Complex PTSD from surviving to thriving | Michelle Dixon
Here’s the thing about PTSD – it’s not always bells and whistles, full-blown panic attacks, and so on.
It can be quiet, even silent, and can wreck lives. And, it’s not just war veterans who suffer from it.
It might be your friendly neighbor who was in a bad car accident, and came off unscathed, so everyone thinks – meanwhile, he is depressed, has flashbacks, finds it difficult to go to work every day, and has dizzy spells he cannot explain.
The phrase ‘PTSD’ – post traumatic stress disorder – is all too popular in the public lexicon, but throwing around the words “I have ptsd,” almost never does justice to the people who suffer from it.
Imagine feeling so unsettled on a day to day basis that you just want to hide from the world.
Let’s start with PTSD before moving on to Complex PTSD.
PTSD is a collection of symptoms that result from any event which shocked the nervous system, communicating to it that there was danger, and sending the body system into survival mode. Being in ‘survival mode’ for the body has numerous consequences: elevated heart-rate, blood to the extremities (so you can run), sweating, hyper-vigilance, a flood of adrenaline and so on.
All of these biological events begin, at that moment, to train the body in how to respond later, even when the body is just ‘remembering’ the event.
Usually PTSD happens within a short span of time after the traumatic event/s.
Symptoms may include:
- flashbacks (reliving the event as a movie, or hearing/smelling it as if it were happening);
- intrusive thoughts;
- night terrors;
- sensations such as sweating, trembling, pain, nausea, stomach cramps
The emotions of the event often come after the shock recedes, but then the emotion becomes entangled in the nervous system response, and can be inseparable ever after:
- fear and self-preservation
- grief and self-preservation
- anger and self-preservation
What this all means is that the associated emotion can trigger fight or flight (survival mode – self-preservation), and being in survival mode can trigger the emotion.
I like to say that the body and mind is an association machine. What occur together often are forever wedded, creating a cycle of emotional and physical distress.
It’s this emotional-nervous system response that makes living with PTSD so particularly challenging. Unfortunately, the acute phase can go on for many months. It’s when it is left untreated that it can become complex PTSD, ‘c-ptsd’.
Untreated PTSD can morph into Complex PTSD
Think of it like this – you have terrible phsyical symptoms of distress and you don’t know how to deal with them, so you begin to feel extremely emotional about it and lose both perspective and hope.
It’s pretty understandable how ptsd can become ‘complex’ ptsd. You will know it when it happens because some time has passed since the trauma event, and now you’re experiencing some of these symptoms (below), in addition to your physical symptoms:
- difficulty controlling your emotions
- distrust towards the world and others
- feeling a lack of meaning
- feeling permanently broken (can’t be fixed) and misunderstood by others
- dissociating (derealization too)
- suicidal feelings
Because acute trauma symptoms can actively prevent you from functioning on a day to day basis, recovery must begin with settling the nervous system.
Quite simply, in acute PTSD, you need to prioritise returning your body to a functional level, so that you can cope with life and relationships. This means that recovery must begin with strategies to help your body and brain feel safe in the present moment.
PTSD is acute (meaning urgent) because it interrupts one’s ability to function on a day to day basis. There are specific modalities that are most suited for treating it, such as:
- EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing)
- TRE (trauma release exercises)
- Somatic Experiencing
- Neurolingistic programming (nlp) for flashbacks
If you’ve developed C-PTSD, it’s time for the deeper healing of releasing what’s left, and restoring faith in self, the world, and one’s potential.
Complex PTSD from surviving to thriving
When ptsd becomes complex, it’s time for deeper treatment. It is possible to survive and thrive, once you attend to all 3 aspects of trauma healing: the mind, the body, and the connection to Wholeness.
What to look for when considering specific practices for ptsd trauma treatment
When you are looking for a solution to a symptom, in the moment, it’s perfectly okay to look for a thought exercise, breathing exercise, or meditation and so on.
I know this, because over the years my clients have reported to me the variety of things they have tried to stop panic attacks, to feel safe, to ease social anxiety.
However, they have often run into problems when they choose things without knowing that those practices are just not suited for the traumatised individual because of how the nervous system behaves in those cases.
Whether you are reading books or searching on YouTube, the key is to choose activities to which your body responds with a sense of safety. Of course, most material does NOT come with the warning “may not be suitable for those with trauma histories”!
My advice, therefore, is to try whatever you like for a very few minutes and notice if your body feels safe, or if you feel on edge or begin to detach. If the latter, discontinue.
Be especially careful with energy practices, opening the third eye or the crown, or anything that is meant to seek peak experiences. When you have a trauma history, the first and most vital step is to calm the nervous system, NOT expand sensation or consciousness!
There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I suggest signing up for my free guide and roadmap, which has an appendix of trauma symptoms as well as an approach for treatment which I think you’ll find unique and empowering! Here it is below >>
Get started healing emotionally by working with body release
Everyday Healing: Releasing Trauma from the Body is a short and affordable online program that supports you to work with your body in your own time and space. In this program, I guide you to create a powerful daily body-based practice to help you let go of the past, relieve emotional pain and/or symptoms of trauma, and restore peace and hope.