Dr. Maria D. Reyes
For sufferers of C-PTSD, hope is often very difficult to find. In addition to the symptoms such as flashbacks and avoidance that come with PTSD, C-PTSD can cause severe issues with emotional regulation, maintaining relationships, and trusting others. It can affect all areas of a person’s life – and the lives of their loved ones, too.
What Exactly is Complex PTSD?
While “regular” PTSD is generally the result of a single traumatic event – such as being in a war, being the victim of an attack or assault, or witnessing a terrifying event – complex post-traumatic stress disorder is the result of ongoing or long-term sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse during childhood.
For a child growing up as a victim of continual abuse, the world becomes a terrifying place. The people meant to keep him or her safe are often (although not always) the ones perpetuating the abuse on a day-to-day basis. This kind of trauma is devastating to a child’s ability to trust others and, as it happens when the brain is still developing, it has a long-term effect on how children perceive other people.
Ongoing childhood abuse is an act of betrayal, and in many cases, children are threatened not to tell anyone about what is happening. Living in an abusive home is often a hopeless, joyless existence that causes depression, anxiety, and suicidal impulses, even in very young children. Unfortunately, even when the child is able to escape the abuse, the psychological effects continue to plague their lives in the form of Complex PTSD.
What Does Complex PTSD Look Like?
Although the exact presentation of C-PTSD symptoms can vary from person to person, there are some common features that most people will experience:
- Intrusive thoughts and memories
- Avoidance of places/people/situations
- Volatile mood
- Suicidal thoughts
People with complex PTSD may be crippled by feelings of shame and despair, may hold false beliefs about what happened to them – such as believing it was their fault because they were ‘bad’ – and distorted perceptions about themselves. Self-destructive behaviors and emotional dysregulation are also very common.
C-PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder
Some people who experience serious, ongoing trauma and/or abuse before the age of seven may have signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in addition to C-PTSD. DID occurs when the mind fractures due to trauma and compartmentalizes the traumatic or abusive experiences as a form of protection.
As a result of compartmentalization, other personalities or alters are split off from the core personality. In some cases of severe abuse, there may be hundreds of different alters who effectively protect the core personality from remembering what happened to them.
Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, DID has been very poorly represented in the media and in films such as Split, and, as a result, there’s a lot of stigma around the condition. However, people with DID are no more dangerous or evil than any other person!
DID does complicate treatment for C-PTSD, however, as a person with DID has learned to dissociate from their experiences and it can be difficult to convince all the alters to cooperate with therapy.
Coping Strategies for C-PTSD
Living with C-PTSD can be challenging. The emotional intensity that accompanies the disorder can feel totally overwhelming, so it’s no wonder that C-PTSD sufferers often struggle to cope with everyday life. Learning coping strategies is essential and there are a number of effective strategies that people with C-PTSD may find helpful.
- Watching a favorite movie
- Calling a friend
- Studying the Bible
- Reading a book
- Going for a walk
- Playing with a pet
- Taking a hot bath
- Practicing mindful breathing
- Wrapping up in a soft, warm blanket
- Grounding exercises
- Reaching out to a therapist
- Cognitive-behavioral thought management
How Can the Bible Bring Hope?
Finding comfort in the pages of the Bible has helped many people with C-PTSD cope with flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and general fears. Bible verses that remind one of the strength and comfort that can be found in God are particularly helpful. These types of Bible verses remind us that no matter what we face, God is with us at all times and we can trust in His everlasting love.
Verses to Bring Hope
He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. – Psalm 91:4-6
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. – 2 Kings 6:15-16 (NLT)
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory. – Isaiah 61:1-3 (NLT)
Treatment for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The main treatment for C-PTSD is therapy, although there are some medications that can help with managing symptoms if other techniques aren’t helping. Medications that may be used include anti-anxiety meds, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.
Therapeutic treatment for C-PTSD is, in many ways, similar to treatment for PTSD, although counselors will adapt the treatment program to meet the individual needs of the patient. There are a number of therapy types that can be used, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
Another popular type of therapy for C-PTSD is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Therapists trained in EMDR practice use guided eye movements in order to help with the processing of traumatic memories and help change the way that a person reacts to the memories. EMDR can significantly reduce symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks.
How Can Christian Counseling Help?
For Christians experiencing C-PTSD, a Christian counselor with experience of treating complex PTSD can allow for the combination of secular psychological therapy and biblical insights. Although not necessarily speeding up recovery, involving God in the healing journey can bring a significant amount of comfort to someone struggling with C-PTSD.
Christian counseling can be especially effective when past abuse has left a person feeling that there’s no one who can understand the depth of their pain. Bringing Jesus into the midst of the sessions can serve as a reminder that He does understand and He longs to help His children be set free from the shackles of their trauma.
“Reaching for the Sky”, Courtesy of Jeremy Perkins, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Remembering the Fallen”, Courtesy of Hossein Gholami, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man with Glasses”, Courtesy of Sander Weeteling, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yellow Flower”, Courtesy of Lina Trochez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License