Complex Trauma : Lesser Known, Important Facts.
- The majority of individuals who come into contact with mental health services have a history of complex trauma (Bloom, 2011)
- The ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences‘ (ACE) study found that on a daily basis GPs see patients who are suffering from the effects of complex trauma but do not realize that this is the fundamental problem; instead, the patient is diagnosed according to the particular symptom (such as anxiety or addiction) presenting at the time of the consultation. Because of this, the root problem often remains unaddressed.
- Complex-PTSD is more common than ‘ordinary’/single incident PTSD and its effects more wide-ranging.
- Whilst complex-PTSD is closely linked to the sufferer’s having experienced some form of child abuse (emotional, sexual or physical) it also occurs when a parent/parents/primary carers are in some way inadequate or deficient due to trauma they themselves experienced as children that remains unresolved. In this way, the ill-effects of childhood trauma can be constantly passed on from generation to generation. So, for example, the abuse a child suffers may stem from the abuse his/her grandfather suffered at the hands of his’/her (the same child’s) great-grandfather.
- Medical Trauma – even routine operations and surgeries can traumatize the child, especially if they involve immobilization or anesthesia (Levine, 2010)
- Hypoarousal – this is essentially the opposite of hyperarousal and occurs as a psychological defense mechanism in response to extreme ongoing stress/ trauma – it involves what might colloquially be called an emotional shutdown, or, more technically,’dissociation‘. Unfortunately, GPs may mistakenly diagnose such a condition as depression (Rothschild, 2011) [TO READ MY ARTICLE : 2 OPPOSITE WAYS THE CHILD RESPONDS TO STRESS : HYPERAROUSAL AND DISSOCIATION, CLICK HERE]’
- Inability to ‘move on’ – some individuals, suffering from the effects of complex trauma, are told by others that they should ‘just move on’ with their lives. However, this ‘advice’ (though it is usually more of a criticism) is based upon a failure to understand that a person cannot simply ‘move on’ from trauma until the trauma has been resolved. Indeed, invalidating or undermining the effect of the traumatized individual’s traumatic experiences is highly likely to compound his/her suffering.
- To end on an optimistic note : even though the development of the child’s brain may be adversely affected by the experience of complex trauma (eg the development of the amygdala), the fact that the brain has a property known as neuroplasticity means such individuals can still be optimistic about their prospects of recovery.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).