewhat battered and bruised, but it's never about how many times we fall it's about how many times we get back up. For sure I'm not spared these events either I still have my share to contend with at times even with this practised art at my disposal, but for the main, I now stand for who I am and not whom I had been made to feel. I know beyond doubt that my innocence was taken from me and it was not freely given, it's for us all to remember that we are who we can be and not how we were made to feel. That we have the right to life after our child abuse even although our childhood may be lost to us, we really do have a future if we take hold of it and really live it in spite of our abuse or even more so because of it.
As abused children in adulthood we are a complex structure but surely that also means that given time we are able to structure complexity.