Understanding CPTSD & PTSD

Understanding CPTSD & PTSD

Let us talk about the difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD. It’s assumed that everyone that has endured trauma has PTSD. Though there is a distinction. 

PTSD relates to sensory flashbacks that a person experiences when they are met with a sound, smell, or other stimulus that has been conditioned to signify danger and threat. This immediately activates the sympathetic nervous system and leads a person into past memories real time. Intrusions happen in dreams, thoughts, and there is an experience of intense fear that link back to these traumatic incidents. 

CPTSD is more of a chronic ongoing series of trauma. This person’s experience can be filled with 1 or several traumatic experiences, and/or ongoing neglect, abuse—where a person cannot really identify 1 incident since their lives were filled with ongoing, never ending painful experiences. Therefore, triggers are more relational- things people say, things people do, certain behaviors of others are triggers and activate threat responses. These behaviors are memories of painful pasts where they were hurt by others.

For both, healing happens in connection to others. For healing to happen, we must take the risk of being seen by another, and when ready, slowly trusting them with our hearts. This can be a therapist, friend, family member. It’s also important that we re-claim our control over our bodies by practicing self regulation and relaxation. So when we are met with emotional or sensory triggers, we can manage our threat response by regulating our bodies- sending a message we are not in danger—and eventually pairing the conditioned stimulus (whatever the trigger is) with the new conditioned response (regulation, self control, groundedness, clarity). 

It’s hard work. It can feel like a lot is at stake in the beginning. Go at your own speed. You navigate your healing.

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