What is Complex Trauma? Symptoms, Examples & How To Heal
Do you tend to sabotage yourself every step of the way? For example, you might know what the right decision is, or what to do in order to improve your life, but you still don't do it. Or, do you tend to dissociate from your experiences and feel as if your body is not really yours. Or, maybe you have some memory problems—times where you forget everything that happened and there are blank spaces in your mind. If any of these resonate with you, it might be that you are struggling with complex trauma. But, before you self-diagnose, let's explore what complex trauma really is, what its symptoms are, and how to heal from it.
What is Complex Trauma?
As you probably already know, trauma is the distress people struggle with after an emotionally or physically traumatic experience. When we experience a traumatic event, the brain's limbic system is activated. This means that our brain goes into the fight-or-flight mode where our whole body is on alert. Once the danger passes, our brain and body comes back to a relaxed mode. However, some people might still struggle with some symptoms that affect the individual's mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. While trauma is often the result of a single traumatic event, when a person undergoes a series of traumatic events over long periods of time (like months and years) they likely develop complex trauma.
Complex trauma means that you have been exposed for a long period of time to traumatic experiences. In such a case, the limbic system does not get the chance to return to the resting mode. It is continually on the fight-or-flight mode, often for long periods of time. This continuous activation of the limbic system does not allow the stress hormones (like cortisol) to go down. Likewise, it does not allow your body to feel safe again. All this ultimately leads to the development of complex trauma and lasting psychological and physical symptoms.
What Causes Complex Trauma? 7 Examples
What types of events can result in complex trauma? Well, there are many types of events that can result in the development of complex trauma. It depends on the individual, situation, and characteristics of the events. However, here we present some common examples of events that can result in complex trauma:
Common Signs and Symptoms
You might be asking yourself how can you recognize whether you are struggling with complex trauma. As discussed before, complex trauma is diverse and can be caused by different types of experiences. Similarly, it can lead to different sets of symptoms. Nevertheless, there are a series of symptoms and signs that are common among those with complex trauma and that might help you spot if you are dealing with it. Some examples include:
How to Heal from Complex Trauma
First and foremost, reaching out to a mental health professional can help you heal faster and more effectively. A professional therapist can help you heal from your trauma through a series of interventions such as CBT, schema therapy, EMDR and many other science-based treatments that will help you get in touch with yourself and your inner child to heal from the trauma that you were subjected to.
While it is strongly suggested to seek help from a professional, there are also a series of steps you can take in order to facilitate your healing. Here we share some of the things you can do to help you overcome your trauma.
1. Get in touch with your body
When we are going through complex trauma, we often dissociate from our feelings, needs, and body. This occurs because after the trauma, our body does not feel like a safe place to be in anymore, and, thus, we do not feel connected to it. Therefore, one thing that we can do to overcome complex trauma is to try to create a safe connection with our body again. But, how can we do this?
1. Practice grounding techniques: These sorts of techniques can help you get in touch with your breath. Learning to breathe normally can help you get in touch with the feelings inside you. One technique that might help is practising box breathing. Box breathing gives your brain the message that our body is a safe place to be, and we therefore feel that we are again in control of our body and aware of what is happening inside us.
2. Practice physical activities: Physical activities, such as dancing, yoga, or Tai Chi, can help you regain the connection with all the different parts of your body. Coupled with breathing techniques, getting physical and active can facilitate healing and foster a safe connection with your body.
2. Practice Self-Care
Another thing that you can try to facilitate your healing is practice lots of self-care. Self-care can look like allowing yourself enough time to sleep and having a steady routine for your meals and exercise. Having a steady, stable routine helps with creating a sense of safety within us.
One thing I often suggest my therapy clients is to read self-help books. Reading these sorts of books not only help you learn beneficial techniques and tips; they can allow you to see how connected you are with other people around the world that have gone through similar experiences. There are millions of people that have gone through complex trauma and are trying, in their own way, to heal from it. Reading about their experiences can not only inspire you to follow their steps, but might help you feel validated and less alone.
Complex trauma is often the result of experiencing a series of traumatic events throughout long periods of time. It can cause individuals to dissociate, develop low self-esteem, have flashbacks, and self-sabotage. As a result, it is often suggested to seek professional psychological help and to facilitate your healing journey by practicing self-care, reading, and reconnecting with your body. I hope this article has been helpful to you and I wish you well in your recovery. Take care.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.
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