February 2019

Post traumatic stress disorder and complex trauma

It’s a much talked about corundum and something that can be incorrectly diagnosed, but experiencing these two mental health symptoms is so very different. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is mostly the result of a specific episode, an individual subjected to the horror of rape or being witness to a horrific act or incident. All of which can take someone to a place of complete breakdown with the outcome that mental health intervention is sorely required. For the most, it can be related to a singular experience by the individual concerned, which of course doesn’t make it any less horrendous. Even if experienced over a prolonged period of time i.e. a soldier returning home brings with him images that he has been subjected to whilst on deployment, although it would have been experienced over a longer period of time, it remains a singular episode and unbroken. This, of course, could easily become a different situation if he were to be deployed again in the future, and eventually relating and migrated to complex trauma.

I mention PTSD here alongside complex trauma for comparison, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. Unlike complex trauma, this disorder can now be addressed with complete concentration on the content of the said act, directly, and deliberately. It’s recognised within its own particular area and it stands alone within that support. It can now be reached through that support far more successfully. With the knowledge as to when it started and when it reached its conclusion. Concentration can then be applied in the most helpful direction. But this is a scenario that is so completely different from those suffering from complex trauma. Yes, there will be a beginning but the end is so far out of sight, that it’s never really believed by the individual that it will stop because it’s unimaginable.

Complex trauma often reaches back as far as childbirth, it’s the only template available in which to build upon it’s the only experience that’s remembered. Love was never shown protection and care was never given, nurturing is unknown, and any help in which to grow within life’s structure just doesn’t exist. Yes, its life but only by the smallest of margin any positivity is alien they just exist each day reliving the torture. They re-experience all of the of pain, fear, mistrust, and anxiety. There is no sense of being or of mattering, abuse is always the state of mind, and they are treated as inhuman. Never able to find hope within themselves whilst used and abused, and even at times sold to another for pleasure.

They are lost, clearly not seen they are nothing to those that should have been their protectors. They are just a commodity no more and for sure so much less. Predicting how this child will be able to deal with life and function within their future as an adult, well it could be that it has already been mapped out in front of them. Their journey of abuse is the only one in which they have ever known, and it will almost certainly leave them without the art of parenting skills, which may in time be required with their own children. Sadly for some, the effects of abuse will continue directly through them and on to their children and then on to their children’s children. As the abusive pattern continues to spiral out of control affecting so many lives. At times, without it even being a conscious decision but just where could they have learnt the art of parenting? All they have ever had access to enabling them to make reference is their abuse so just how would they know? That’s not even a serious question.

I also want to mention here generational complex trauma, which is extremely prevalent and held within a particular individual or a whole nation. The atrocities suffered in every sense can only amount to being mass murder. The destruction of their ancestors forever altering the landscape whilst fleeing in fear from the place they called home. This will always be held within and the succession of those to come after them will forever feel it’s repercussions. Unwillingly, they have become a catalyst a tool of transference and it is carried through the centuries. Nowhere feels like home no matter where they reside, their country had been sociologically raped, their culture denied, out of necessity they are spread to the four corners of the earth. Their identity compromised and never able to feel a deep connection anywhere, just how can they feel a sense of belonging? There are so many unanswered questions and no repercussions it seems at all for the perpetrators not even an admission of their crimes.

Suffering from complex trauma is a completely different issue than PTSD it has an enhanced set of symptoms and the support required is also very different. We are no longer dealing with a single episode or event but a mammoth range of repeated experiences, without doubt, complex trauma will contain an array of abuse which can be within all avenues. That may and still can be felt within that individual and nation even today. In essence, there will be a complete jumbled mess of consistent abuse, creating immense pain and suffering on a daily basis, without doubt, it leaves them feeling that there really is no future or release.

Abuse is not always felt as being sexual, there is a range of abusive situations that will leave that child forever struggling, indoctrinated by a set of belief that will need to be addressed in adulthood. So let’s list but a few here. Along with sexual abuse, there is psychological abuse, physical abuse, complete neglect, rejection and starvation. Sadly for many, they have suffered within all of the above. Just where do they go to find that someone that has been lost inside? Some will never be able to do so, for others it will take many years of therapy, even then it will never really leave them. Sadly it’s a legacy they will be forever left with.

Travelling through such a complex set of circumstances completely owned controlled and unloved, how can they ever really trust any support or recovery offered when abuse is never-ending? When there are so many overwhelming continual episodes of abuse to deal with, and even more so if this abuse is still in their present. Of course it could now be in the distant past, but even so, it would still have spanned over so many years of their life. Repeated and continued abuse in any manner imaginable. So very often it’s a family member or even members, and then there really is nowhere to escape. For some, they may have been caged in or chained to the wall, left alone until needed sexually that was their reality, never ever to feel needed in any positive aspect of the word. Just how can the past be redressed in the here and now? when tomorrow is feared? When abuse is something as felt like part of you? when each day brings with it abuse, terror, and sexual acts. With the uncertainty of never knowing when or how. When there is nothing you can do but to exist in this horrendous living nightmare of a doomed existence.

The above for me is something that I myself lived through since the age of seven, and it is still ever present today in a turn of fate, that in all honesty, I was half expecting. Even now at the ripe old age of sixty, it seems I am to continue along this road that I’ve somehow come to expect. It has been forever present in my life, it has always been there for as long as I can remember. It is an integral part of who I am because it was placed there so very long ago, but it no longer holds any power over me in that manner we have parted ways. I am now able to stay within my truth and I can now see my worth. I am extremely lucky to have now found the strength to stand my ground and it took time, I guess on learning that even with support, it was still something that ultimately I alone had to deal with and it created a change in me. Whilst within the arms of that given support they were only ever able to go so far and that is by no means their undoing. It’s the system that continues to fail so many child abuse survivors. Even when support is given whilst trying to deal with our abusive past and maybe even in the here and now it can be addressed, but when the here and now is ever changing and the oncoming future is completely unknown. Well, the professions are also lost…

In this type of situation, the fault can never really be placed at the feet of any support you are receiving, they really aren’t able to have input with the unknown. There is only one place where we can put this down and it’s none other than at the feet of our abuser. Unfortunately, at times there is another to include, who has also been left with our abusers legacy whilst living within entanglement and a web of lies. Here we see just how it’s possible to invade the mind of an innocent by the abusers sheer will power alone, simply because their own life has also been controlled they were also subjected to their own scenario of abuse. In all truth, knowing the person that they were subjected to in my own case, I can clearly see that they never really had a chance. The abusive control within their own existence is still ever felt and taken as if said by the gods so just where does this ever end? You can clearly see the pattern.

In truth for me, I now find myself faced with this ongoing mental abuse and the much-wanted control by another, directly delivered through my abuser’s manipulation. Yes, he may be gone but I am to be reminded that in essence he is never really gone. The big difference is that I am now within a completely different place in my life, I have taken control of myself and my actions and they are and will now always be mine. Even with many years of therapy behind me which although enormously helpful, I came to accept that it was me that would have to make that difference which was much required. I arrived at a point where I had to choose and so I consciously made that choice, never again would I be directed by another I had to take back my life.

I had reached a point of recognition it was either fight or flight and it was no longer in my nature to do the latter. We all survive the best way we know how but I was no longer going to stay within that flight. I had arrived at a point of understanding that it was no longer an option for me no matter the cost, I was done running period! I would face that which was in front of me as I embarked on a journey with a completely different mindset. Control of my life had to be mine by either dealing with it directly or controlling the element at a distance. I’m far from saying that it was an easy thing to do, and it requires management daily. But I’m now able to do just that by using a structure that I have created within my own growth and recovery and it’s so very far removed from my abuse.

So let’s talk a little more about complex trauma. It is so very different than PTSD speaking from my own experience. Which in all truth is all I can do. But just maybe, by sharing a little more of myself it may give others a little more understanding. My aim here is not to give you direction, but to hopefully help you to find your own direction because information is never unhelpful it’s instructive in the direction of understanding. I.e. my experience will differ from your own and it still hasn’t reached its end, but the big difference here is that I had reached my end. There would be no more. It was then that I had to stay strong but the details I am unfortunately not able to share with you here because they are unnecessary. I also feel that just by doing so I would somehow be relinquishing my power. But more so I would in a sense be giving my abuser air time power over me and my life, that is something they will never again receive from my direction even if demanded through inheritance.

In trying to explain complex trauma it’s so extremely difficult to find the right words because it’s beyond overwhelming, it’s a state of being stuck in a place of pain where there seems to be no end. So for myself, I created a safe place as a child somewhere that the devil couldn’t follow me. In truth, it was just too unnerving, painful, and gripping to be able to stay there my whole body was in a state of alert. But somehow I had arrived at a place of acceptance without choice, I had to change that feeling even if only within my mind. Within my own being, I could no longer stay in that place of sexual abuse, and any hope of it being removed had long past been extinguished within me. There really was nothing that I could do for so many years because I was just a child, I was only just in essence existing I was living my life like a ghost. At that time abuse became something I had to live with only ever counting the hours until the next time. I couldn’t even imagine a place where it wasn’t there if this was my reality (bodily) I just couldn’t stay there.

My abuse was known, painfully felt, and somehow it had become the norm I lived within it daily, and so I had to adjust my life accordingly. I lived in a potential world without joy I never remembered or experienced any happiness. I was in a world of pain without recognition I wasn’t even noticed. I felt unimportant without a voice it had long been taken from me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Somehow I was in a world of shadow, overly more, that was just where I wanted to be within that shadow. Because then just maybe I really would go unnoticed but that was never my reality. But I could leave my reality and abuse behind in the only way possible for me whilst still being there bodily. Although it was only through circumstance in my adult life, that I would ever come to this realisation and remembrance. I am now able to recognise just how and why I conduct my life in the here and now. This would only become known to me at the hands of my abuser and ultimately it was to become his undoing.

So out of necessity that’s just what I did, I just left me behind I was in an altered state of complete separation from my being. Even though the acts were occurring right in front of me it was no longer happening to me. That was someone else, it was someone that I was able to see at a distance, but I was only watching the said sexual act as if I were a conscious observer. Every physical activity or touch was seen but not felt bodily. My mind had become a filter. Everything was just passing through me, I felt no shame, I felt nothing, how could I because my only crime was being there right? Yes I felt sorry for that other child at the other end of the room but I couldn’t do anything, I was in a bubble of my own creation nothing could penetrate my world in that place I was always safe.

Once this process had started it would continue to be with me for a lifetime, it really was where I learnt the art of separation and I continue to do so when needed. Although I am no longer in a place of sexual abuse, as we know, abuse doesn’t need to be sexual. The mind games continue either spoken or unspoken and threats will always remain a need for concern. It’s how I deal with that concern that now differs from its creation as that very young child I am now an adult and I’d done my homework. As that adult, I am now able to stand at a distance from life’s tests and painful emotions and it is now something that I mostly do with ease. Which has meant that as a seemingly functioning adult I can at times be seen as being aloof or withdrawn? That I am unaffected by any of the traumatic events that may be going on all around me. What’s not seen is the complexity of the happenings within me. I am once more engaged in that stand-off position where filtering has begun as I observe everything objectively, I am within a thought process which needs that withdrawal, I’m in a place of safety within that bubble that I created as a child.

This is where I rearrange everything to a correct place of seating by untangling my emotions, and I leave this world behind me for a time to deal with the problem I am faced with. I open a box deep within me where I place that happening by the use of my own sheer will power. Which oddly I had learnt from that childhood abuse so very long ago and then I detach myself from the issue. I place that once dealt with the problem within that box and that’s where it remains locked within. With a knowing that I am the only one with access to that key. In truth, although ironically said this process has served me well at times in my adulthood for the good. But the art of this skill has also taken so much away from me in other avenues. When thought about I guess my abuse has taught me something in life, that survival without choice can be altered to survival with choices. It was either do that or die and for all of us, the instinct for survival is without a doubt always prevalent.

Complex trauma is a psychological disorder that develops in response to prolonged abusive and repeated experiences, it’s interpersonal, a situation in which the individual has little chance or no hope of escape. It’s a world of delayed response to trauma to include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, and flashbacks. For me, it also became that in which I could use the art of avoidance from my emotions or anxiety at any given moment. Complete withdrawal back into my world of darkness because I feel at that time it’s my only option, it was tried and tested, eventually it never fails me. Going within means confronting memories which will always bring pain on the point of entry, but once I’m there, I know just how to control that emotion from a distance. This is what I know and so I return to it because at the time of doing so it seems far safer than facing that which is unknown. This is a legacy which I have carried for a lifetime and it’s so very ironic, that returning to that place seems far safer than the place I sometimes find myself within in the here and now. When faced with a situation that is not controllable it’s where I return to take back that control, and I stay there until control is ready to leave with me and we return to a life together.

For myself, I have been lucky enough to mostly now avoid that return journey without feeling too much pain from my past abuse, I’m thankful. I am now able to go within at a much shallower entry and I’m still able to do the work required. Without the need to go deeper where I had eventually been able to place my past abuse. But this is a much-practised art that took me many years to accomplish and it requires that I distance myself from everyone and everything. I am then able to put my full attention on the task confronting me and the rearrangement required of that crowded space within begins. It has become for me somewhat like second nature where I don’t really need to confront my abuse anymore, I am entering that place for a completely different reason I’m not there to unearth my past. I am there in a completely altered state of mind. I’m here to find the answers in my present not to face the questions of the past they have long ago all been asked and answered.

I can now step around it with ease, but of course, that does not mean that the outcome I return with will be one of my own liking, it just means that I can now deal with it objectively. Simply because I have removed myself from any emotional reaction. Of course, my self-removal is not always seen as being helpful to others, but not to do so would create a situation of no control whatsoever. Control is something that I could nor would ever lose again because today I will never be placed in a situation of no control. So for me, it is my lifeline and at that time of removal, it is in everyone’s interest that I do so.

Events in life will at times always catch us out and when we are unaware of something’s arrival, we will sometimes fall resulting in us being somewhat battered and bruised. But it is never about how many times we fall it is about how many times we get back up. For sure, I’m not spared these events by any means either they still come along. I have my own share to contend with at times even with this practised art at my disposal. But for the main, I now stand for who I am and not who I had been made to feel. I now know beyond any doubt that my innocence was taken from me and it was not freely given. It’s for us all to remember that we are who we can be and not how we were made to feel. And yes, we do have the right to life after our child abuse even though our childhood may be lost to us. We really do have a future if we take hold of it and live within life’s precious moments in spite of our abuse. But even more so because of it, and with that now hopefully altered mindset it becomes so very clear as to just how precious those moments are.

As abused children in adulthood we are a complex structure but surely that also means that given time we are able to structure complexity…….

Complex trauma

All abused children will hopefully reach a point in their adult life in which their painful child abuse memories can be addressed where they feel able to start that process, a place where they will come to terms with the horrific atrocity that they were subjected to. The only unanswered question left to be addressed can only be as to when? The only one who is truly able to answer that question, in all honesty, is that inner child, that until now has been in hiding away from the world and may not feel strong enough just yet to trust that abused adult’s request. The journey of going within to engage with that childhood takes timing and child abuse survivors around the world that I have engaged with have always related to the statement of bringing their truth to the fore, of course with hindsight and recovery, they felt somewhat like they had underestimated that child’s strength.

Within that realisation and recognition of the mountains that they had crawled over on their journey towards recovery, it was visible just how far they had already come simply by surviving but that knowledge had taken time. At that point of movement, they were able to feel that strength within, just what that child had survived and the world of pain that they were exposed to so long ago. Until they connected with their inner child from the outside nothing could ever have really be revealed, it had to be one of the hardest things that they had ever had to do by taking that first step because it would have been just like walking into the abyss. What was in front of them was unknown and shrouded by a cloud of darkness, but they were somehow able within that moment of support strong enough to have bought the light to that place with acceptance of what they would find there.

In all honesty, it had to be as difficult as their journey whilst within their abusive years even though that abuse may be now firmly in the past, so why would that child want to come out of the shadows and unearth all that pain and trauma? Their objection will carry a lot of weight and there will be a lot of haggling to be done before they allow to be taken by their tentative outstretched hand, their adult self will need to make that inner child feel safe and supported within that journey. So only when able they will reach back towards that pain and feel strong enough to meet that child and their grip would have needed to be firm and held with assurance, they are the only person who can bridge that gap and be able to meet somewhere in the middle because it’s no man’s land.

As their support they will look to you for reassurance for help to really see that this separation they have endured from within is one which no longer needs to be continued, they will be feeling anything other than sure about that very unfamiliar feeling of movement towards that hopeful and in time completed union. We need to remember that togetherness for them and feeling whole is something untried and tested because until now they have survived apart they had to and it has taken enormous strength in which to try, but what they may not be aware of is there is surely not much in this world of ours that they would not be able to contend with on the completion of this unity. When eventually emerging from this extremely dark place together and whole the person that stands there is in truth a complete stranger, they now have to learn within that unity it’s somewhat like a child taking their first step and they will feel more than a little wobbly at the onset.

At the start of their journey where they tentatively start to look for any support available to aid them it will still be a very difficult journey ahead, and it’s a completely new realisation to understand that support had always been there just waiting for this mutual connection. It’s now that they will not only find the camaraderie of other child abuse survivors around the world but also a network of caring professionals. At that time more than ever before they will need to learn how to trust but finding that trust in which to do so also takes practice, it can be far from being found just on opening that first door in truth it’s somewhat like they have to enter a maze in complete darkness, they question themselves as to if I enter will I ever find my way out if a panicked retreat is required?

Truthfully it’s was never going to be an easy road to walk for them and away from those chilling memories but at least they are now on their own two feet and moving and that’s immense progress, yes there will almost certainly be many false starts falls and faltering and that’s where they need to know and to be reassured that no one is counting. It’s movement and at times they will not be able to do anything other but fall but falling should be and can be used as an important part of recovery, just by the happening of the above they are still moving forwards just testing the water. An adult child abuse survivor should always be in charge of the speed of travel within their recovery, to see and feel that they have not relinquished any part of what they were still holding because they can’t afford to lose more, whilst inside their journey we need to state very clearly that we are there to give and not to take anything away because there is no other manner in which this journey will be successful.

Support means just that no longer do they have to shoulder this weight alone maybe now they start to feel truly understood by those waiting in the wings to offer that support, it needs to come in the direction of an outward source but only when requested, never should it be pushed upon them there is no easier way for them to lose that trust if the pressure is overriding. Support can really only ever be used to walk alongside them in their recovery because that’s where it needs to be, however much we may wish that we could do more and maybe even wished for by either party. It’s where in time we can and do watch that growth manifesting, the potential of this growth becomes far greater than their abuse with work and holding on to it is literally life changing. It’s also so important that we understand that boundaries will need to be given from the on start, this is necessary not only for the survivor but also for those supporting, because of the nature of this support we should never allow and always guard against possible codependency, neither are we there to create dependency ultimately what we are looking for is complete independence where they are able at last to stand alone.

When they finally enter a time frame in which they are able to feel movement towards support that transition will be difficult but they will come to see that they are no longer alone and that’s a huge difference. On arrival, their defence is firmly in place and their mind is full of questions bouncing around in their head, just how do you see them and the abusive road which they have travelled? Are you judging them? Do you think that it was their fault whilst they look for confirmation from you that it wasn’t? Are you wondering why they have kept quiet for so long? In all truth, their questions can be endless even if not spoken they are there. They have already lived within self-judgement for it seems like always and it’s for sure that they will feel completely alone unprotected and so very confused, they will always gauge your reaction to every question once asked and answered, because that child within has never found any positivity in this grown-up world and the adult they have become was never able to give that reassurance or understanding. But in truth how could they? Yes, they are now adults but we need to remember that they have also been carrying that child that was never able to heal from the abuse, and the spilt through the middle made the ground feel so unsafe as if it were moving from under them although they had done their best.

When this process begins a gentle reminder needs to be given that there are no right or wrong answers to those ever burning uncomfortable questions, working together we will create that much-welcomed safety net for that surviving adult and that very new union with their child in mutual recovery, there will be confusion whilst emerging as this very altered person it will be new to them and the blend may take some mixing. Of course, this will be an immensely difficult experience no doubt but once tried and tested it will be seen with remarkable realisation, they will see and understand that it’s a completely different situation to heal than their controlled journey of abuse, That they now have a voice and what’s more they were heard and it’s quite incredible to witness this manifestation of a new form emerging, just by the giving of our time support and understanding and the confirmation that all that now stands in their way is time before they stand within their own power.

Let’s just think about that for a moment and just how this has now manifested? They are now in a position where they are in complete control although still dealing with their emotions, they are no longer within that separation and their broken inner child that they have been defending for so very long now walks tall along with them. The strength and power this brings about are so very difficult to explain they are now an adult abuse survivor and it’s overwhelmingly felt within, they are really here despite the time and suffering it has taken to get there, they can now see the end of the road on this journey simply because they were the one controlling the speed of movement. Their journey began and should continue in the right way by guiding and not driven but it’s more than a little new for them to feel, what is this magically more in their life? But it will take time to get used to living without feeling life’s pain. It’s worth mentioning that so many adult abuse survivors after recovery and in their own time reach out themselves to others that still need the guidance that they had been given, they have travelled so far that they want to give back and just how amazing is that?

Everyone’s experience within a support network will be different and it may take time to find that person that they can start to trust, but what’s important here is that they have never stopped looking. They will become just that little bit stronger and more complete as each day passes and in time they will walk through the right door for them and out of the other side. There are so many labels attached to child abuse but complex trauma is by far the one that even comes close to any of them and in truth even that doesn’t cut the mustard, every experience of this journey has its own nature and is integral to the child concerned it should or could never be safe to second guess. A journey of past abuse can only be explained or felt from within that particular child because they will always be the one that has survived those particular events of trauma, it stands alone with all the ramifications that were so very devastating and long-lasting. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone with the right help and with the right support in which to get there.

The first attempt to visit this journey of support may not be the right journey for that particular person for so many reasons, and I would never be able to list them all here even if I tried to do so I would never get it right. The support that they are looking for may not be clear even to them at that time but they need to make their own choice and at times it may be unexplainable. But if we were to look at this a little closer for them it’s just like moving a muscle that until now has never been flexed, and this freedom of thought and recognition leaves them feeling completely in the unknown. It takes time to really believe that it’s safe because they are just waiting for that other shoe to fall from above whilst covering their head awaiting the impact.

Getting it right needs to be explored and it can result in hours of complete silence but it’s required and surely needed this is the place where they start and are trying to trust, within this silence they are doing no more than trying to judge that another sitting in front of them. It’s a process of elimination that may never move away from that space in time, and where they can’t find or see movement with that particular support and this is completely normal and should be seen and observed by both. It’s not difficult to understand we all gel with others differently or some not at all and for an abused child in adult recovery this is felt tenfold and not trusted, they need to feel completely secure and if that’s not the right place for them there will be another in which they can find that connection.

In time the right place for all can be achieved because along the way they are dipping into that sore place within more often, and it can be a case of simply not arriving at the right place at the first time in asking. It may seem or even perceived as if that time was not profitable within that encounter but that’s so very far away from the truth, encouragement was given even if not spoken and if it’s only minimal that should never be discarded. If we were to look at it another way they have in fact been allowed to choose and that’s a mighty big deal for a child abuse survivor, they have been able to walk away without feeling any restraint and able to approach another open door when they are ready to try again. And it’s just that little bit less feared which means that the support has indeed made a dent or chip in the armour of their struggle to find themselves, nothing is wasted when freely given to a child abuse survivor every little gesture allows them a feeling of hope and helps to soothe their emotions that they now matter has been taken in and it sits in residency within.

Everyone involved in this process even though it may have only been days or many months we will all be a part of that recovery journey no matter how large or small our input may have been. Our support wherever or however has mattered we have been part of that chain of support, simply because we have allowed and encouraged those steps to be taken. For one I always feel so completely humbled in any which way I may have played a part in this struggle against the ongoing fight against child abuse, each one of them had a right to a childhood in which they were loved and protected and regrettably we can’t change their past or rid them of their horrific memories but what we can do is to be there for them now.

When a child abuse survivor reaches out all we can ever really do is our best in reaching back it will always be enough…………