Big disclaimer: none of us are mental health professionals, and the information provided on this site is from the survivor’s perspective, pulled from the the vaults of a lifelong self-inquiry into understanding our own traumas. We encourage everyone reading this to access mental health supports. However , most folks do not have the privilege, financial means, time, or social access to psychotherapy, a luxury for most. We share this information with the hopes that it will encourage you to look into your own recovery, do your research, map out your own story, and maybe (if/when you’re ready and/or find it even necessary) , to begin the process of self-therapy and healing.
On Psychological Trauma: we throw the word ‘trauma’ around, and before I really delved into understanding my own psychological processes, I assumed trauma was something that happens to your body, like say a physical impact, say a car accident or a really traumatic one-off extreme act of physical, physical violence;
I thought it was something war veterans and genocide victims experienced. And I’m not wrong to assume this, as trauma literally means ‘wound’, or injury. But wound and injuries can take many forms, including injuries and wounds to the body, mind, spirit, soul, emotional centers, and the very essence of our entire beings. Trauma is quite literally the building blocks of our collective human consciousness, and it informs many of the social behaviours/activities we never stop to analyze. Trauma is what happens when many humans enter this world in a state of terror, via the traumatized wombs and intergenerational painful memories of their ancestors. Psychological trauma is an injury, a wound of our psyche, a complete re-ordering of our brains in our childhood years, the storing of painful memories in our bodies, and the disconnect fo the very nature of ourselves, or sense of ‘being’.
Let’s reflect for a moment on what a child is to do, when it can not employ the ‘fight or ‘flight’ response after a onslaught of emotional abuse from their primary parent and/or caregiver? The fight/ flight responses to immediate dangers is ingrained in our specie as a biological survival mechanism. But a child cannot fight or flee its household, he/she cannot strike back against their parent/caregiver, he/she cannot remove themselves from the abusive environment. What is then the only response that child can experience and employ?
Where does the child’s mind go when it can’t turn on its natural defence systems?
What does a child do when it senses the emotional pain of their primary caregivers, and can do nothing to alleviate the caregiver’s emotional pain, other than to take on that pain on as a reflection of their own shortcomings?
What does a child do when it must live under the physical conditions of a parent that cannot regulate their emotions, a parent who employs violence and terror on the child, a parent who cannot mirror love to their child, or encourage the child’s natural and loving sense of self? How does a child’s brain, who experiences these horrors, transform?
What happens to the mind, body, and spirit of an adult who entered this world in the womb of a severely abused parent, now experiencing a traumatic birth, rearing that child in an abusive household, surrounded by impossible social and economic conditions. A parent so distraught, they’re unable to provide loving and safe conditions to their child; And instead, replicates the same abuse the now-parent experienced in their early childhood years.
That adult now becomes the survivor who confronts a long life struggle of enduring, suppressing, disassociating, and surviving psychological trauma. That is what is now being recognized as Complex PTSD.
What is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?
A simple understanding of one of the most misunderstood bio-psychosocial conditions like C-PTSD is recognizing that it begins in our early childhood years, unlike PTSD which usually means a singular, or rare traumatic event. Bare in mind a C-PTSD survivor can be re-traumatized as an adult over long periods of time, while PTSD survivors usually experience an one-off, unexpected traumatic event as fully formed adults may have never experienced early childhood traumas.
Now what qualifies as early childhood traumatic experiences is being debated by the greatest minds in many fields from evolutionary biology, clinical social work, psychology, neuroscience, and the list goes on. There are even some diagnostic guidelines, however it’s important to note, that C-PTSD is still not recognized as official diagnosis in many parts of the world. But most clinicians agree that some of the following early childhood traumatic experiences are causes of C-PTSD;
Absence of basic necessities in early childhood
Living In homes with domestic abuse
Confinement and torture at the hands of a caregiver
Caregivers with severe addictions
Absence of a functioning caregiver
Primary caregiver that is incarcerated.
These events, often dismissed as a norm in human cultures (particularly the rigid and traditional ones), have adverse and tremendous affect in the development of our brains, how we process emotions, problem solve, love, rear children, work, relate and function in the material world.
A child experiencing the most traumatic events at a time when the child is vulnerable, by their primary caregivers; that is those that were assigned to love, affirm, protect, and care for them them is not something one can simply overcome.
That trauma is stored in every cell of our very being, and the path to healing requires not only an acknowledgement of that complete severing/disconnect from our selves; but to begin the painful, but vital journey of dislodging the stored, repressed, and suppressed painful memories from our bodies, minds, spirits, and souls.