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What is Complex Trauma?

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Many people experience some type of traumatic event in their lifetime. Experiencing several traumatic events or extreme circumstances can lead to complex mental health symptoms. Complex trauma typically begins in early life, happens several times, is inflicted by others, and is kept secret or difficult to escape from. In many cases, complex trauma is often perpetuated by unfair social norms, beliefs, and prejudices.


Those who have experienced complex traumatic experiences often have several symptoms that cause many mental health diagnoses. In some cases, a person can have 3, 4, or 5 mental health diagnoses over the many years of treatment needed to heal. Some symptoms of C-PTSD include:


Problems with relationship boundaries, lack of trust, social isolation, and difficulty perceiving and responding to others.


Sensory issues to be able to see, hear, taste, smell, feel, and or lowered immune system.


Difficulty identifying and expressing emotions and internal states, or difficulties communicating needs, wants, and wishes.


Problems with impulse control, regulating attention, aggression, addictions, or compulsive behaviors.


Fragmented sense of identity, disconnecting from reality, or amnesia.



Trauma Treatment


Complex trauma is treatable through specialized psychotherapy. Complex trauma treatment provides a strength-based, survival driven reframe of trauma, shifting the focus from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?” Putting the complex symptoms in the context of past distressing experiences leads to new adaptive ways of coping with adversity.


Tips to Cope with Complex Trauma


Grounding: identify a technique or object that helps you feel safe, self-soothe, and be present in the moment.


Self-Compassion: treat yourself as you would a trusted loved one in a similar situation.


Prioritize self-care: diet, exercise, fun, and rest go a long way to regulating stress.

Connection: talk with trusted family and friends about what you've been through.


Seek help: long term psychotherapy from a professional or medication can lead to real healing.


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