Complex-PTSD (CPTSD) is an under-recognized condition. While post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) occurs from acute trauma, complex-PTSD develops from ongoing or repeated interpersonal abuse. This includes but is not limited to: emotional and physical abuse, sexual abuse and can occur in survivors of narcissistic abuse. Here’s what it’s like living with this condition.
1. Everything and anything is a threat. Especially people. I feel anxious going outside, talking to people, pretty much doing anything. The brain is so used to stress, it can no longer regulate its stress and anxiety responses, so my brain perceives everything as a threat even after the initial stressful situation is no longer present.
2. I am constantly tense and on edge. Complex- PTSD affects the subconscious. This is why I am always tensed and anxious without realizing it and without any obvious stimuli. I am constantly tensed, clenched and my muscles ache.
3. I never feel “safe.” I never feel emotionally, physically and spiritually safe. I’m always expecting something terrible to happen. Will I run out of money and starve? Will I ever become homeless? Will he hurt me? Will I die today? It’s exhausting and debilitating.
4. I keep myself away from people. According to my brain, everyone will hurt me. I was a social recluse for years and trusting people is virtually impossible. I lock myself away, isolate and avoid people.
5. I can never connect to people. Even if I do feel like connecting — it’s pointless. It’s like there is a sheet of very thin glass between me and everyone I meet. I can see and hear them but can never feel or connect. I am not like everyone else. It’s like being on a different plane of existence. I am indifferent to almost everyone I meet and it is rare when I form connection to someone.
6. Sometimes I will dissociate or freeze when I’m stressed. When my brain perceives something as a threat I will zone out or I will literally freeze. This can be really embarrassing in social situations. I am aware I am freezing but can’t stop it or speak.
7. I quite often feel numb. Every day feels grey and lifeless.
9. I can get emotional flashbacks. Emotional regulation is difficult and emotional flashbacks are very common for people living with CPTSD. I will be having a normal day and five minutes later I am a crying mess. These can happen anywhere and at any time. Identifying triggers is difficult.
10. Everyone thinks I am a happy ray of sunshine. Due to the way my brain perceives everyday life, I am forced into an automatic “I am happy, full of rainbows and here to please you” response. This is not who I am. My brain forces it out of me in everyday situations. It makes me feel like no one will ever know me.
Complex-PTSD has yet to be added to the DSM-5, but has recently been added to the ICD-10. It is important to spread awareness in order to validate others who are struggling with this condition. The positive side is that many therapists are becoming increasingly aware and many people have fulfilling lives despite living with the condition.